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Haditha Massacre: an Isolated Event ?

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  • Timothy Baer
    Haditha Massacre: Was it an Isolated Event and Did the Military Try to Cover it Up? Tuesday, May 30th, 2006
    Message 1 of 1 , May 31, 2006
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      Democracy Now! http://www.democracynow.org

      Haditha Massacre: Was it an Isolated Event and Did the Military Try to Cover it Up?

      Tuesday, May 30th, 2006


      An internal military investigation has found that U.S. marines killed as many as 24 Iraqis - including women and children - in the city of Haditha last November and then tried to cover it up. We speak with an attorney and researcher at Human Rights Watch, an independent journalist who spent months unembedded in Iraq and we go to Baghdad to speak with the bureau chief for Knight Ridder. [includes rush transcript]

      We take a look at the Haditha massacre and the aftermath, which has continued to rock the military and political establishments. Last November, a roadside bomb struck a Humvee carrying US troops in the western Iraqi town of Haditha. The bomb killed one marine and injured two others. The next day, the Marines said in a statement that 15 Iraqi civilians died in the initial blast. They said that after the explosion, gunmen attacked the US convoy with small arms fire, prompting the Marines to return fire, killing eight insurgents. But eyewitnesses contradicted this account. They said the men, women and children were killed when marines burst into their houses after the blast and shot them dead in their nightclothes. Early this year, a videotape of the aftermath of the incident, showing the bodies of women and children, was obtained by Time magazine. The video verified the eyewitness accounts and prompted an investigation by the military. There are now 2 investigations - one into the encounter itself and another into whether it was the subject of a cover-up by the military.

      Last week, the Pentagon concluded one of its investigations. Members of Congress who were briefed said that at least some members of the Marine unit may be charged with murder, which carries the death penalty.

      Abdul Salam Al-Kubaissi, spokesman of the Muslim Clerics Association spoke at news conference in Baghdad on Sunday:

      • Abdul Salam Al-Kubaissi: "The situation has reached a level when the U.S. soldier becomes a professional killer, who kills with premeditation and deliberation. This should be among war crimes and the ones who should be put on trial are the U.S. commanders and not the U.S. soldier because the commanders are the ones who instruct those (soldiers) and justify their acts as it happened in Abu Ghraib's scandal."

      One of the reporters who broke the Haditha story, Aparisim Ghosh, joined us in our firehouse studio in March. He is the chief international correspondent for Time Magazine. He spoke about his article titled "One Morning in Haditha."

      On Saturday, the Marines released their first official statement about the Haditha events. It reads in part, All Marines are trained in the Law of Armed Conflict and our core values of honor, courage and commitment. We take allegations of wrong-doing by Marines very seriously and are committed to thoroughly investigating such allegations. We also pride ourselves on holding our Marines to the highest levels of accountability and standards. The Marines in Iraq are focused on their mission. They are working hard on doing the right thing in a complex and dangerous environment. It is important to remember that the vast majority of Marines today perform magnificently on and off the battlefield. Tens of thousands have served honorably and with courage in Iraq and Afghanistan."

      We invited a representative from the Military to be on the program but they declined our request.

      • Nancy Youssef , Baghdad Bureau Chief for Knight Ridder.
      • Dahr Jamail, independent journalist who was based for a time in Baghdad. He was one of the only independent, unembedded journalists in Iraq at the time. Dahr publishes his reports on a blog called DahrJamailIraq.com.
      • John Sifton, researcher at Human Rights Watch.

      A few days after the Haditha story broke, the military launched another investigation into the killing of Iraqi civilians by American troops. In March, the Knight Ridder news agency obtained an Iraqi police report accusing U.S forces of of murdering 11 civilians by rounding them up them up into one room of a house near the city of Balad and shooting them. The US military stated that only four civilians were killed in the raid and that they came under fire while trying to capture an al-Qaeda suspect.

      The reporter who broke the story for Knight Ridder, Matthew Schofield, was interviewed by Democracy Now.


      This transcript is available free of charge. However, donations help us provide closed captioning for the deaf and hard of hearing on our TV broadcast. Thank you for your generous contribution.
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      AMY GOODMAN: This is Abdul Salam Al-Kabaissi, spokesperson for the Muslim Clerics Association, speaking at a news conference in Baghdad on Sunday.

        ABDUL SALAM AL-KUBAISSI: [translated] The situation has reached a level when the U.S. soldier becomes a professional killer, who kills with premeditation and deliberation. This should be among war crimes, and the ones who should be put on trial are the U.S. commanders and not the U.S. soldier, because the commanders are the ones who instruct those (soldiers) and justify their acts as it happened in Abu Ghraib's scandal.

      AMY GOODMAN: That was Abdul Salam Al-Kubaissi speaking on Sunday. One of the reporters who first broke the Haditha story, Aparisim Ghosh, joined us in our Firehouse studio in March. He's the chief international correspondent for Time magazine. We wanted to go back to replay a clip of Aparisim from that day. I began by asking him to tell us about his story in Time called "One Morning in Haditha."

        APARISIM GHOSH: Haditha is a small town northwest of Baghdad, a very, very dangerous place. It�s in the heart of what�s known as the Sunni Triangle, and Marines and soldiers who operate in that area are under constant threat. On the morning of the 19th of November, a four-Humvee patrol going through town was hit by an I.E.D., an improvised explosive device, which sheered off the front of one of the Humvees, killed one of the soldiers inside. What happens next is a matter of some debate, as you pointed out. Initially the Marines claimed that a total of 23 people were killed on the spot, 15 of them innocent civilians, all of whom the Marines said were killed by the I.E.D., and eight of them, enemy combatants who were shot by the Marines.

