Sunday, June 11, 2006

Haditha: the worst US atrocity since Vietnam … Iraqi women and children massacred by American marines. How did it happen?

SPECIAL REPORT BY NEIL MACKAY (The Sunday Herald)

CIVILIANS who spent time at the Haditha Dam base of the Third Battalion of the First Marines describe the place as something out of Apocalypse Now or Lord Of The Flies. It was “feral” one said. Soldiers didn’t wash. They had abandoned regulation billets and had built make-shift, primitive huts bearing skull-and-crossbone signs. The place stank. One American civilian engineer attached to the camp, with the task of keeping the huge hydro-electric dam nearby operating, said he was terrified of the soldiers he had to live alongside.

Kilo Company was part of the Third Battalion. At 7.15am on November 19 last year, as a column of Kilo Company Humvees drove down the Hay al-Sinnai Road in Haditha, a bomb exploded under the last vehicle – the “tail-end charlie” – killing the driver, 20-year-old Lance Corporal Miguel Terrazas.

What happened next will go down in US military history as the worst deliberate atrocity carried out against unarmed civilians by American forces since the notorious massacre at My Lai in Vietnam when GIs killed around 500 people – mainly women, children and the elderly.

Minutes after Terrazas died, the remaining 13-strong unit of marines went on a bloody rampage, wiping out whole families, killing women, children and an elderly man in a wheelchair, and hurling grenades into homes. In all, 24 Iraqi civilians were murdered by American troops. The killings are already having a corrosive effect on US society, war-weary from scandals such as the torture of detainees at Abu Ghraib and the ever-mounting death toll of American troops. US government sources say some of the marines involved will be put on trial, and could face the death penalty for their crimes.

The men of Kilo Company have been involved in some of the worst horrors of the Iraq war, including the assault on Fallujah which involved close-up killing and hand-to-hand fighting. Many of the marines in Kilo Company were on their second tour of duty in Iraq at the time of the massacre in Haditha.

As soon as the shooting stopped, the marines started to lie and cover up the truth about the Haditha killings. The faked-up version of events went something like this: as a taxi drove up Hay al-Sinnai Road towards the Humvee column, the marines waved to it to stop. When the Humvees and the taxi came to a halt, a bomb detonated, indicating, the marines claimed, that the taxi was either meant to lure the Humvees over the bomb or that someone in the taxi detonated the bomb. The marines claimed they immediately came under fire from nearby houses once the bomb exploded.
The four passengers in the taxi and the driver fled, the marines claimed, and were all shot dead. Soldiers then returned fire on the positions shooting at them, killing eight insurgents. Fifteen civilians, they said, also died in the explosion which killed the Humvee driver Terrazas.

Investigations by the military, accounts by survivors and reports by human rights organisations and medics have proved that this version of events contains barely a grain of truth.

Eman Waleed, a nine-year-old girl, was a few minutes walk from the site of the bomb which caught the Humvee, at the home of her grandfather Abdul Hamid Hassan Ali, an 89-year-old amputee in a wheelchair. Eman recalls the moment the killings started. “We heard a big noise that woke us all up. Then we did what we always do when there’s an explosion – my father goes into his room with the Koran and prays that the family be spared any harm.”

While her father prayed, Eman, her mother, grandfather, grandmother, two brothers, two aunts and two uncles stayed together in the main room. Eman recalls sitting in her pyjamas and hearing shooting as the marines moved towards her home. They stormed into the house, went to the room where Eman’s father was praying and shot him dead. Then they entered the room where the rest of the family were huddled together.

“I couldn’t see their faces very well,” said Eman, “only their guns sticking into the doorway. I watched them shoot my grandfather, first in the chest and then in the head. Then they killed my granny.”

The marines started to spray the corner of the room with automatic fire where Eman and her eight-year-old brother Abdul were being shielded by the other adults. Both Eman and Abdul were wounded but survived. Eman’s aunt fled the house as the shooting started, taking her five-month-old niece with her. She escaped. Her husband, who also tried to escape, was shot in the head. In total, seven family members died. Eman’s grandfather was shot nine times. His death certificate notes that his intestines had spilled through the exit wounds in his back.

Only one of the adults in the house that day survived. Eman and her brother hid under a bed, with their family lying dead around them, and waited two hours before Iraqi soldiers arrived to help them.

