A sergeant who led a squad of Marines during the incident in Haditha, Iraq, that left as many as 24 civilians dead said his unit did not intentionally target any civilians, followed military rules of engagement and never tried to cover up the shootings, his attorney said.
Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich, 26, told his attorney that several civilians were killed Nov. 19 when his squad went after insurgents who were firing at them from inside a house. The Marine said there was no vengeful massacre, but he described a house-to-house hunt that went tragically awry in the middle of a chaotic battlefield.
"It will forever be his position that everything they did that day was following their rules of engagement and to protect the lives of Marines," said Neal A. Puckett, who represents Wuterich in the ongoing investigations into the incident. "He's really upset that people believe that he and his Marines are even capable of intentionally killing innocent civilians."
Wuterich's detailed version of what happened in the Haditha neighborhood is the first public account from a Marine who was on the ground when the shootings occurred. As the leader of 1st Squad, 3rd Platoon, Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, Wuterich was in the convoy of Humvees that was hit by a roadside bomb. He entered the house from which the Marines believed enemy fire was originating and made the initial radio reports to his company headquarters about what was going on, Puckett said.
The reports that Marines wantonly shot unarmed civilians in Haditha, including women and children, allege one of the most shocking, and potentially damaging, incidents of the Iraq war. A criminal investigation looking into possible charges of murder against half a dozen Marines is underway. A separate probe is examining whether Marines tried to cover up the shootings, and whether commanders were negligent in failing to investigate the deaths.
Three Marine officers have been relieved of command. In the absence of a public response from Marine Corps officials -- who are declining to comment to preserve the integrity of the investigation -- reports of what happened in the western Iraqi town have been leaking out piecemeal from the Haditha neighborhood and in Washington.
Wuterich's version contradicts that of the Iraqis, who described a massacre of men, women and children after a bomb killed a Marine. Haditha residents have said that innocent civilians were executed, that some begged for their lives before being shot and that children were killed indiscriminately.
As usual, there is a ton of discussion in the blogsphere.
The usual finger pointing applies in many cases, and the usual side taking. Read the whole WAPO article. For me it raises some interesting questions about the Rules of Engadgement,
"When I was in Iraq," Morgenstein said, "the Anbar-wide ROEs [rules of engagement] did not say we had the authority to knock down any door, throw in a hand grenade and kill everyone." Still, he said, if someone in a house in Haditha was shooting at them, the Marines' response may have been within procedure. "If they felt they took fire from that house, then that may be authorized."
A Marine who served near Haditha in November said it was not unusual for Marines to respond to attacks "running and gunning" and that it was standard practice to spray rooms with gunfire when threatened. "It may be a bad tactic, but it works," he said. "It keeps you alive."
but does not "prove," anything. As I said from the begining, I am going to wait until the investigation is over to pass any judgement....
Let me point out that I am not going to pass judgement on any of this. I am not, nor have I... walked the back alleys of a war zone, so I can't pass judgement on how soldiers react to danger situations. I can only say that this situation provides us with an opportunity to really understand how the war is being conducted and what the RULES are. As this investigation winds down, the truth will be revealed one way or the other. When that happens, we can all make an assessment of how we think the war is being conducted in our name. Until then... I will pass on the political volleyball. I have said it from the begining, I hope that our Marines are innocent. If this was a case of an accident, perhaps it is time to take a hard look at the rules of engadgement, with an eye towards not only protecting our troops but minimizing the chance that such an accident could happen again.
The apparent cold-blooded killing last November of 24 Iraqi civilians by United States marines at Haditha will be hard to dispose of with another Washington damage control operation. The Iraqi government has made clear that it will not sit still for one, and neither should the American people. This affair cannot simply be dismissed as the spontaneous cruelty of a few bad men.
This is the nightmare that everyone worried about when the Iraq invasion took place. Critics of the war predicted that American troops would become an occupying force, unable to distinguish between innocent civilians and murderous insurgents, propelled down the same path that led the British to disaster in Northern Ireland and American troops to grief in Vietnam. The Bush administration understood the dangers too, but dismissed them out of its deep, unwarranted confidence that friendly Iraqis would quickly be able to take control of their own government and impose order on their own people.
Now that we have reached the one place we most wanted to avoid, it will not do to focus blame narrowly on the Marine unit suspected of carrying out these killings and ignore the administration officials, from President Bush on down, who made the chances of this sort of disaster so much greater by deliberately blurring the rules governing the conduct of American soldiers in the field. The inquiry also needs to critically examine the behavior of top commanders responsible for ensuring lawful and professional conduct and of midlevel officers who apparently covered up the Haditha incident for months until journalists' inquiries forced a more honest review.
So far, nothing in President Bush's repeated statements on the issue offers any real assurance that the White House and the Pentagon will not once again try to protect the most senior military and political ranks from proper accountability. This is the pattern that this administration has repeatedly followed in the past — in the torture scandal at Abu Ghraib, in the beating deaths of prisoners at Bagram air base in Afghanistan and in the serial abuses of justice and constitutional principle at Guantánamo Bay.
