Photos Confirm Murder of Iraqi Children, Civilians
- PHOTOS CONFIRM US RAID CHILD DEATHS
Al Jazeera has obtained exclusive footage that confirms children were
among the victims of a US air raid northwest of Baghdad. Local
officials said that the bodies of 17 civilians, including six children
and eight women, had been pulled from the debris of two houses in
The US military had issued a statement on Friday saying that two women
were among 20 suspected "al Qaeda terrorists" killed in the operation.
Al Jazeera's footage showed the bodies of men, women and children
wrapped in blankets after they had been pulled from the rubble.
The Agence France Presse news agency said it passed its own
photographs of the dead children to Lieutenant Colonel Christopher
Garver, a US military spokesman, who said: "We've checked with the
troops who conducted this operation - there were no children found
among the terrorists killed.
Eyewitness Accounts in Report Indicate Marines Gunned Down Unarmed
Iraqis in the Aftermath of a Roadside Bombing in 2005
By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
01/06/07 "Washington Post" -- -- U.S. Marines gunned down five unarmed
Iraqis who stumbled onto the scene of a 2005 roadside bombing in
Haditha, Iraq, according to eyewitness accounts that are part of a
lengthy investigative report obtained by The Washington Post.
Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich, the squad's leader, shot the men one by
one after Marines ordered them out of a white taxi in the moments
following the explosion, which killed one Marine and injured two
others, witnesses told investigators. Another Marine fired rounds into
their bodies as they lay on the ground.
"The taxi's five occupants exited the vehicle and according to U.S.
and Iraqi witnesses, were shot by Wuterich as they stood, unarmed,
next to the vehicle approximately ten feet in front of him," said a
report by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service on the incident
that runs thousands of pages.
One of the witnesses, Sgt. Asad Amer Mashoot, a 26-year-old Iraqi
soldier who was in the Marine convoy, told investigators he watched in
horror as the four students and the taxi driver fell. "They didn't
even try to run away," he said. "We were afraid from Marines and we
saw them behaving like crazy. They were yelling and screaming."
The shootings were the first in a series of violent reactions by
Marines on the morning of Nov. 19, 2005 that left 24 civilians -- many
of them women and children -- dead, in what some human rights groups
and Iraqis have called a massacre by U.S. troops.
The report, which relied on hundreds of interviews with Marines, Iraqi
soldiers and civilian survivors conducted months after the incident,
presents a fragmented and sometimes conflicting chronicle of the
violence that day. But taken together, the accounts provide evidence
that as the Marines came under attack, they responded in ways that are
difficult to reconcile with their rules of engagement.
Four Marines were charged with murder last month in connection with
the civilian deaths in Haditha: Wuterich, who faces 13 counts of
unpremeditated murder; Sgt. Sanick P. Dela Cruz; Lance Cpl. Justin L.
Sharratt; and Lance Cpl. Stephen B. Tatum. Each faces the possibility
of life in prison if convicted.
Through their lawyers, three have argued that they behaved
appropriately while taking fire on a chaotic battlefield, and that the
civilian deaths were a regrettable but unavoidable part of warfare in
an especially dangerous area. Dela Cruz's attorney has declined to
The Marine Corps also has charged four officers with failing to
investigate and fully report the slayings: Lt. Col. Jeffrey R.
Chessani, Capt. Lucas M. McConnell, Capt. Randy W. Stone and Lt.
Andrew A. Grayson.
The Marines told investigators that they believed they were authorized
to fire freely inside two houses they raided in the minutes following
the taxi shootings, after concluding that insurgents were firing on
them. After an officer ordered them to "take" one of the homes and
Wuterich commanded them to "shoot first, ask questions later," the
Marines considered the houses "hostile," according to sworn statements
Marine officials have accused the troops of failing to identify their
targets before using grenades and guns to kill 14 unarmed people in
the houses, including several young children in their pajamas, in a
span of about 10 minutes, according to the documents.
Safah Yunis Salem, 13, who said she played dead to avoid being shot,
was the only person to survive the Marine attack on the second house.
Her sister Aisha, 3, was shot in the leg and died; her brother Zainab,
5, was killed by a shot to the head. She said she lost five other
members of her family in the room, including her mother.
"He fired and killed everybody," Safah said. "The American fired and
Numerous Marine officers in the chain of command in Iraq -- including
a major general -- knew about the civilian deaths almost immediately
but did not launch an investigation for months, according to interview
transcripts. Some lower-level officers did not believe that the
Marines had done anything inappropriate, while high-ranking officers
had limited information about the incident and did not inquire further.
A Routine Mission Turns Violent
The report provides a detailed narrative of the events leading to the
violence in Haditha. The day began about 6 a.m., when Lance Cpl.
Salvador A. Guzman Jr. awoke at Firm Base Sparta and members of his
squad learned they would be bringing fresh Iraqi troops to a traffic
checkpoint in Haditha. He bumped into Lance Cpl. Miguel "T.J."