The marines then moved to the house of Younis Salim Khafif, which he shared with his wife, Aida, and their six children. Aida was in bed recovering from an operation so her sister was in the house to help out with family chores. A neighbour says he heard Younis beg for his life, telling the marines in English: “I am a friend, I am good.” They shot him anyway. Eight people in the house that day – everybody apart from a 12-year-old girl – were murdered as the marines opened fire and then lobbed in hand grenades. The children who died were aged 14, 10, five, three and one.
The surviving child, Safa, said she lay on the ground, pretending to be dead and covered in her sister’s blood. She recalls the blood spurting out of her sister like water from a tap, and the soldiers kicking the bodies of the dead. “I was wishing to be alive,” she said. “Now I wish I had died with them.”

Further up the street, four brothers aged between 20 and 38 were at home. The women inside the house were forced outside at gunpoint by the marines – then the men were shot dead. A relative said the Americans put the brothers in a wardrobe and machine-gunned them.

Finally, back at the bomb site, a taxi entered the street and was stopped by marines. The four students inside and the driver were ordered out of the car and shot dead. Of the 24 people killed, only one had been carrying a weapon.

When the killings were over, the marines cordoned off the area. They later took the dead to Haditha hospital – they left them in body bags in the garden and drove off.

Taher Thabet, an Iraqi journalism student, later filmed the bodies in the morgue and the scenes of the killings. He passed the tape on to the Iraqi organisation the Hammurabi Human Rights Group and it confirmed that the civilians were killed not by the booby trap which took the life of Terrazas, but by Terrazas’s enraged comrades. The rooms where the civilians were killed were riddled with bullets and splattered with blood.

A doctor at the hospital said there were no signs of shrapnel wounds from explosives on the bodies, instead “the bullet wounds were very apparent”. “Most of the victims were shot in the chest and head from close range.” Death certificates for all the murdered Iraqi civilians also showed they were all shot – many in the head and chest.

One marine who had to help clear up the aftermath of the murders and remove the bodies, Lance Corporal Roel Ryan Briones, said he was traumatised by what he’d seen. “They ranged from little babies to adult males and females,” he said. “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.”

Briones’s mother added: “He had to carry a little girl’s body. Her head was blown off and her brain splattered on his boots.”

After the killings a group of elders from Haditha, led by the mayor, protested to local marine commanders. They were dismissed with the claim that the killings were an accident. Even when the videotape was handed to marine commanders, they claimed it was “AQI [al-Qaeda in Iraq] propaganda”.

When it became clear that the civilians had been shot by US soldiers, the marines switched to saying that the deaths were the fault of insurgents who “placed non-combatants in the line of fire as the marines responded to defend themselves”. However, that claim also fell apart when other senior US commanders in Baghdad saw the tape and a criminal investigation was opened.

Military police travelled to Haditha, examined the murder scenes, spoke to survivors and interviewed marines. The marine’s story quickly collapsed and members of Kilo Company started to implicate each other.

Military investigators have now briefed a group of US congressmen, telling them a number of men in Kilo Company may soon be charged with murder. There are also likely to be other charges of dereliction of duty and making false statements. Representative John Kline, a Republican and a former marine, said: “This was a small number of marines who fired directly on civilians and killed them. This is going to be an ugly story … There is no doubt that the marines allegedly involved in doing this lied about it. They certainly tried to cover it up.”

John Murtha, an anti-war Democratic congressman and decorated marine war veteran, said: “They killed innocent civilians in cold blood and that’s what the report [by the military into the killings and cover-up] is going to tell. It is as bad as Abu Ghraib, if not worse.”

So far, three marine officers, including the commander of Kilo Company and the commander of the third battalion, have been relieved of duty. The investigation is centred on the NCO who was leading Kilo Company on the day, and was allegedly at the scene of nearly every killing, and a number of other soldiers who are said to have taken part directly in the killings. Sources close to the investigation have named the ranking marine as 25-year-old Sgt Frank Wuterich. Up to nine other men witnessed the killings but did nothing.

President Bush has said of the marine massacre that “those who violated the law will be punished”. Bush also apparently roasted his secretary of defence, Donald Rumsfeld, for not informing him of the killings promptly when Rumsfeld learned of the events in March.

Following the killings, Iraq’s current prime minister, Nouri Maliki, heavily criticised what he described as habitual attacks on civilians by coalition forces. He said many troops had “no respect for civilians … and killed on a suspicion or a hunch”.

In response, US army commanders ordered that troops would undergo a two-hour course on “moral and ethical values”. The US army denied it was a limp and late face-saving exercise.

