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After Charges, Looking Back on Haditha

Tom Zeller Jr., New York Times

1222haditha.jpg

A scene from the videotape, shot by an Iraqi journalism student, that ultimately led to an investigation of four American marines and, yesterday, charges of murder. (Photo: Associated Press)

December 22, 2006

Military charges were lodged yesterday in the killings last year of 24 Iraqi civilians in the village of Haditha — and as Paul von Zielbauer and Carolyn Marshall report, they were aggressive charges.

Four marines were charged with murder. Four other officers were charged with dereliction of duty for failing to properly inform superiors about the incident.

From today’s article:

The marines could punish other ranking officers administratively in the weeks to come. But the criminal charges filed yesterday … reflect an unusually aggressive judicial reaction by military prosecutors to a massacre that has damaged the military’s credibility with Iraqi officials and civilians, military justice experts said.

"This is very aggressive charging — wow," said Gary Solis, who teaches the law of war at Georgetown University Law Center and at West Point. "I think this illustrates the deep seriousness the Marine Corps takes with these events."

By way of background, the Haditha incident first came to light when Time Magazine published an exclusive article on the incident, raising questions about the deaths of what, at the time, were thought to be 15 Iraqi civilians.

As BBC News reports, the military’s original dispatch on the incident, from Nov. 20, 2005, gave little detail:

"A U.S. Marine and 15 civilians were killed yesterday from the blast of a roadside bomb in Haditha.

"Immediately following the bombing, gunmen attacked the convoy with small arms fire. Iraqi army soldiers and marines returned fire, killing eight insurgents and wounding another."

That could have been the end of the matter, but a local journalist, Taher Thabet, shot video images of the scene a day later. From the BBC:

[W]hatever they were - [they] were not the aftermath of a roadside bombing. The bodies of women and children, still in their nightclothes, apparently shot in their own homes; interior walls and ceilings peppered with bullet holes; bloodstains on the floor.

Mr. Thabet got the tape into the hands of Time, which passed it on to military commanders in Baghdad. A criminal investigation, led by the Naval Criminal Investigation Service (NCIS), was begun in early March. Time’s article was posted online on March 19, and appeared on newsstands the next day when the March 27 issue went on sale.

The Multi-National Forces Iraq subsequently started a second investigation to determine if there had been a cover-up.

From there, the stories of the Marines involved have been at odds with accounts from eyewitnesses in Haditha.

From The Marine Corps Times:

The Marine Corps originally said a convoy from the Camp Pendleton, Calif.-based Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines, hit a roadside bomb Nov. 19 that killed Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas, 20, of El Paso, Texas.

Marine officials initially said 15 Iraqi civilians also were killed in the blast, but later reported that the civilians were killed in a firefight that took place after the explosion.

Reports from Haditha, however, had marines barging into houses near where the roadside bomb exploded and, apparently in retaliation, "throwing grenades and shooting civilians who were cowering in fear," the Marine Corps Times noted.

The BBC offers a graphic that attempts to lay out the differences between the two accounts. But the bottom line for the marines involved was this, from today’s New York Times coverage:

The lawyers for all four enlisted men declared their clients’ innocence, arguing in separate statements after the charges that the killings were an unfortunate result of marines properly responding to an insurgent attack in a dangerous area.

No formal pleas have yet been entered by any of the marines, pending a military review of the charges.

Meanwhile, The Times offers reactions from residents of Haditha to the charges leveled against the marines, including this one, from Tahseen Al-Hadithi, 51, cleric and imam of the Haditha mosque:

"I prefer they won’t be executed, and to be handed over to Haditha people to get the punishment they deserve."


:: Article nr. 29226 sent on 23-dec-2006 02:55 ECT

www.uruknet.info?p=29226

Link: thelede.blogs.nytimes.com/2006/12/22/after-charges-looking-back-on-haditha/



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