March 29, 2006
"IT WAS a massacre in every sense of the word." That’s how Khaled Ahmed Rsayef described the murder of 15 Iraqi civilians--including his brother and six other relatives--by U.S. Marines last November.
The full horror of what the victims faced in their final minutes was made public last week in a Time magazine report detailing what witnesses say was a calculated mass killing by Marines on a rampage.
On the morning of November 19, 2005, a roadside bomb struck a humvee carrying Marines on a road near Haditha, killing Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas. A day later, the Marines issued a press release stating that Terrazas and 15 Iraqi civilians were killed by the blast, and that "gunmen attacked the convoy with small-arms fire," prompting the Marines to return fire, killing eight insurgents and wounding one other.
But 9-year-old Eman Walid tells a different story about what actually happened. Eman told Time that the Marines burst into the home where most of her terrified family--including her mother, grandfather, grandmother, two brothers, two aunts and two uncles--was huddled together in the living room in their nightclothes.
"First, they went into my father’s room, where he was reading the Koran," she said, "and we heard shots." Then, she said, the soldiers came back into the living room. "I couldn’t see their faces very well--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, she said, began firing into the corner of the room while the adults tried to shield Eman and her 8-year-old brother. Seven adults were killed, Eman’s brother was shot in the shoulder, and Eman herself suffered a shrapnel wound to her leg.
"We were lying there, bleeding, and it hurt so much," she told Time. "Afterward, some Iraqi soldiers came. They carried us in their arms. I was crying, shouting, 'Why did you do this to our family?’ And one Iraqi soldier tells me, 'We didn’t do it. The Americans did.’"
After an investigation that ended in February--launched only after an Iraqi journalism student turned over videotape of the aftermath of the killing to a human rights group, which shared it with Time--Marines changed their official story, claiming they opened fire only because they heard the sound of an AK-47 being readied to shoot.
Marines say that they then came under fire from a second house--making them break down a door and toss in a grenade. The grenade ignited a propane tank in the kitchen, and Marines opened fire, killing eight residents, including four children. A third house was then raided.
Yousif Ayed, the son of Ahmed Ayed, who owned that house, told Time that Iraqi troops prevented him from going to the aid of his family. But later, he said, "we could tell from the blood tracks across the floor what happened. The Americans gathered my four brothers and took them inside my father’s bedroom, to a closet. They killed them inside the closet."
Marines, however, that the men they killed were insurgents, and that one was armed with an AK-47. In all, the Marines say the series of raids took five hours and left at least 23 people dead.
While the Marines admit they caused the deaths, the earlier investigation found the casualties to be "collateral damage." Relatives of the 15 dead civilians were paid $2,500 for each of their lives.
Now, in the wake of the release of the videotape showing the dead, the U.S. Naval Criminal Investigation Service is investigating again--this time, to determine if the killings were a war crime that began as an act of revenge.
The revelations about the massacre in Haditha came as U.S. troops were being accused last week of killing 11 civilians, including five children and a 75-year-old women, in the town of Ishaqi, north of Baghdad,
The military claims that a house collapsed following a firefight, killing those inside. But witnesses say the civilians had been gathered together in the corner of one room, and were shot at close range. A report by Iraqi police supports that contention.
As Socialist Worker went to press, a new atrocity was exposed--the slaughter of at least 22 people during prayers at a Shia mosque in eastern Baghdad over the weekend.
According to reports, U.S. forces opened fire after coming under attack. While the U.S. claims that troops never entered the mosque, video broadcast on Iraqi television shows bodies lying in a heap on what appears to be the floor of a prayer room. All of those killed were unarmed, said Abdul al-Karim al-Enzi, Iraq’s national security minister. "Nobody fired a single shot" at the troops, he told Reuters.
Because the Pentagon refuses to track Iraqi civilian deaths, there’s no way of knowing for sure how many more other horror stories there may be. And for every reported killing or abuse of a civilian at the hands of U.S. soldiers, many more likely never come to light.
On a recent edition of BBC’s NewsNight, Specialist Michael Blake, who served in Balad, said it was common practice in Iraq for U.S. troops to "shoot up the landscape or anything that moved" after an explosion--increasing the likelihood of hitting civilians.
Specialist Jody Casey, a former scout sniper in Baquba, said he had also seen civilians being killed. "At that time, when you first got down there, you could basically kill anyone you wanted," Casey said. Bombs "go off and you just zap any farmer that’s close to you," he said, adding that he was advised to carry a shovel--in order to plant it on dead civilians to make it look as though they were digging roadside bombs.
Whether any U.S. soldiers will pay for war crimes is doubtful. According to the Sunday Times newspaper, the Pentagon claims to have investigated at least 600 cases of alleged abuse by U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.
While military officials say 230 soldiers have been disciplined or punished for "improper behavior," the Times says that a study by three human rights groups, to be published next month, found that most soldiers found guilty of abuse received only "administrative" discipline, such as loss of rank or pay, confinement to base or periods of extra duty.
Most cases ended with relatively light sentences--as in the case of Sgt. Michael Smith, an Army dog handler convicted last week of using a dog to terrorize detainees at Abu Ghraib. Smith was given only a six-month sentence, with a dishonorable discharge and a small fine for his crimes.
More chillingly, Smith’s lawyer was prevented from asking higher-ranking officers and Pentagon officials about a prison and military atmosphere that not only tolerated but encouraged detainee abuse. Smith, for example, claimed that he was following interrogation procedures approved by the chief intelligence officer at Abu Ghraib, Col. Thomas Pappas
Despite evidence suggesting that detainee abuse was approved by top Pentagon brass, the highest-ranking officer convicted to date in relation to the abuse of detainees is an Army captain.
The Bush administration’s promise to "liberate" Iraqis has been exposed as a cruel joke for people like Eman Walid and her family. These are the war criminals that should be on trial for the death and destruction in Iraq.