Terrazas, who joked that "we were going to get hit by an improvised
explosive device one day because we travel so much," Guzman told
The Marines left the base at about 6:45 a.m. and made the personnel
changes by about 7 a.m.; then they turned their four-vehicle convoy
around and headed back. Sharratt, in the turret of the first Humvee,
waved a white sedan over to the side of "Route Chestnut," and as it
slid to the south shoulder a blast rocked the neighborhood.
Terrazas, who was driving the fourth Humvee, was killed instantly by
the remotely detonated propane tank, which shredded the front of the
vehicle and launched it into the middle of the road. Another Marine,
severely injured, was trapped in the wreckage.
Marines who rushed to help told investigators they took enemy rifle
fire from several locations on the north and south sides of the road.
Navy Hospitalman Brian D. Whitt said he could see bullet impacts near
his feet and noticed men with rifles disappearing from atop a house to
the north. Some of the fire appeared to be coming from behind the
The Marines concurred that they were under fire from all sides,
indicating that the incident was part of a complex insurgent attack
that lasted much of the day.
One Marine and two Iraqi soldiers told investigators that the men who
had been in the taxi were standing in a line outside it, some with
their hands in the air, when Wuterich began to fire on them.
Wuterich said the men got out of the car, and he shot them because he
considered them a threat. But Dela Cruz said the men were standing in
a line when they started to fall.
"As I crossed the median I saw one of the Iraqi civilians, who was
standing in the center of the line, drop to the ground," Dela Cruz
told investigators. "Immediately afterwards another Iraqi standing by
him raised his hands to his head. I then heard other small arms fire
and looked to my left and saw Sgt. Wuterich kneeling on one knee and
shooting his M16 in the direction of the Iraqi civilians."
Dela Cruz told investigators that he pumped bullets into the bodies of
the Iraqi men after they were on the ground and later urinated on one
Minutes later, a Quick Reaction Force arrived from the Marine base,
bringing Lt. William T. Kallop, the first officer on the scene. Kallop
told investigators he began to receive enemy fire almost immediately.
About that time, Cpl. Hector A. Salinas spotted a man firing at the
squad from the corner of a house on the south side of the road.
"Salinas then stated that he could see the enemy so Kallop told them
to 'take the house,' " according to an NCIS summary of an interview
with Kallop. The interview provides the first evidence that an officer
ordered the attack.
Richard McNeil, a lawyer who represents Kallop, declined to comment
about him or his role, but he warned that "typically in an NCIS
investigation, the narratives are always slanted to the interpretation
of the government."
Wuterich, Salinas, Tatum and Lance Cpl. Humberto M. Mendoza formed a
team to attack the house, launching grenades first and then busting
through the door.
"I told them to treat it as a hostile environment," Wuterich told
investigators. "I told them to shoot first, ask questions later."
Defense attorneys have argued that the men were following their "rules
of engagement" when they shot into the homes, using effective
techniques in a difficult environment.
The Marine division's rules-of-engagement card in effect at the time
in western Iraq instructed Marines to "ALWAYS minimize collateral
damage" and said that targets must be positively identified as threats
before a Marine can open fire. It also told Marines that "nothing on
this card prevents you from using all force necessary to defend yourself."
After entering the first house through a kitchen, Tatum told
investigators, he heard what he believed was an AK-47 rifle being
"racked," or readied to fire, around a corner. He and Salinas tossed
grenades into the room, according to the documents. Waleed Hasan, 37,
was killed. Khamisa Ali, 66, was shot dead in the hallway before four
others were killed in a bedroom by grenades and rifle fire.
Nine-year-old Eman Hamed told investigators that a grenade landed near
her grandfather's bed and exploded, sending shrapnel through the room.
Her mother and 4-year-old brother were killed as she huddled, injured,
with another brother, Abid, 6, who survived. "All rooms," Abid told
investigators. "They were shooting in all rooms."
Several Marines said they quickly cleared the home by fire, shooting
through the dust, debris and darkness to eliminate what they believed
was a threat.
From there, Wuterich, Mendoza and Tatum said, they moved to a second
house after suspecting that insurgents might have escaped. Mendoza
told investigators that the Marines approached the second house the
same way they did the first, treating it as hostile, according to his
sworn statement. Mendoza said he shot a man, 43-year-old Yunis Rasif,
through the house's glass kitchen door.
"I fired because I had been told the house was hostile and I was
following my training that all individuals in a hostile house are to
be shot," Mendoza told investigators. The Marines then entered the
house and tossed grenades before firing into a back bedroom, which
they later found was filled with women and children.
"Knowing what I know now, I feel badly about killing Iraqi civilians
who may have been innocent, but I stand fast in my decisions that day,
as I reacted to the threats that I perceived at the time," Tatum said.
"I did not shoot randomly with the intent to harm innocent Iraqi
Jack Zimmerman, Tatum's attorney, declined to comment yesterday but
decried the publication of the documents. "The ethical rules that
govern lawyers prohibit me from even discussing the matter," he said.