        AMY GOODMAN: In addition to the 15?

        APARISIM GHOSH: In addition to the 15. We looked into this case, and the more we dug, the more we thought that something didn't quite add up. And when we finally got our hands on this videotape, it became very clear to us that these people could not have been killed outdoors by an explosive device. They were killed in their homes in their night clothes. The night clothes are significant, because Iraqi women and children, especially, are very, very unlikely to go outdoors wearing their night clothes. It is a very conservative society.

        When we first approached the Marines with this evidence, they responded in quite a hostile fashion. They accused us of buying into enemy propaganda. That aroused our suspicions even further, because it seemed to be excessively hostile on their part. And we dug even more. We spoke to witnesses. We spoke to survivors of this incident. And then we became quite convinced that these people were killed by the Marines. What is left to be seen is whether they were killed in the course of the Marine operation as collateral damage or by accident, or whether the Marines went on a rampage after one of their own had been killed and killed these people in revenge.

        AMY GOODMAN: You are very graphic in the piece, �One Morning in Haditha.� Describe what the survivors say happened when the U.S. military went into the nearby houses around where the roadside bomb had exploded.

        APARISIM GHOSH: Well, the survivors claimed -- let me back up a little bit. The Marines claim that they received small arms fire from nearby homes and that they responded to this fire, they shot back, and then they went into the homes to try and flush out the bad guys, the terrorists who were in there. It�s clear from the video that those homes don't have any bullet marks outside, which would suggest that there was very little, if any, shooting by the Marines at the facades of these homes. But there are lots of signs of bullets inside.

        The victims told us that the Marines came in and they killed everybody inside. In one house they threw a grenade into a kitchen. That set off a propane tank and nearly destroyed the kitchen and killed several people in that home. The scenes that were described by the survivors and the witnesses were incredibly bloody and very graphic. But they are, unfortunately, very commonplace in Iraq.

        AMY GOODMAN: Inside, you talked to -- you have the description of a nine-year-old girl.

        APARISIM GHOSH: Yes.

        AMY GOODMAN: Tell us about her and her family and what she says happened.

        APARISIM GHOSH: Well, she was indoors with her family when the explosion took place. The explosion was loud enough to wake everybody up in the neighborhood.

        AMY GOODMAN: The bomb that killed the Marine.

        APARISIM GHOSH: The first explosion, yes. And she says when she heard gunshots � of course, she's a child, she was frightened. When the Marines stormed towards their home, her grandfather slipped into the next room, as is, apparently, was his custom to pray, to reach out for the family Koran and pray to God that this crisis would pass. On this occasion, the Marines came into the home. They entered the room where the grandfather was, and other members of the family, and killed him.

        AMY GOODMAN: And she was left alive.

        APARISIM GHOSH: She survived, yes.

        AMY GOODMAN: And her little brother.

        APARISIM GHOSH: And her brother was injured by a piece of -- either by a bullet or a piece of shrapnel, we're not sure.

        AMY GOODMAN: But her parents, her mother, her father, her grandparents --

        APARISIM GHOSH: Her parents, her grandparents, I believe her uncle, were also killed.

        AMY GOODMAN: And then, another house.

        APARISIM GHOSH: Four houses in all, involving a total of -- indoors, total of 19 people, and four people outside.

      AMY GOODMAN: Aparisim Bobby Ghosh on Democracy Now!, March 23 of this year. On Saturday, the Marines released their first official statement about the Haditha killings. It read in part, quote, �All Marines are trained in the Law of Armed Conflict and our core values of honor, courage and commitment. We take allegations of wrong-doing by Marines very seriously and are committed to thoroughly investigating such allegations. We also pride ourselves on holding our Marines to the highest levels of accountability and standards. The Marines in Iraq are focused on their mission. They are working hard on doing the right thing in a complex and dangerous environment. It is important to remember that the vast majority of Marines today perform magnificently on and off the battlefield. Tens of thousands have served honorably and with courage in Iraq and Afghanistan.� Again, those, the words of the U.S. military. We invited a representative of the Pentagon to be on the program. They declined our request.

      We're joined now in studio by John Sifton, an attorney and researcher at Human Rights Watch, where he focuses on Afghanistan, Iraq and military and counterterrorism issues. We're joined been the telephone by Nancy Youssef. She�s the Baghdad Bureau Chief for Knight Ridder. And we're joined on the phone from the Bay Area of California by independent journalist Dahr Jamail, who has written a piece for truthout.org called �Countless My Lai Massacres in Iraq.� He spent more than eight months in Iraq. Nancy Youssef, what is the response in Iraq right now? I mean, this actually, the Haditha killings, took place in November. What is the response of Iraqis to the renewed interest in this?

      NANCY YOUSSEF: Surprisingly quiet. I think there is a feeling here that there are a lot of people being killed every day in this country, whether it be by U.S. forces or by militias or by gangs. And it hasn't sort of gained a sort of energy or anger that you're hearing in the U.S. On the contrary, it's been quite quiet. The Parliament met the day before yesterday and did not even mention this case.

      AMY GOODMAN: Dahr Jamail is an independent journalist based for more than eight months in Iraq. Your response to this latest news?

      DAHR JAMAIL: Well, two responses really. First is that this type of situation, like Haditha, is happening on almost a daily basis on one level or another in Iraq, whether it's civilian cars being shot up at U.S. checkpoints and families being killed or, on the other hand, to the level of, for example, the second siege of Fallujah, where between 4,000 and 6,000 people were killed, which I think qualifies as a massacre, as well. But even that number hasn't gotten the attention that this Haditha story has.

