An Iraq war veteran, who is the focus of one of the short documentaries nominated for an Academy Award, is receiving death threats for providing his individual account of what happened during an incident that has come to be known as the “Collateral Murder” incident.
The incident received wide attention when WikiLeaks released a classified video of the incident in April 2010. It involves an Apache helicopter attack that happened on July 12, 2007 in Baghdad.
The attack is a major focus of,“Incident in New Baghdad.” The short film tells the story of a soldier who helped rescue two children injured in the 2007 Apache helicopter attack. The soldier, Ethan McCord, has since been discharged from the military and has been an outspoken voice against the Iraq War.
The film received an Oscar nomination in January. Since then, McCord has been receiving threats to him and his family on a regular basis.
The majority of the threats are coming from soldiers McCord served with in the 2-16 Infantry when he was deployed in Iraq. One soldier threatened to exterminate his “entire bloodline,” which McCord considers a threat to kill his children.
Many of the threats are being made on the Internet, especially on Facebook. Individuals in the group, 2-16 (and 4th IBCT) Vets for Truth, have been posting messages. Some of them are active duty military personnel. Making such threats against McCord is illegal.
Here are a couple examples of the threats:
McCord says individuals have consistently made threats against him since he began to tell his story a couple years ago, but the threats have escalated. He typically has regarded the threats to be the result of “bravado” and the fact that many of these people making threats likely are struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“I did live with these guys for quite some time. I do know what they are capable of,” McCord says. “I’m challenging their views, challenging the actions of people and what’s the first thing that’s going to happen? They’re going to get angry.”
The possibility of violence has led McCord to purchase a handgun.
“I went out yesterday and I bought a handgun because I am deeply concerned and I want to protect my family,” McCord explains. “When you’re making threats to my family and my children, I will protect my family.”
There is a screening of the film tonight in Wichita, Kansas, where McCord lives. Some who have been making threats against McCord are planning to attend the screening. McCord says the screening will have to have additional security.
James Spione, the director of the film, is concerned about McCord’s safety. It is troubling to him that threats are being made and he has been following the chatter online. Yet, he believes there is a lot of misunderstanding and many misconceptions about the film. He hopes some of the people threatening McCord will take a moment to watch the film because maybe they will find it isn’t what they thought it was after all.
The film is not intended to be an authoritative story of everything that happened that day during the incident now known as “Collateral Murder.” It’s an incredibly “subjective” movie and the viewer really does get pulled into “Ethan McCord’s world,” Spione says.
“My intent was always to use [the incident] as a focal point for all of these subjective experiences and how one act of violence in a war ripples out through so many lives in a destructive way,” explains Spione. “And through that, as a microcosm, you’d start to understand” how war can be so “destructive.”
Spione spoke with some of the people making threats when he was doing background research on McCord. He told them about his plan to do a much longer movie with other viewpoints from soldiers other than McCord, who were involved in the incident. The much longer film would also include perspectives from Iraqi survivors like the mother of the children who McCord helped rescue.
One soldier who served in 2-16, Doc Bailey, who used to be a close friend of McCord’s, has been campaigning against McCord. McCord and Bailey had a falling out when McCord began to go around with antiwar activists and speak to classrooms of students about his experience in Iraq. Bailey sent him an email saying people were going to use him and spit him out. McCord replied that he was a grown man and could handle himself. Bailey became upset and ever since he has been calling attention to the work that McCord has been doing. In fact, he is the main person on the Facebook group posting videos of McCord and starting conversations about him.
Bailey and others say McCord is lying about what happened, but most of them will not say what he is lying about. One person is argues he “treated the kids and did the stuff” McCord has been saying he did during the incident.
There aren’t any lies in the film, Spione explains. There is just a lot of emotion. The guys who served with McCord are angry and they “take any criticism of the Army or the mission very, very personally.” And, every time the film goes up to a “bigger platform, it gets more attention and that gets people upset again.”
To really understand what is going on here, one shouldn’t get angry at the troops and start hurling insults back at them for threatening McCord. But, the threats are serious. The threats are likely symptomatic of PTSD that these people are experiencing.
“I would ask for some compassion for these guys. Some understanding of what’s going on,” Spione concludes. “We all know that we have a huge PTSD problem in this country. We have a huge veteran suicide rate still. These are like open wounds. We have a lot of guys walking around without treatment.”
Spione adds, “We like to keep our wars invisible but this is one of the ways they kind of pop up.” Hopefully, this film is an opportunity to have wider dialogue about these profound issues that people confront when they hear soldiers tell stories that conflict with what they think did or did not happen.
On a positive note, McCord went to Hollywood for an Oscar nominees luncheon. He spoke to Brad Pitt and got his picture taken with Pitt after Pitt’s publicist told him he was featured in “Incident in New Baghdad.” McCord says he saw Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese talk to Spione about the film.
“I think it is generating some buzz in Hollywood,” says McCord.
Additionally, a big-name producer is now interested in the film. The short film will likely expand into a much larger project after Academy Awards season is over.
*To hear McCord’s story and account of what happened July 12, 2007, go here.