Mashoot, the Iraqi soldier who was with the Marines, said he thought
the attack on the houses was warranted because the entire convoy was
taking fire. Investigators noted that he believed the Marines "had
justification" because they were "defending themselves."
Another group of Marines, including Dela Cruz, simultaneously went to
the north side of the road and found a dwelling that they believed was
the "trigger house" for the roadside bomb. They took several Iraqis
into custody, according to the documents, but did not shoot anyone in
a search of several houses. Another man was shot after Marines
observed him running along a ridgeline.
A few hours later, Sharratt, Wuterich and Salinas approached a third
and fourth house after noticing men they said were peering at them
The investigative reports show that what happened there is unclear.
Iraqi witnesses said the Marines angrily separated men and women into
two lines before marching the men into the fourth house and shooting
them. The three Marines told investigators they were searching for the
men they had seen and separated the women into a safe area before
Wuterich and Sharratt entered the house.
At First, No Inquiry
The military did not launch an inquiry of the Haditha deaths until a
Time magazine reporter began to inquire about the incident two months
later. Marine officers told investigators the reason was simple:
Nothing in the reports they received from the field caused them to
believe that a probe was warranted.
Investigators appear to have found little evidence that Marines on the
ground or at headquarters tried to conceal the day's events. But Dela
Cruz told investigators that Wuterich asked him to back up claims that
the men in the taxi were trying to flee before they were shot.
Puckett, Wuterich's lawyer, challenged Dela Cruz's assertion: "Staff
Sergeant Wuterich adamantly denies asking anybody to lie or change
The documents show that Marines in Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st
Marine Regiment, reported the incident to their base as it was
happening and made clear that there were a significant number of
civilian casualties. Though at first the Marines classified eight of
the civilians as insurgents, they quickly reported that at least 15
civilians had been killed in what they called "crossfire" with the enemy.
The events came amid heavy insurgent attacks in Haditha that day that
ultimately prompted Marines to call in airstrikes on suspected
insurgent homes. The hectic nature of the day caused some early
reports to be confused and inaccurate, Marines told investigators.
The Kilo Company commander, McConnell, told his Marines on the day of
the attacks that they had done a good job, according to an
investigative summary in the NCIS report. Investigators wrote that
McConnell did not want to question his Marines on a day they lost a
comrade but that he informed his superiors about the civilian deaths.
"There was never a hint whatsoever that these kids did anything
improper. Not one," said Kevin McDermott, a lawyer who represents
Marine officers said Chessani, the Marines' battalion commander,
informed his superior, the regimental commander, of the civilian
casualties the day they occurred and was told by that officer, Col.
Stephen W. Davis, that no investigation was needed.
"There was nothing out of the ordinary about any of this, including
the number of civilian dead, that would have triggered anything in my
mind that was out of the norm," Davis told military investigators,
according to a transcript. "There is nothing about this incident that
jumped out at any point to us."
Maj. Gen. Richard A. Huck, the division commander, told investigators
he learned about the civilian casualties on the day they occurred and
believed that they were the result of a roadside bomb and the ensuing
gunbattle between Marines and insurgents. Huck visited Haditha three
days later and was briefed on the incident.
"Nothing in the brief caused any concern to me," Huck told
investigators. "I do not recall if the brief discussed the number of
Iraqis killed that day, but I do recall the brief discussing Marines
clearing houses following the IED attack."
McConnell and Chessani have been charged in the case; Huck and Davis
have not. Attempts to reach Chessani or an attorney for him were not
In December 2005, the Marines authorized $38,000 in condolence
payments to the families of the civilians killed in the first two
houses, and Chessani, in early February, explained the payments in a
memo. "The enemy chose the time and place of his ambush. Without
callous disregard for the lives of innocent bystanders, the enemy
would not have chosen to fight from the bedrooms and living rooms of
civilian-occupied houses," he wrote.
The official inquiry began two weeks later, after the Time reporter
sent a list of questions about the incident to Marine officials in
Iraq. In his e-mail, the reporter raised the possibility that Marines
had massacred civilians and executed the men from the taxi, based in
part on a videotape made by an activist a day after the incident.
Huck told investigators he dismissed the allegations, believing they
were part of an insurgent campaign to smear the Marines. Other Marine
officers, such as Davis, also believed that the allegations were
But Maj. Samuel H. Carrasco, then a battalion operations officer, said
he and the battalion executive officer suggested an investigation to
Chessani. Carrasco told investigators that "Lt. Col. Chessani then
shouted, 'My men are not murderers.' "
The first investigation, by Army Col. Gregory Watt, ordered by Lt.
Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, then the top field commander in Iraq,
essentially supported the Marines' accounts of events. Watt determined
that the troops had reason to be suspicious of the men in the white
car and concluded that while they did not positively identify targets
in the houses, it might have been "unrealistic to expect" on the
battlefield that day.
He also found no indication that the Marines "intentionally targeted,
engaged and killed noncombatants," but he suggested a criminal
investigation nonetheless. The NCIS investigation began March 12,
leading to last month's charges.
Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.
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