      And the other really aspect of that, I think is important to note on this, is the media coverage, again, surrounding what has happened around Haditha simply because Time magazine covered it, and thank heavens that they did, but this has gotten so much media coverage, and in comparison, so many of these types of incidents are happening every single week in Iraq. And I think that's astounding and important for people to remember, as well.

      AMY GOODMAN: We're going to go to break. When we come back, I'll ask John Sifton of Human Rights Watch about these military investigations that are taking place.


      AMY GOODMAN: As we continue to talk about the case of Haditha and other killings in Iraq, our guests are John Sifton. He is the researcher at Human Rights Watch here in New York. Nancy Youssef is Baghdad Bureau Chief for Knight Ridder, speaking us to from Baghdad. And Dahr Jamail, longtime independent journalist, spent eight months in Iraq and has done a piece for truthout on the number of killings that occur around Iraq. John Sifton, the U.S. military investigations of this, can you explain what they are, if they are reliable?

      JOHN SIFTON: Well, after Time magazine published their account, the Navy Criminal Investigative Service did open an investigation, and it is on going. And in fact, what we know now --

      AMY GOODMAN: But even that took some work.

      JOHN SIFTON: Yeah. It took a lot of work for Time magazine to convince the Navy commanders to order that investigation. But once it took place, it actually did find a lot of disturbing things, and the new information we have is in large part due to that investigation. The second investigation, which is much more important in some respects, is the investigation into the possibility that officers lied about the incident when it occurred, tried to cover it up. The question isn't �Did a lie take place?� because definitely the first accounts of the incident were erroneous and appear to be falsified. The question is how high up the chain of command those lies went.

      AMY GOODMAN: And again, the first reports being that there was a roadside bomb that killed a Marine and killed all these people. That's what they originally said.

      JOHN SIFTON: Yeah. The initial Marine communique on November 20 was entirely false. It was an account about an I.E.D. killing 15 civilians. And the hospital staff later told Time, you know, these were gunshots. There were a lot of holes in that report. It essentially fell apart under the scrutiny of Time magazine's reporting. And that's what started the investigation in March. The problem now is the second investigation, I don't think a lot of people realize how serious that is, because as your earlier commentator said, there�s a lot of incidents in Iraq every day, so we shouldn't be just focused on Haditha. We should be focused on the credibility of the Marines and also the possibility that all kinds of incidents take place which don't get reported and don't get investigated.

      AMY GOODMAN: And the second investigation, who is conducting it?

      JOHN SIFTON: Well, it's not within the Marines. You know, there are different parts of the military. There is the Army Criminal Investigative Division, there�s the Navy Criminal Investigative Service. So this has been taken outside of the Marines, which is a good thing. I mean, the thing is sometimes these criminal investigators can do a very good job, if they are allowed to. And that's the question facing the military: are they going to let this investigation really run an independent course? There�s a lot of problems with the military justice system in Iraq and Afghanistan, and I think it's time for Congress to start considering whether it needs reform. It�s just not independent enough.

      AMY GOODMAN: And this Lance Corporal Roel Ryan Briones, who told the Los Angeles Times he was not involved with killings but took photographs and helped remove the dead bodies and said, "They range from little babies to adult males and females."

      JOHN SIFTON: Well, if these allegations are true, then this is clearly a war crime. I mean, we're not talking about a firefight or an ambiguous situation where we might wonder if the Marines made a justifiable mistake. This appears, from the allegations made by witnesses, to be murder and a war crime.

      AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to another story of killings that took place right about the same time, the exposing of the killings, as the Haditha massacre. A few days after that story broke, the military launched another investigation into the killing of Iraqi civilians by U.S. troops. In March, Knight Ridder news agency obtained an Iraqi police report accusing U.S. forces of murdering eleven civilians by rounding them up in a room of a house near the city of Balad and shooting them. The U.S. military stated only four civilians were killed in the raid and that they came under fire while trying to capture an al-Qaeda suspect. The reporter who broke the story for Knight Ridder, Matthew Schofield, was interviewed by Democracy Now! in March. Here is an excerpt of that interview.

        MATTHEW SCHOFIELD: There are two accounts. There�s a U.S. military account, and then there�s an Iraqi police account of what happened.

        As you know, the U.S. military account is that after showing up and getting into a shootout to get into this house, the house collapsed during the shootout. People were killed either in the shootout or by the collapsing house. They left. They found four bodies and left. They found this suspect. They arrested him. And that's pretty much that story.

        The other story is that the house was standing when the U.S. troops went in. They were herded into one room -- eleven people herded into one room, executed. U.S. troops then blew up the house and left.

        We were talking with the police officer who was first on the scene earlier today. He explained the scene of arriving. He said they waited until U.S. troops had left the area and it was safe to go in. When they arrived at the house, it was in rubble. I don't know if you've seen the photos of the remains of the house, but there was very little standing. He said they expected to find bodies under the rubble. Instead, what they found was in one room of the house, in one corner of one room, there was a single man who had been shot in the head. Directly across the room from him against the other wall were ten people, ranging from his 75-year-old mother-in-law to a six-month-old child, also several three-year-olds -- a couple three-year-olds, a couple five-year-olds, and four other -- three other women.

