Secret Haditha Massacre Documents Are A Fitting Coda To The End Of Iraq War


That the true story of the 2005 massacre of 20 Iraqi civilians, including an elderly man in a wheelchair and women and children, has finally come out because an Iraqi was using transcripts of secret interviews with the Marines involved to cook dinner is a fitting coda to a nearly nine-year war that officially ended today.

The events in the town of Haditha in Anbar Province were a horrific aberration, but they are described in dehumanized and almost blasé terms by commanders in the province as, you know, typical of the chaos of Iraq.

Colonel Thomas Cariker, in one of the many lies told in the interviews, claimed the deaths were caused by “grenade attacks on a checkpoint and, you know, collateral with civilians.”

Iraqi civilians are being killed all the time, explained Major General Steve Johnson, describing the deaths as “a cost of doing business.”

True enough, but the initial response to the killings was to cover them up. When Time magazine, among other media outlets, published accounts of what really happened, the Marine Corps reluctantly charged eight men. One Marine was acquitted and charges eventually were dropped against six others on the grounds of conflicting testimony. The reality is that so many officers and enlisted men perjured themselves that it was impossible for Naval Criminal Investigative Service officers to make the charges stick. Meanwhile, one Marine is scheduled to go to trial early next year.

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It is instructive to put the Haditha Massacre in the larger context of the war.

The massacre occurred on November 19, 2005 when Marines from 3/1 Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines opened fire on the civilians not because they had been fired on but in retribution for the improvised explosive device attack (photo, right) on a Marine convoy by insurgents that killed Lance Corporal Miguel Terrazas and wounded two others, one severely when he was thrown from a Humvee and trapped under a rear tire.

The trial of Saddam Hussein had just gotten underway in Baghdad and the Al Qaeda insurgency led by Sunnis disenfranchised by Nouri al-Maliki’s Shiite government in Baghdad was becoming more powerful and was killing and maiming GIs throughout Anbar. These attacks were among the first stirrings of a civil war provoked by the U.S. occupation that was to fully erupt the following February when the Shiite Golden Mosque in Samarra was destroyed in a Sunni bomb attack. Some 871 Americans were to die before 2005 was over, the third highest yearly death toll of the war.

The 400 pages of secret interrogations were supposed to have been destroyed as the last American troops prepared to stand down, but were found by New York Times reporter Michael S. Schmidt along with reams of other classified documents, including military maps showing helicopter routes and radar capabilities, at a junkyard outside Baghdad as an attendant was using them as fuel to cook a dinner of smoked carp.

While the Marines and their commanders repeatedly perjured themselves, their accounts also reveal the extraordinary strains on ground troops in Anbar and their often painful encounters with a population they did not understand and in many cases made no effort to try to understand as the rules of engagement, dictated by the White House as its rationalization for the war kept changing, themselves kept changing.

Some Marines testified that they felt they were under attack constantly and to use force first and ask questions later.

“When a car doesn’t stop, it crosses the trigger line, Marines engage and, yes, sir, there are people inside the car that are killed that have nothing to do with it,” said Sergeant Major Edward T. Sax, the battalion’s senior noncommissioned officer.

Sax testified he would ask the Marines responsible if they had known there had been children in the car. When they said no, he said he would tell them they were not at fault.

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Haditha became a defining moment of the war. It sealed an an enduring Iraqi distrust of the U.S. and a resentment that not one Marine has been convicted. While President Obama had been under pressure to make good on his 2008 campaign promise to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq, it was that sense of American impunity that poisoned any chance of troops remaining without being subject to Iraqi laws and courts, a condition the White House and Pentagon have never accepted in any country where Americans are stationed.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s remarks today that the U.S. had secured democracy for Iraq as the American flag was lowered in a reinforced concrete courtyard at Baghdad’s airport surely rang hollow for many Iraqis.

The war has claimed 4,487 American lives, with another 32,226 Americans wounded in action, while as many as 100,000 Iraqis have been killed, millions wounded and millions more displaced.

While Saddam Hussein was a very bad man who happened to be taken out on the false pretense that he aided and abetted the 9/11 attacks, the man who succeeded him, Al-Maliki, is arguably just as bad as the pernicious influence of Iran grows and his secret police fan out across a U.S. “liberated” Iraq killing and kidnapping civilians who oppose his regime.


