Monday, June 5, 2006

A Mess in Haditha

Excerpts from Talking Points  -- a publication of the American Progress Action Fund

June 5, 2006

President Bush acknowledged last month that the United States has been paying for the acts committed at Abu Ghraib "for a long period of time." But Rep. John Murtha (D-PA), who served for 37 years in the Marines, said recently that the acts committed in Haditha in Nov. 2005 could be "worse than Abu Ghraib." Similarly, one Defense Department official said that the alleged massacre by U.S. Marines of at least 24 unarmed Iraqi civilians could be "really, really bad -- as bad or worse than Abu Ghraib." The military has launched two separate investigations to explain what happened at Haditha. If the allegations are true, much damage has been done to the efforts to win the peace in Iraq.

  • What allegedly happened at Haditha is as bad, if not worse, than Abu Ghraib. On Nov. 19, 2005, a roadside bomb exploded in Haditha, hitting a humvee carrying a convoy of Marines and killing Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas. Initial reports said that 23 Iraqi civilians were killed in the blast and ensuing gunfight. "But since that attack, evidence has been accumulating steadily that the official version was wrong and misleading. "The Marines who came to clean up the scene afterwards "found babies, women and children shot in the head and chest. An old man in a wheelchair had been shot nine times." A doctor at a local hospital said, "most of the victims were shot...from close range." Time magazine obtained footage that indicates that the Marines went on a "rampage" for five hours, engaging in revenge shootings of innocent Iraqi civilians for the death of their fellow soldier.

  • It appears that some in the military were trying to cover up what happened. According to Rep. John Murtha (D-PA), a cover-up took place shortly after the incident occurred. "They knew about this a few days afterwards and there’s no question the chain of command tried to stifle the story," he said. In January, Time presented the video footage of the incident to military officials in Baghdad. A Marine spokesman sent the reporters "a dismissive e-mail saying that they were falling for al-Qaeda propaganda, the magazine said recently. 'I cannot believe you're buying any of this,' he wrote." The video made its way to Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the top military commander in Iraq, who saw the video and directed that an investigation, headed by Army Col. Gregory Watt, take place. 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 that the deaths were the result of 'collateral damage' rather than malicious intent by the Marines."

  • If found to be true, the fallout from Haditha could have devastating consequences. Six months after the attacks occurred, the residents of Haditha, “even [the] children, are still talking about it constantly,” says aspiring Iraqi journalism student Taher Thabet, who shot video of the aftermath of the incident. People who were once supportive of the American effort are now turning against the U.S. and considering joining the resistance. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said violence against civilians had become a "regular occurrence" by many troops in the American-led coalition who "do not respect the Iraqi people." Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice seemed to concede the allegation, and said Maliki was "speaking to the concerns of the Iraqi people."

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