        Lined up, they were covered, and they had all been shot. According to the doctor we talked to today, they had all been shot in the head, in the chest. A number of -- you know, generally, some of them were shot several times. The doctor said it's very difficult to determine exactly what kind of caliber gun they were shot with. He said the entry wounds were generally small and round, the exit wounds were generally very large. But they were lined up along one wall. There was a blanket over the top of them, and they were under the rubble, so when the police arrived, and residents came to help them start digging in, they came across the blankets.

        They came across the blankets. They picked the blankets up. They say, at that point, that the hands were handcuffed in front of the Iraqis. They had been handcuffed and shot. And the Iraqi assumption is that they were shot in front of the man across the room. They came to be facing each other. There is nothing to corroborate that. The U.S. is now investigating this matter, along with the Haditha matter. That's kind of where we stand right now.

      AMY GOODMAN: Nancy Youssef, can you respond to your colleague at Knight Ridder, Matthew Schofield�s report of what happened in Balad?

      NANCY YOUSSEF: The name of the town is Ishaqi, and we have inquired about that report, and frankly the people in that town are fearful to talk about it and have told us to go to the Americans and that their findings are that Americans' version of things is correct and that they're very hesitant now to talk about that case. And so, we're very aggressively trying to find out why that is and what the status of the U.S. investigation is.

      AMY GOODMAN: John Sifton of Human Rights Watch, we're reading now in the papers -- this is months after the expose of a massacre in Haditha, and this was in Balad, the latest story that we've seen -- that when reporters, news organizations like the New York Times will send someone in, say they're an Iraqis historian, but they won't identify them for fear of them being attacked. Can you talk about the significance of the second report that was exposed at the same time as the first?

      JOHN SIFTON: Well, there have been a lot of reports. It�s difficult to keep track of them, especially when a lot of things are going on all over the world. And that's why the institutional issues are so important. I mean, we can talk about the Haditha incident or the Balad incident and about what evidence is out there, but at the end of the day what concerns us as a human rights group is whether the military has the capacity to self-report about abuses and investigate them properly. And it's looking like it simply doesn't. The question is whether the military needs to reform itself, whether Congress needs to consider reforms to the criminal justice system. Otherwise, the only way you're ever going to hear about these things is when we're lucky enough to have good reporters go in and interview. They can't be everywhere at once. They can't be all over Iraq in every village and every town.

      AMY GOODMAN: On Memorial Day, the Chair of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Peter Pace, says charges will be brought against U.S. Marines if an investigation into the alleged killing of unarmed Iraqi civilians uncovers wrongdoing. Major General Pace also said he still doesn't know why it's taken nearly three months for the Pentagon to find out about the November 19th incident in the town of Haditha, in which up to 24 civilians were killed.

      JOHN SIFTON: It's not as though the military can't investigate when it wants to. I mean, when things happen like in Italy when a fighter jet hit a gondola, ski gondola, and knocked it down, a very quick investigation, court-martial happened. Canadian soldiers in a friendly fire incident in Afghanistan, very quick investigation and court-martial. It's just a question of will, political will. And often the military is lacking in this regard. So that's why we're proposing for the military to have an independent prosecutor's office, as opposed to this current system which is entirely at the whim of commanders.

      AMY GOODMAN: Dahr Jamail, I'm reading a report from Reuters, and it says, �A U.S. Defense official said Friday, Marines could face criminal charges, possibly including murder, in what would be the worst case of abuse by American soldiers in Iraq since the 2003 invasion.� Following up on the theme of your piece in truthout, can you respond to that?

      DAHR JAMAIL: Well, it's very clear, actually, that willful killing, like everything that we've been talking about this morning, is considered a war crime under even the U.S. War Crimes Act. And people who commit these crimes, particularly when the victim dies, it's punishable not just by life in prison, but the death penalty. And this, of course, goes for the people who committed the act, the people who helped cover it up, on up the chain of command logically to the people who set up this whole situation to begin with, including the Commander-in-Chief and the Secretary of Defense and other people in the administration. And I think that that's what we need to keep in mind, that we're talking about war crimes and atrocities on the level of the My Lai Massacre and I think even comparable to things that were done during, you know, that we had the Nuremberg trials for. And this is what people need to be held responsible for, and again, as it was mentioned earlier, not just the people who committed the act, but the people who set up the entire -- all of the conditions that made all of these things possible.

      AMY GOODMAN: You mentioned, Dahr, Fallujah before. And I would say most people in the United States have perhaps heard of it as a city. But why do you think it needs to be investigated to the extent that we're beginning to see with Haditha right now?

      DAHR JAMAIL: Well, it needs to be investigated because there is irrefutable evidence that war crimes have been committed there. I saw with my own eyes during the April 2004 siege, where I sat in a clinic and watched men and women and young kids brought in, all saying they had been shot by snipers, when Marines pushed into the city, couldn't take the city, so they set up snipers on rooftops and just started a turkey shoot, which was exactly how it was described by one of the soldiers I ran into when I was leaving that city.

      Watching a ten-year-old boy die in front of my face, because he was shot by Marines, other war crimes reported heavily. And that was just from the April siege when 736 people were killed, and then the November siege where between 4,000 and 6,000 people were killed. Indiscriminate bombings, snipers, war crimes being committed on the ground by hand, by U.S. Marines, as well, during that siege. And all of these are, of course, gross breeches of the Geneva Conventions. They are war crimes. And there is photographic evidence. There is video evidence. Doctors there to this day will talk to you about what happened. And there is absolutely no reason why all of these shouldn�t be investigated, as well.