Suspicions have been raised that senior commanders were aware of what was happening in Haditha. Although some Iraqis claim that US marines burned houses in the area, others said warplanes dropped bombs on a number of homes. Senior commanders would have had to green light such an action.

So far, the marines have paid out $2500 (just over £1300) to each of the families of 15 of the victims. The senior officer who ordered the payments ruled that those killed had not taken part in any attacks on US forces.

Shortly after the massacre, Kilo Company held a memorial service for their dead comrade Terrazas. Messages such as “TJ you were a great friend” were written on stones and piled up in a funeral mound.

The bodies of the 24 men, women and children killed in the hours after Terrazas’s death are in a cemetery known as the martyrs’ graveyard. On a nearby wall graffiti reads: “Democracy assassinated the family that was here.”

Waleed Mohammed, a lawyer representing some of the families, said the survivors were waiting desperately for news of criminal charges being pressed against the marines of Kilo Company. “They are convinced that the sentence will be like one for someone who has killed a dog in the United States,” he said, “because Iraqis have become like dogs in the eyes of Americans.”

Related post.

Hat tip:
This Old Brit.

21 Comments:

At 7:35 PM, Blogger Cookie..... said...

...Unfortunately for the US...this appears...at least at this moment in time...to be true...that's very sad for all the good soldiers and Marines over there....but I'll bet you couldn't wait to put this account up on the blog...and who is the "reporting" person...I don't know anything about him...

Another thing is...what about a little thing called "Due Process"...even that idiot Murtha violated that premise by saying what he did, when he did....

Lets ALL just wait and see before we sensationalize this thing with excessively vivid descriptions made to infuriate and incite people....

At this point in time...this post is more propaganda than actual facts.....

 
At 7:49 PM, Blogger Gert said...

Back in November the accounts on this story seemed to fit the "atrocity scenario" but I didn't make the slightest noise about it, despite the feeling there was going to be a cover-up.

Today, those who felt there was something decidedly fishy going on are almost certainly vindicated.

You're one of those people who believes dissenters are only in it for themselves. We're not. And we don't take any joy whatsoever in hearing about such events, contrary to whatever you might believe.

 
At 8:21 PM, Blogger Richard said...

cookie,

The award winning reporter is Neil Macay, as mentioned in the blog post.

I'm sure a simple google search will help you find more out about him.

In fact, personal communication with him is welcomed, encouraged even, to which end his email address is shown at the start of his report. You must have missed it, eh?

No problem though, here it is. You can ask your questions, first hand

neil.mackay@sundayherald.com

 
At 8:24 PM, Blogger Richard said...

Btw, thanks for helping get this report out & about a bit more Gert.

 
At 9:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Due Process"? In 21st century Bushamerica ? Surely you jest?

 
At 10:52 PM, Blogger Marvin said...

Gert - nice to see that you only allow due process for terrorists.

The accounts from Haditha are conflicting. but we do know that the NCIS investigators were veru thorough in their work.

Can we wait till the investigation is complete before executing the MArines?

 
At 1:14 AM, Blogger Gert said...

Marvin:

Any sympathy for the victims at all?

No? Well, they're just Arabs aren't they? Worthless pigs aren't they... A bit like your fucking Pretzeldente then.

Not of pure blood, like useful idiots like you.

Got a hard-on yet? What with all this indiscriminate spilling of blood?

Fuck off.

 
At 7:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wait?
Why wait for another whitewash?

 
At 11:35 PM, Anonymous Admiral Misha I said...

"Any sympathy for the victims at all?"

Non sequitur much?

Unless, of course, you believe that the only way to express proper sympathy for the victims is to skip this whole boring process of investigation, hearing, indictment and trial, this thing we call "due process", and just string those fiendish Marines up right...this...minute!

Why, that sounds almost like something Saddam might have done!

Really. Could we keep "sympathy for the victims" and "are the Marines guilty?" apart for the time being? At least until the investigation is over? Would that be too much to ask?

I have a great deal of sympathy for any innocent people that may have gotten killed as they got caught in the crossfire. War is a nasty, brutish affair, and it doesn't get any less brutish when one side refuses to follow the laws and customs of war, dressing up like civilians and hiding behind them. Accidents are bound to happen when such behavior is on display, which is why we have laws and customs of war. It's also the reason why the protections thereof are only extended to those who follow them themselves.