Haditha photos from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.
Stand down ceremony photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais

         

11 Comments

  1. There is nothing more debilitating to my patriotism than word of American military war crimes and atrocities. Nothing disgusts me more than military lies and deceit to hide and/or white wash away the blood of innocence on their hands for the acts of their men.

    I once knew a soldier who was tortured by memories of killing a little girl in Vietnam. Twice he completely destroyed his work station screaming; “she was so fragile, so small”, over and over again as he smashed his desk into pieces. He scared the hell out of everybody but we couldn’t bring ourselves to fire him. One day he didn’t come to work and he never did again. Still don’t know what happened to him. This man’s cry’s were so stricken with emotional pain that the sound would stand the hair up on my neck.

    Live with yourselves you SOB’s. You think you got away with this but your own guilty mind will turn against you before you die, I guarantee it.

  2. Allen:

    War does indeed blur even the steadiest moral compasses. I certainly do not forgive the Marines who went on a murderous rampage at Haditha, but who is the enemy and who is not also is blurred.

    I had a dear friend who skippered one of those riverine boats up the Mekong in Vietnam as portrayed in Apocalypse Now. He killed civilians who appeared to be armed and were not and civilians who were armed and would have killed him.

    He never was able to live with his deeds and had a profound case of PTSD and died a broken man.

  3. In this sort of circumstance I applaud the media for bringing these things to the public. We cannot lead anything in the world if we are joyous, unrepentant military murderers.

    We MUST obey the documents of the Geneve` Conventions and we must allow the ICRC to instruct our military people in their meaning regularly, and, often in both war and peace.

    Prosecute, not cover up, should be the way the world sees America as dealing with these matters.

    Sorry about your friend. I believe that humans know if they are guilty or not. I would rather be not guilty and prosecuted that guilt and not prosecuted. The mind can be far worse on it’s owner than is conventionally recognized.

  4. Fitting, or better tragic, horrific, the blood of war. I don’t get fitting, is it political?

  5. Duck-

    Fitting, yeah, because the war should never have happened in the first place, and, political, yeah, because it was the republican political mentality of George W Brushfire that knee-jerked us into that war. We know now that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. We didn’t know it then, but G.dubya and company certainly knew it!

  6. The people who should least be able to sleep at night, the architects of the war, are likely the most comfortable. If there is a hell for some in the hereafter, then Bush, Cheney, and a couple dozen others who wear expensive suits and have soft hands have their reservations firmly locked in.

  7. JSpencer:

    I have had the same thought.

    I’m going out on a bit of a limb here, but I don’t think that Cheney and Rumsfeld are capable of guilt, remorse or any of the other emotions that we mere mortals feel when we know that we have really f*cked up.

    I do believe that Bush may feel sorry and it wouldn’t surprise me if he says as much at some point in his twilight years.

  8. You may be right Shaun. Only time will tell. If there is a gene for conscience, then Cheney and Rumsfeld didn’t get it. I suppose GWB was more or less a dupe and out of his depth (my gift for speaking the obvious) but it’s hard to understand why he isn’t being eaten up from the inside out over this. Who knows, maybe he started drinking again.

  9. Ok, I got it……………..

  10. Certainly reminds us of the massive civilian death war causes. I want to hear more discussion from our leaders regarding the cost of civilian lives before there is another war. Before each and every time our military is used I want to hear it. We get a lot of; “GI Joe’s kids and fat wife are suffering back in Kansas because her hubby is deployed abroad“, but not much about the hundreds of thousands of dead non-combatant civilians piled up because we deployed him.

    Yes we must sometimes send people into combat and yes they deserve our respect, BUT if we do not have respect for the innocent and justly consider their lives in the cost, then our soldiers won’t either. It has been far to easy to explain away the deaths of so many.

  11. “It has been far to easy to explain away the deaths of so many.”

    Agreed. Apparently those hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths don’t matter because they were Iraqi and it happened “over there”. The vast majority of Americans who supported this war were entirely disconnected from it. Seems to me that anyone who cheers the throwing of others into a meatgrinder should have to experience some of the consequences. Talk is cheap.

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