      AMY GOODMAN: John Sifton is a person who has been researching these human rights issues for a long time. What does it take to break through? It obviously isn't the case itself, a massacre or murders. As you said, this is happening regularly. What does it take?

      JOHN SIFTON: Well, in this case, we saw that Time magazine ran a story, there was an investigation, but then pretty much everybody forgot about it. And luckily, Representatives John Murtha brought it up a week or so ago, and that rekindled interest in the story, and so now some new facts are coming out. But, again, we can't rely on press reports and pressure from the press, although it helps, to get accountability. Ultimately there are institutional problems in the military that need to be addressed. But otherwise we're just going to see case after case getting covered up or forgotten.

      AMY GOODMAN: Nancy Youssef, you're in Baghdad. The response of Iraqi politicians who could pick this up now?

      NANCY YOUSSEF: Well, it's actually been quite silent. There was an initial sort of outpouring from Sunni politicians after Times report and our report, but now there is not. There is this effort to say that we're a coalition government, that we represent everyone. One Iraqi politician told me, �I don't want to talk about it, because I'm afraid I'll be viewed as sectarian. There are so many incidents of injustice, and if I only talk about one and I�m neglecting the others, then I could be labeled as sectarian.�

      I wanted to go back to a point earlier about the investigation. I think one thing to keep in mind is that it is very hard now to get Iraqis to talk to military investigators. The people in Haditha told us they don't want to talk to the investigators. They don't want soldiers in their house. They don't want to -- [inaudible] they're not sure there�s any real resolution to it. And I think that's one of the reasons it's so hard to get these sort of investigations completed. The people tell us they don't want to participate. They don't see the benefit in it.

      AMY GOODMAN: They see the same people, for example, in Haditha, who came into their homes, the U.S. military, as the ones who are now coming to ask them about it? Are they afraid of being identified as, for example, eyewitnesses that could be used against the military?

      NANCY YOUSSEF: Well, I'll tell you, it�s like -- when we went to Haditha, we talked to the uncle of one of the families in which everybody was killed but a 13-year-old girl, and he started to tell his story. And in the middle of his story, he paused and looked up at us and said, �Please don't let me say anything that will get me killed by the Americans. My family can't take it anymore.� And I think that says it all. I mean, there is a fear to talk about it. There is a fear to challenge the soldiers, particularly after what they've -- if you were directly involved -- what they've gone through.

      AMY GOODMAN: Nancy Youssef is Knight Ridder Bureau Chief in Baghdad. Can you tell us the story that this man told you?

      NANCY YOUSSEF: Sure. As was mentioned, there were several houses involved that the Marines entered, and this man is the uncle of one of the men, and his house is next door. And basically what happened was the Marines went in and, according to his niece who�s thirteen and who survived, her father went to the door to try to open it, and they heard the commotion, and they shot her father. And the father had separated -- had put the women and children in a separate bedroom. Her mother was recovering from surgery. She was lying in a hospital. Her sisters were surrounding their mother in the arms of their mother, and she said the Marines came in. They shouted something in English. They didn't know how to respond. The shooting started. She fainted. And when she woke up, her family was dead. Everybody was dead.

      And all she heard was her three-year-old brother moaning in pain. He was the only one still alive. And she said to him, �Mohammed, get up. Let's go to uncle's house.� And he said, �I can't.� And so, she took him and she held him in her arms, and he was bleeding profusely. And she said she held him until he died.

      And she called over to her uncle's house next door. Her uncle heard all the commotion inside; of course, didn't know exactly what was happening. They kept trying to get to the house to help his family, and he was stopped by soldiers, he said. And this went on for several hours. And he never knew what happened until his niece showed up at the door and said, �Mohammed, my three-year-old brother, and the family are dead.� And he took his niece, and his wife and him, they cleaned her up. They took her and they fled, and they have never been back to their house.

      AMY GOODMAN: Nancy Youssef, speaking to us from Baghdad, the Bureau Chief for Knight Ridder, went into Haditha to investigate the story. John Sifton, is Human Rights Watch coming out with a report on this?

      JOHN SIFTON: Well, we're still working on it, but Nancy pointed out the difficulties in doing this research. Our new approach, which we've been doing over the last year because of the security problems in Iraq, is to interview veterans themselves. And surprisingly, U.S. troops are very engaged to talk about what they've seen in Iraq. A lot of people don't commit abuses. They witness abuses, though, and they want to talk about them. And we've been using that testimony to piece together facts about what�s going on. I mean, don't get the wrong idea. There are people out there who see these things and are horrified and report them up the chain of command. And then nothing happens.

      AMY GOODMAN: And then, of course, there are the eyewitnesses, the victims.

      JOHN SIFTON: Yes. I mean, you have witness testimony on the victims� side, but also, you know, other Marines, other soldiers who see what�s going on and are horrified and want to talk about it. And some of them talk to us. Some of them talk to military investigators. And when -- we piece together things that way, too. It�s extraordinarily difficult, but it is feasible.

      AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you for being with us, John Sifton of Human Rights Watch; also Nancy Youssef, Baghdad Bureau Chief in Iraq right now, of Knight Ridder; and Dahr Jamail, independent journalist based in Baghdad, one of the only independent unembedded journalists in Iraq at the time. He publishes his reports at the blog, dahrjamailiraq.com.

