Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Collateral Damage or Civilian Massacre in Haditha?

Time story on Haditha killings

What exactly happened in Haditha on Nov. 19? Time has uncovered evidence that the 15 civilians didn't die as a result of a roadside bomb explosion, as the US military originally contended. What happened exactly we might never know, as many of the witnesses are dead victims...

According to eyewitnesses and local officials interviewed over the past 10 weeks, the civilians who died in Haditha on Nov. 19 were killed not by a roadside bomb but by the Marines themselves, who went on a rampage in the village after the attack, killing 15 unarmed Iraqis in their homes, including seven women and three children. Human-rights activists say that if the accusations are true, the incident ranks as the worst case of deliberate killing of Iraqi civilians by U.S. service members since the war began.


Because the incident is officially under investigation, members of the Marine unit that was in Haditha on Nov. 19 are not allowed to speak with reporters. But the military's own reconstruction of events and the accounts of town residents interviewed by Time—including six whose family members were killed that day—paint a picture of a devastatingly violent response by a group of U.S. troops who had lost one of their own to a deadly insurgent attack and believed they were under fire. Time obtained a videotape that purports to show the aftermath of the Marines' assault and provides graphic documentation of its human toll. What happened in Haditha is a reminder of the horrors faced by civilians caught in the middle of war—and what war can do to the people who fight it.


But the military stood by its initial contention—that the Iraqis had been killed by an insurgent bomb—until January when Time gave a copy of the video and witnesses' testimony to Colonel Barry Johnson, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad. After reviewing the evidence, Johnson passed it on to the military command, suggesting that the events of Haditha be given "a full and formal investigation." In February an infantry colonel went to Haditha for a weeklong probe in which he interviewed Marines, survivors and doctors at the morgue, according to military officials close to the investigation. The probe concluded that the civilians were in fact killed by Marines and not by an insurgent's bomb and that no insurgents appeared to be in the first two houses raided by the Marines. The probe found, however, that the deaths were the result of "collateral damage" rather than malicious intent by the Marines, investigators say.


The U.S. has paid relatives of the victims $2,500 for each of the 15 dead civilians, plus smaller payments for the injured. But nothing can bring back all that was taken from 9-year-old Eman Waleed on that fateful day last November. She still does not comprehend how, when her father went in to pray with the Koran for the family's safety, his prayers were not answered, as they had been so many times in the past. "He always prayed before, and the Americans left us alone," she says. Leaving, she grabs a handful of candy. "It's for my little brother," she says. "I have to take care of my brother. Nobody else is left."
$2,500... the price of an Iraqi life.

This investigation comes on the heels of a number of medium to high level British soldiers ringing alarm bells about what they feel is a heavy-handed approach to the insurgents by the US military. One former SAS soldier last night on BBC's Newsnight accused the US military of not respecting the principle of reasonable force and giving its soldiers carte blanche in defending themselves from attack, thereby greatly increasing the potential for collateral damage.

Some US Iraq veterans are also making noises to that effect (video link in right hand corner of this linked page).

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