If, IF any Marines are found guilty of cold blooded murder, and we won't know for sure until this dreadfully boring legal process is done with, then they'll face charges, a tribunal and quite possibly a firing squad, as is good and right. IF they're guilty of what you and most of the press have decided that they're guilty of without the benefit of a trial, then they deserve anything that they get. I won't whine for them.

But you're just going to have to wait. Well, if you believe in due process, that is. Otherwise all bets are off.

"No? Well, they're just Arabs aren't they? Worthless pigs aren't they... A bit like your fucking Pretzeldente then."

At least you didn't call him a "two-legged beast." THAT would've been OUTRAGEOUS.

I'm relieved to see that you cling so fervently to your standards. Both of them.

"Not of pure blood, like useful idiots like you."

There you go again. Really, Gert, what is your problem? Where, exactly, do you see Marvin as much as suggesting anything regarding the purity of his lineage?

You need to relax, take a deep breath and address whatever is actually being expressed, rather than the phantom stereotypes in your head.

I thought you were looking for reasoned debate.

"Got a hard-on yet? What with all this indiscriminate spilling of blood?"

And what in the name of all that's good and holy is your obsession with hard-ons?

The only one seeming to have a visceral and, possibly, physiological reaction to all of this is you. I fear you may be projecting, Gert.

"Fuck off."

Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?

 
At 7:50 AM, Blogger Gert said...

Admiral cunt:

So, after a bunch of personal and comical attacks by you and your shipmates over at Greg's, you've now decided to plead sanity?

Marvin also came wafting over from there, am I to try and reason with another one of your gang-bangers?

Here's what one Iraqi hospital worker thinks of you guys (source available):

"You AMERICANS opened our borders to these fanatic criminals you AMERICANS are perfectly happy to let them murder our children when you are not murdering them yourselfs. Then you point and say "oh look the dirty Arabs we CIVILISED AMERICAN PIGS must stop the arabs from killing one another" IT IS YOU AND YOUR TRAITORS DOING THE KILLING OF OUR CHILDREN!!! TAKE YOUR CHALABIS AND YOUR ALLAWIS AND YOUR BARZANIS GO HOME TO AMERICA AND LET THEM HELP YOU SODOMISE YOUR OWN DISGUSTING COUNTRY!!!!"

Go to FrontPageMag.com and please stay there.

I don't swear often or easily but for cunts like you I'll make an exception: fuck you, "matey".

 
At 4:20 PM, Anonymous Henry Jennings said...

Wow. Off your meds lately, Gertie?

 
At 5:15 PM, Blogger Gert said...

NEEXXT!

 
At 7:20 PM, Anonymous Admiral Misha I said...

Much as I'm fascinated by the fact that you've found an Iraqi who doesn't like the US, I have to ask you what on Earth that has to do with the price of tea in China?

I was under the impression that the issue here was making sure that justice was done, but apparently I was mistaken. It's a contest about who can come up with the most quotes from random Iraqis.

You ask if you're supposed to reason, and the only answer I have to that one, considering what you've written so far is:

I don't know, Gert. Are you capable of it?

 
At 7:28 PM, Blogger Cookie..... said...

Gert...we sullied our hands yesterday...and also our honor code...by making the grave error of even communicating our beliefs with a person such as yourself...surely...surely, you don't expect us to re-engage you.

We left some honorable parting comments regardin your genuine personal restraint...tiped our hats to you...and left...then all of us paused to contemplate just how in the hell we got into such a low-life, slug-fest donnebrook. First time it has ever happened to us.

Remember that in the beginning of all that shit yesterday I stated that lets "Fix the Problem...Not the Blame"....well...I'm not here to place blame at any location...so lets just let it drop...we all erred...its done....lets fix the problem.

 
At 7:31 PM, Blogger Cookie..... said...

Sorry Misha...your comment wasn't there when I started typing mine.....

 
At 8:17 PM, Blogger Gert said...

Admiral:

You and your shipmates wanted to push my buttons, you didn't want to debate. You succeeded, now you complain?!?! You're convinced I'm anti-American (which I'm not) and that seriously riled you. Have you actually read the filth that was levelled at me, long before I retorted at all?

You want debate? Then don't start by name-calling.

Respectfully, you're more than welcome here.

I agree that Haditha must be subject to due process (if you read some of my blog you'd have no problem understanding that).

It does appear that there was a potential cover-up going on. Why is it so wrong to post on that? No, go on. Explain. I'm waiting with baited breath.