      The Haditha Massacre
          By Marjorie Cohn
          t r u t h o u t | Perspective

          Tuesday 30 May 2006


      They ranged from little babies to adult males and females. I'll never be able to get that out of my head. I can still smell the blood. This left something in my head and heart.
      - Observations of Lance Cpl. Roel Ryan Briones after the Haditha Massacre

          On November 19, 2005, Marines from Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division based at Camp Pendleton allegedly killed 24 unarmed civilians in Haditha, Iraq, in a three to five hour rampage. One victim was a 76-year-old amputee in a wheelchair holding a Koran. A mother and child bent over as if in prayer were also among the fallen. "I pretended that I was dead when my brother's body fell on me, and he was bleeding like a faucet," said Safa Younis Salim, a 13-year-old girl who survived by faking her death.

          Other victims included girls and boys ages 14, 10, 5, 4, 3 and 1. The Washington Post reported, "Most of the shots ... were fired at such close range that they went through the bodies of the family members and plowed into walls or the floor, doctors at Haditha's hospital said."

          The executions of 24 unarmed civilians were conducted in apparent retaliation for the death of Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas when a small Marine convoy hit a roadside bomb earlier that day.

          A statement issued by a US Marine Corps spokesman the next day claimed: "A US Marine and 15 civilians were killed yesterday from the blast of a roadside bomb in Haditha. Immediately following the bombing, gunmen attacked the convoy with small-arms fire. Iraqi army soldiers and Marines returned fire, killing eight insurgents and wounding another."

          A subsequent Marine version of the events said the victims were killed inadvertently in a running gun battle with insurgents.

          Both of these stories were false and the Marines knew it. They were blatant attempts to cover up the atrocity, disguised as "collateral damage."

          The Marine Corps paid $38,000 in compensation to relatives of the victims, according to a report in the Denver Post. These types of payments are made only to compensate for accidental deaths inflicted by US troops. This was a relatively large amount, indicating the Marines knew something was not right during that operation, according to Mike Coffman, the Colorado state treasurer who served in Iraq recently as a Marine reservist.

          Congressman John Murtha, D-Pa., a former Marine, was briefed on the Haditha investigation by Marine Corps Commandant Michael Hagee. Murtha said Sunday, "The reports I have from the highest level: No firing at all. No interaction. No military action at all in this particular incident. It was an explosive device, which killed a Marine. From then on, it was purely shooting people."

          The Haditha massacre did not become public until Time Magazine ran a story about it in March of this year. Time had turned over the results of its investigation, including a videotape, to the US military in January. Only then did the military launch an investigation.

          These Marines "suffered a total breakdown in morality and leadership, with tragic results," a US official told the Los Angeles Times.

          "Marines over-reacted because of the pressure on them, and they killed innocent civilians in cold blood," Murtha said.

          Murtha's statement both indicts and exonerates the Marines of the crime of murder.

          Murder is the unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought. Premeditation and deliberation - cold-blooded planning - constitute malice. Complete self-defense can be demonstrated by an honest and reasonable belief in the need to defend oneself against death or great bodily injury. The Marines might be able to show that, in the wake of the killing of their buddy Terrazas by an improvised explosive device, they acted in an honest belief that they might be killed in this hostile area. But the belief that unarmed civilians inside their homes posed a deadly threat to the Marines would be unreasonable.

          An honest but unreasonable belief in the need to defend constitutes imperfect self-defense, which negates the malice required for murder, and reduces murder to manslaughter.

          Many of our troops suffer from post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Lance Cpl. Roel Ryan Briones, a Marine in Kilo Company, did not participate in the Haditha massacre. TJ Terrazas was his best friend. Briones, who was 20 years old at the time, saw Terrazas after he was killed. "He had a giant hole in his chin. His eyes were rolled back up in his skull," Briones said of his buddy.

          "A lot of people were mad," Briones said. "Everyone had just a [terrible] feeling about what had happened to TJ."

          After the massacre, Briones was ordered to take photographs of the victims and help carry their bodies out of their homes. He is still haunted by what he had to do that day. Briones picked up a young girl who was shot in the head. "I held her out like this," he said, extending his arms, "but her head was bobbing up and down and the insides fell on my legs."

          "I used to be one of those Marines who said that post-traumatic stress is a bunch of bull," said Briones, who has gotten into serious trouble since he returned home. "But all this stuff that keeps going through my head is eating me up. I need immediate help."

          A key quote from a Marine officer could be used to show premeditation - and thus malice - in support of a possible murder charge against the shooters. An article in yesterday's San Diego Union-Tribune which is reprinted from the New York Times News Service, cites a report by "one Marine officer" that "inspectors suspected at least part of the motive for the killings was to send a message to local residents that they would 'pay a price' for failing to warn the Marines about insurgent activity in the area."

          Curiously, that paragraph is missing from the same story in both the print and online editions of yesterday's New York Times. For some reason, the Times had second thoughts about that paragraph, and removed it, after the copy had been sent to other papers over the wire.

          Regardless of how those who may ultimately be charged with murder fare in court, a more significant question is whether George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld will be charged with war crimes on a theory of command responsibility.

          Willful killing is considered a war crime under the US War Crimes Act. People who commit war crimes can be punished by life in prison, or even the death penalty if the victim dies. Under the doctrine of command responsibility, a commander can be held liable if he knew or should have known his inferiors were committing war crimes and he failed to stop or prevent it.

          Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld are knowingly prosecuting a war of aggression in Iraq. Under the United Nations Charter, a country cannot invade another country unless it is acting in self-defense or it has permission from the Security Council. Iraq had invaded no country for 11 years before "Operation Iraqi Freedom," and the council never authorized the invasion.

          A war that violates the UN Charter is a war of aggression.

          Under the Nuremberg Tribunal, aggressive war is the supreme international crime.

