December 5, 2007
While U.S. atrocities in Iraq are generally covered up by the government, military, and mainstream media, there have been a few major incidents that have been impossible to keep completely hidden. In such cases, we may hear calls for an investigation or talk that some troops may get charged. But we rarely hear about what happens after that. Here is a look at three horrific war crimes committed by U.S. forces in Iraq, and what happened afterward to the troops involved.
The War Crime: Haditha
On November 19, 2005, U.S. soldiers went on a rampage in the village of Haditha after an IED (improvised explosive device) exploded and killed a Marine. Aws Fahmi saw Marines going house to house, killing members of three families. He heard his neighbor plead in English for his life and the lives of his family. "But they killed him, and his wife and daughters," Fahmi said. The girls were ages 14, 10, 5, 3 and 1.
Nine-year-old Eman Walid Abdul-Hameed said that the Marines burst into her house at 7 a.m. "The Americans came into the room where my father was praying and shot him. They went to my grandmother and killed her too. I heard an explosion. They threw a grenade under my grandfather’s bed." Eman suffered a shrapnel wound. Her parents, grandparents, two uncles, and a cousin were killed.
By the time Marines were done five hours later, they had killed 24 people, all civilians.
What Happened: The Marines first claimed that the IED had killed 15 civilians and that the rest of the dead were "insurgents" killed by the Marines in a firefight. It was immediately clear this was a lie: The victims were shot at close range, and their bodies had no shrapnel wounds. The Marines’ own photos, and a video taken the next day, show that the houses were riddled with bullet holes on the inside—not the outside—disproving the Marines’ claim to have engaged in a firefight.
A worldwide outcry erupted after Time magazine published video evidence of the massacre and survivors’ stories. But it wasn’t until more than a year after the massacre that charges were brought against 8 Marines: 4 officers for failing to investigate or accurately report on the killings; and 4 enlisted men for "unpremeditated" murder. Charges were dismissed against 2 of the enlisted soldiers and reduced against the other 2. Charges against 2 of the officers were also dropped.
Lt. General James Mattis, head of the Marines Central Command, was responsible for the decision to drop and reduce the charges. Mattis said during a public forum in San Diego in 2005: "You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn’t wear a veil. You know, guys like that ain’t got no manhood left anyway. So it’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them."
The War Crime: Ramadi
On November 13, 2006, U.S. tanks opened fire on homes in the Al-Dhubat area of Ramadi, killing at least 35 people. The dead were civilians, according to Iraqi doctors and witnesses. 60-year-old Haji Jassim told Inter Press Service, "We weren’t allowed by the Americans to reach the destroyed houses to try to rescue those who were buried, so certainly many of them bled to death."
On November 18, 2007, Marine Corp Times made available a recording that a sergeant did of a briefing by his commanding officer after another incident in Ramadi (August 23, 2006) which left women and children dead. Capt. Shane Cote told the troops during the briefing, "Earlier up on the roof, there was like five women and little girls, OK? We fucked that area up. If we did any collateral damage, there will be people here asking. Your answer, for the sake of yourselves—and me—better be you were fucking shooting at muzzle flashes."
What Happened: No charges were filed in the November 2006 killings. Nor were any criminal charges brought in the August 2006 incident, which was treated by the Marines as an administrative "personnel issue."
The War Crime: Fallujah
In November 2004, the U.S. unleashed Operation Phantom Fury on the city of Fallujah. For 10 days the U.S. rained destruction down on the people, killing thousands and leveling much of the city. The operation included the use of white phosphorus, a skin-burning chemical weapon which has been banned from use in combat by international treaty. Of the roughly 50,000 buildings in Fallujah, 7,000 to 10,000 were destroyed, and from half to two-thirds of the remaining buildings were significantly damaged. 200,000 Iraqis who lived in the city were forced to flee and become refugees. Under the Nuremberg Charter, which was used to prosecute Nazis after World War 2, the "wanton destruction of cities, towns or villages" is a war crime.
A video taken by NBC newsman Kevin Sites during the Fallujah operation shows several wounded Iraqi men in a mosque with heavily armed U.S. Marines standing over them. The captives had already been searched for weapons the previous day and had been left on the floor overnight. One Marine can be heard on the video footage saying, "He’s fucking faking he’s dead." This soldier then raises his rifle and fires right into the man’s head. Blood splatters onto the wall. A second Marine says, "Well, he’s dead now." The execution of a wounded captive is a war crime under the Geneva Conventions.
What Happened: The military ruled that the soldier in the Sites video acted "consistent with the established rules of engagement, the law of armed conflict and the Marine’s inherent right of self-defense." No charges were filed.
The only charge stemming from the brutal assault on Fallujah has been against Marine sergeant Jose Luis Nazario, accused of murdering two Iraqi men. Nazario made a call on his radio after his squad captured four men in a house. An officer asked Nazario over the radio, "Are they dead yet?" When Nazario responded that the captives were still alive, he was allegedly told to "make it happen." Nazario was charged only with voluntary manslaughter and allowed to remain free on $50,000 bail in Riverside, California, where he had become a cop after leaving the Marines. Another soldier is being investigated for executing the other two Iraqis in the same incident but has not been charged. The officer who gave the order to execute the captured men has not been identified or charged.
What does it show about the utterly reactionary nature of what the U.S. is doing in Iraq, that such savage war crimes go essentially unpunished—giving a green light for more? There is great moral and political responsibility for the people in the U.S. to refuse to be complicit with these crimes—to act politically to stop this bloody war and to drive out the criminal regime behind it, through a mass movement of millions.