Regards.

Cookie:

If you have a code of honour perhaps you should stick to it from the start. I didn't start the slugfest, you guys did and you Cookie, joined in quickly enough. Go check the thread again. Or is it too long in the past for you now?

Was it you that sounded the alarm: "Lefist ahooyyy!"? What's like, this coordinated mass cyber-trolling?

 
At 8:21 PM, Blogger Gert said...

Anyway, you're all welcome here with your opinions and warts 'n all, your entire fleet. But try and keep it decent, on-topic and sharp: I will not be abused in my own mud hut.

We might actually learn something from each other.

 
At 8:35 PM, Blogger Cookie..... said...

Yes Gert...sadly I cannot and will not deny my part...but as stated...I'm not going to point fingers of blame in any direction...

..A very wise person once told me..."when I'm pointing my finger at you...I have three pointing back at me..."

So...with that out of the way (I hope)...I acknowledge your most gracious welcome to Misha and myself to your sphere of blogdom...and hope that future communique's are of a more factual, anecdotal and civil discourse....

 
At 9:34 PM, Anonymous Admiral Misha I said...

I'm not complaining at all, Gert. Heck, I enjoy a bit of mutual mud-slinging, it's some of the best fun you can legally have without taking your clothes off.

I was merely pointing out that your reply to Marvin didn't seem to address the subject of "due process" at all, instead consisting entirely of conjecture about him having no sympathy for the victims, being a racial supremacist and comments about his male member as well as a description of the President that would've had you up in arms had somebody else said the same about, say, Palestinians.

So I decided to re-state the question: "Don't you think it would be just and fair to let due process take its course and not rush to conclusions?" and was met with more of the same.

Again, I'm not complaining, it's all good clean fun, I'm enjoying myself immensely, but it doesn't do much by way of addressing anything.

So now, if I understand you correctly, that's all water under the bridge, right?

Good. Fine by me.

No, there's nothing "wrong" in posting speculations, I speculate all the time myself, but I do get the feeling that you're a little bit over-eager in assuming that it's more than speculation, that the facts are already in and that the investigation is just a matter of technicality that will prove you right.

It could be, I don't know what went on in Haditha myself, so I'll just have to wait for the investigation to be concluded.

I don't see that "those who felt something fishy was going on are almost certainly vindicated", award-winning Neil MacKay's fine work of fiction notwithstanding. He writes a good show, but he's awfully long on unsubstantiated claims and quite short on actual verifiable facts. And his awards don't make him any more credible. Walter Duranty got a Pulitzer too.

But don't take that to mean that I'm sure that the Marines are innocent, because I can't be until the fact are in. Nor can MacKay be sure of the opposite.

 
At 3:31 PM, Blogger Gert said...

Admiral:

Most bloggers, and I'm sure that includes you and me, don't have eyes on the ground or in the air and therefore have to rely on news releases, newspaper reports etc. That makes us commentators, rather than reporters or journalists. So, a responsible blogger decides what to write, print or comment on based on what he sees, reads and hears elsewhere.

In that process everyone surmises, speculates, conjectures and so on: there is no other way to blog, unless your blog is purely fictional.

Haditha is hardly a recent event: it's almost 6 months old. I didn't give a single squeak about it up to now, apart from the eyewitness account regarding conditions in Haditha (the "related post"). Haditha is a very suspicious event mainly because of the death of children and the fact that there seems to have been no explosions involved in their deaths: merely gunfire. I'm sure the investigation will suggest other scenarios.

Recent reports from the US now indicate things aren't looking good for those allegedly implicated. But of course due process is needed and it's the only way to establish what happened.

Here's a promise: if some or all of the accused prove to be innocent, I'll place a blurb on this post or post a separate one.

Now, is any of you guys perhaps going to do the also right thing of muttering something under our breath along the lines of: "whatever happened there, it was also a terrible thing for the Iraqis involved"? Go on, have a heart... So far I got: Cookie - "...unfortunately for the US...", Marvin, - no forget that twit, and you -"it doesn't follow much". Is that the best you can do? Hey, I though we were all there to make Iraq a better and more secure place. No? Oh, well, Eurodumbo got it wrong again.

 
At 1:37 PM, Blogger Phu said...

when you guys rightly emphasize the importance of waiting to find out if the marines are actually guilty, I can't help wondering if you would do the same if the murderers had been reported in this post as Iraqi insurgents?

interesting to read the post - and the replies.

 

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