          Hagee flew from Washington to Iraq last week to brief US forces on the Geneva Conventions, the international laws of armed conflict and the US military's own rules of engagement. He is reportedly telling the troops they should use deadly force "only when justified, proportional and, most importantly, lawful." This creates a strong inference that our leaders had not adequately briefed our troops on how to behave in this war.

          This, combined with the evidence that US forces are committing torture based on policies from the highest levels of government, as well as reports of war crimes committed in places such as Fallujah, served to put Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld on notice that Marines would likely commit war crimes in places such as Haditha. Our highest leaders thus should have known this would happen, and they should be prosecuted under the War Crimes Act.

          Murtha told ABC there was "no question" the US military tried to "cover up" the Haditha incident, which Murtha called "worse than Abu Ghraib." Murtha's high-level briefings indicated, "There was an investigation right afterward, but then it was stifled," he said.

          "Who covered it up, why did they cover it up, why did they wait so long?" Murtha asked on "This Week" on ABC. "We don't know how far it goes. It goes right up the chain of command."

          Murtha said the decision to pay compensation to families of the victims is strong evidence that officers up the chain of command knew what had happened in Haditha. "That doesn't happen at the lowest level. That happens at the highest level before they make a decision to make payments to the families."

          Haditha is likely the tip of the iceberg in Bush's illegal war of aggression in Iraq.

          "We have a Haditha every day," declared Muhanned Jasim, an Iraqi merchant. "Were [those killed in Haditha] the first ... Iraqis to be killed for no reason?" asked pharmacist Ghasan Jayih. "We're used to being killed. It's normal now to hear 25 Iraqis are killed in one day."

          "We have a Fallujah and Karbala every day," Jasim added, referring to the 2004 slaughter by US forces in Fallujah and bombings by resistance fighters in the Shiite city of Karbala.

          In Fallujah, US soldiers opened fire on houses, and US helicopters fired on and killed women, old men and young children, according to Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein.

          "What we're seeing more of now, and these incidents will increase monthly, is the end result of fuzzy, imprecise national direction combined with situational ethics at the highest levels of this government," said retired Air Force Col. Mike Turner, a former planner at the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

          Senator John Warner, R-Va., head of the Armed Services Committee, pledged to hold hearings on the Haditha killings at the conclusion of the military investigation. "I'll do exactly what we did with Abu Ghraib," he told ABC News.

          Warner's pledge provides little solace to those who seek justice. Congress has yet to hold our leaders to account for the torture by US forces at Abu Ghraib prison. Only a few low-ranking soldiers have been prosecuted. The Bush administration has swept the scandal under the rug.

          During the Vietnam War, the US military spoke of winning the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese people. But in 1968, US soldiers massacred about 400 unarmed elderly men, women and children in the small village of My Lai. A cover-up ensued, and it wasn't until Seymour Hersh broke the story that it became public.

          "America in the view of many Iraqis has no credibility. We do not believe what they say is correct," said Sheik Sattar al-Aasaaf, a tribal leader in Anbar province, which includes Haditha. "US troops are very well-trained and when they shoot, it isn't random but due to an order to kill Iraqis. People say they are the killers."

          Graffiti on one of the Haditha victims' houses reads, "Democracy assassinated the family that was here."

          So much for winning the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people.

          We must pull our troops out of Iraq immediately, and insist that our leaders be held to account for the war crimes committed there.

          Marjorie Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, President-elect of the National Lawyers Guild, and the US representative to the executive committee of the American Association of Jurists. She writes a weekly column for t r u t h o u t.
      � : t r u t h o u t 2006
      Countless My Lai Massacres in Iraq
          By Dahr Jamail
          t r u t h o u t | Perspective

          Tuesday 30 May 2006


          The media feeding frenzy around what has been referred to as "Iraq's My Lai" has become frenetic. Focus on US Marines slaughtering at least 20 civilians in Haditha last November is reminiscent of the media spasm around the "scandal" of Abu Ghraib during April and May 2004.

          Yet just like Abu Ghraib, while the media spotlight shines squarely on the Haditha massacre, countless atrocities continue daily, conveniently out of the awareness of the general public. Torture did not stop simply because the media finally decided, albeit in horribly belated fashion, to cover the story, and the daily slaughter of Iraqi civilians by US forces and US-backed Iraqi "security" forces had not stopped either.

          Earlier this month, I received a news release from Iraq, which read, "On Saturday, May 13th, 2006, at 10:00 p.m., US Forces accompanied by the Iraqi National Guard attacked the houses of Iraqi people in the Al-Latifya district south of Baghdad by an intensive helicopter shelling. This led the families to flee to the Al-Mazar and water canals to protect themselves from the fierce shelling. Then seven helicopters landed to pursue the families who fled � and killed them. The number of victims amounted to more than 25 martyrs. US forces detained another six persons including two women named Israa Ahmed Hasan and Widad Ahmed Hasan, and a child named Huda Hitham Mohammed Hasan, whose father was killed during the shelling."

          The report from the Iraqi NGO called The Monitoring Net of Human Rights in Iraq (MHRI) continued, "The forces didn't stop at this limit. They held an attack on May 15th, 2006, supported also by the Iraqi National Guards. They also attacked the families' houses, and arrested a number of them while others fled. US snipers then used the homes to target more Iraqis. The reason for this crime was due to the downing of a helicopter in an area close to where the forces held their attack."

          The US military preferred to report the incident as an offensive where they killed 41 "insurgents," a line effectively parroted by much of the media.

          On that same day, MHRI also reported that in the Yarmouk district of Baghdad, US forces raided the home of Essam Fitian al-Rawi. Al-Rawi was killed along with his son Ahmed; then the soldiers reportedly removed the two bodies along with Al-Rawi's nephew, who was detained.

          Similarly, in the city of Samara on May 5, MHRI reported, "American soldiers entered the house of Mr. Zidan Khalif Al-Heed after an attack upon American soldiers was launched nearby the house. American soldiers entered this home and killed the family, including the father, mother and daughter who is in the 6th grade, along with their son, who was suffering from mental and physical disabilities."

          This same group, MHRI, also estimated that between 4,000 and 6,000 Iraqi civilians were killed during the November 2004 US assault on Fallujah. Numbers which make those from the Haditha massacre pale in comparison.

          Instead of reporting incidents such as these, mainstream outlets are referring to the Haditha slaughter as one of a few cases that "present the most serious challenge to US handling of the Iraq war since the Abu Ghraib prison scandal."

          Marc Garlasco, of Human Rights Watch, told reporters recently, "What happened at Haditha appears to be outright murder. The Haditha massacre will go down as Iraq's My Lai."

          Then there is the daily reality of sectarian and ethnic cleansing in Iraq, which is being carried out by US-backed Iraqi "security" forces. A recent example of this was provided by a representative of the Voice of Freedom Association for Human Rights, another Iraqi NGO which logs ongoing atrocities resulting from the US occupation.

          "The representative � visited Fursan Village (Bani Zaid) with the Iraqi Red Crescent Al-Madayin Branch. The village of 60 houses, inhabited by Sunni families, was attacked on February 27, 2006, by groups of men wearing black clothes and driving cars from the Ministry of Interior. Most of the villagers escaped, but eight were caught and immediately executed. One of them was the Imam of the village mosque, Abu Aisha, and another was a 10-year-old boy, Adnan Madab. They were executed inside the room where they were hiding. Many animals (sheep, cows and dogs) were shot by the armed men also. The village mosque and most of the houses were destroyed and burnt."

          The representative had obtained the information when four men who had fled the scene of the massacre returned to provide the details. The other survivors had all left to seek refuge in Baghdad. "The survivors who returned to give the details guided the representative and the Red Crescent personnel to where the bodies had been buried. They [the bodies] were of men, women and one of the village babies."

          The director of MHRI, Muhamad T. Al-Deraji, said of this incident, "This situation is a simple part of a larger problem that is orchestrated by the government � the delay in protecting more villagers from this will only increase the number of tragedies."

          Arun Gupta, an investigative journalist and editor with the New York Indypendent newspaper of the New York Independent Media Center, has written extensively about US-backed militias and death squads in Iraq. He is also the former editor at the Guardian weekly in New York and writes frequently for Z Magazine and Left Turn.

          "The fact is, while I think the militias have, to a degree, spiraled out of US control, it's the US who trains, arms, funds, and supplies all the police and military forces, and gives them critical logistical support," he told me this week. "For instance, there were reports at the beginning of the year that a US army unit caught a "death squad" operating inside the Iraqi Highway Patrol. There were the usual claims that the US has nothing to do with them. It's all a big lie. The American reporters are lazy. If they did just a little digging, there is loads of material out there showing how the US set up the highway patrol, established a special training academy just for them, equipped them, armed them, built all their bases, etc. It's all in government documents, so it's irrefutable. But then they tell the media we have nothing to do with them and they don't even fact check it. In any case, I think the story is significant only insofar as it shows how the US tries to cover up its involvement."

          Once again, like Abu Ghraib, a few US soldiers are being investigated about what occurred in Haditha. The "few bad apples" scenario is being repeated in order to obscure the fact that Iraqis are being slaughtered every single day. The "shoot first ask questions later" policy, which has been in effect from nearly the beginning in Iraq, creates trigger-happy American soldiers and US-backed Iraqi death squads who have no respect for the lives of the Iraqi people. Yet, rather than high-ranking members of the Bush administration who give the orders, including Bush himself, being tried for the war crimes they are most certainly guilty of, we have the ceremonial "public hanging" of a few lowly soldiers for their crimes committed on the ground.

          In an interview with CNN on May 29th concerning the Haditha massacre, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Peter Pace commented, "It's going to be a couple more weeks before those investigations are complete, and we should not prejudge the outcome. But we should, in fact, as leaders take on the responsibility to get out and talk to our troops and make sure that they understand that what 99.9 percent of them are doing, which is fighting with honor and courage, is exactly what we expect of them."

          This is the same Peter Pace who when asked how things were going in Iraq by Tim Russert on Meet the Press this past March 5th said, "I'd say they're going well. I wouldn't put a great big smiley face on it, but I would say they're going very, very well from everything you look at �"

          Things are not "going very, very well" in Iraq. There have been countless My Lai massacres, and we cannot blame 0.1% of the soldiers on the ground in Iraq for killing as many as a quarter of a million Iraqis, when it is the policies of the Bush administration that generated the failed occupation to begin with.

          Dahr Jamail is an independent journalist who spent over 8 months reporting from occupied Iraq. He presented evidence of US war crimes in Iraq at the International Commission of Inquiry on Crimes Against Humanity Committed by the Bush Administration in New York City in January 2006. He writes regularly for TruthOut, Inter Press Service, Asia Times and TomDispatch, and maintains his own web site, dahrjamailiraq.com.
      � : t r u t h o u t 2006
      Timothy Baer  
      Organizer, Bloomington Peace Action Coalition
      (812) 988-1917
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