These damage control operations have done a great job of shielding the reputations of top military commanders and high-ranking Pentagon officials. But it has been at the expense of things that are far more precious: America's international reputation and the honor of the United States military. The overwhelming majority of American troops in Iraq are dedicated military professionals, doing their best to behave correctly under extraordinarily difficult circumstances. Their good name requires a serious inquiry, not another deflection of blame to the lowest-ranking troops on the scene.
They can't have it be an isolated incident, they can't allow for the possibility that it's limited to a few bad apples and some midlevel commanders because then the blame falls squarely on the guilty parties themselves. Which leaves the Times and its constituents double-bound: not only does it force them to acknowledge that American soldiers (volunteers, no less) do in fact have moral agency and therefore are partly responsible for the war the left hates so much, but it offers them no way to exploit the incident for political purposes. How can they call for a pullout if the plague of renegade soldiers going berserk from exhaustion isn't a plague? How can they blame Bush or Rumsfeld for creating a "climate of impunity" (in the Nation's words) if there's no climate of impunity? The actions of the other 99.9% of U.S. forces in Iraq should count as evidence on that point, no?
My ignorance of military culture prevents me from answering the following myself so I'll throw it open to milbloggers and our readers in the armed forces. Have you "gotten the message" that you should feel free to shoot Iraqi infants in the head if it pleases you to do so? Has the torture at Abu Ghraib created a "climate of impunity" in your mind that leads you to believe gunning down Arab civilians in cold blood is appropriate, and will result in no adverse consequences to yourself? Let me know in the comments or by e-mail and I'll print the responses, because I have a crazy hunch this "green light" argument is so much bullshit manufactured by Bush-haters as cover for their agenda.
Now I just have a couple of things to say about all this. Let's wait until the investigation is over, before we decide who is to blame.... But signs are pointing towards a cover-up. Bush loves to wear the Commander in Chief hat. For someone who avoided the dangers of Vietnam, playing GI Joe must be fun. I can wear military jackets, drop gloriously onto the deck of American Aircraft Carriers and make speeches to those who walk the walk.. But I can't take responsibility when things go bad.... What happened to "The Buck Stops Here?" Right Wingers like to make hay about the guilty being punished in the Abu Ghraib case, but no officers were charged in that case. None to my knowledge have been charged in any of the other cases. It has been enlisted men and women, who granted, carried out the attrocities, but for a President who suppossedly demands accountablity, it seems strange that no one in the upper chain of command has been charged. Sure there have been some shuffling of command structures, but no one has seriously been held accountable above the pay grade of Sargeant.
So my question to Allahpundit and others is, "WHY NOT." What kind of hypocrisy drives Right Wing thinking, that it's fine to bask in glory.... what little there has been, for the senior administrators of this war. But when it comes to accountability for these events, the leaders should get a pass.... This is something those on the Right need to seriously think about.
June 3, 2006 — New evidence may suggest cover-ups in two separate incidents at the center of a simmering scandal over Iraqi civilian deaths at the hands of American forces.
Iraqi anger is percolating over the incidents, and over an investigation that cleared U.S. forces in a third case.
New pictures offer the first independent evidence suggesting that Marines may have covered up what really happened in Haditha, Iraq, where 24 Iraqi civilians were killed in November. The pictures show a house pockmarked with bullet holes, despite the initial claim that a roadside bomb was responsible.
And a new witness has come forward. Iman Waleed Abdul Hameed, a 9-year-old girl, said Marines killed her father, mother, brother, two uncles and grandmother.
Local doctors said the dead included eight women and five children.
"Most of the dead," said Dr. Waleed Abdul Khaliq al Obaidi, in Arabic, "were shot in the head and chest."
The New York Times reported today that senior commanders learned the original Marine account was wrong two days after the incident last November — but failed to act. The paper quoted an unnamed Marine general familiar with the investigation as saying, "It's impossible to believe they didn't know. You'd have to know this thing stunk."
Two Cover Ups?
Haditha is not the only incident the Pentagon is investigating.
In Al Hamdania, site of another alleged American atrocity in April, residents told ABC News today that a Marine sergeant lied on an official report about the death of a civilian, saying the man appeared to be planting a bomb. But several Marines have confessed to dragging the man from his house, shooting him and putting a shovel and weapon next to his body.
This is NOT looking good. Whatever the case, we can only hope that the Military acts quickly to investigate these reports and if found true, punish the offenders. With the situation seemingly getting more unstable in Iraq, the situation has the potential to go completely FUBAR if these issues are not dealt with.
There are two, according to the AP. They weren’t there during the incident but they took photos and helped carry out the bodies afterwards.
One of them, Lance Cpl. Ryan Briones, was interviewed by the LA Times:
Briones said he took pictures of at least 15 bodies before his camera batteries died. He said he then helped other Marines remove the bodies and place them in body bags. He said his worst moment, and one that haunts him to this day, was picking up the body of a young girl who was shot in the head.
"I held her out like this," he said, demonstrating with his arms extended, "but her head was bobbing up and down and the insides fell on my legs."
I take Briones at his word because he's a Marine, but I admit that if he weren't, I'd find some elements of his story suspicious. Regardless, he sounds shattered by what he saw - not only inside the houses but inside the bombed-out humvee where he found Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas's body. Terrazas's death is what allegedly inspired the rampage, you'll recall.
The Times says three or four Marines are suspected of carrying out the killings with several more facing charges of having covered it up or done nothing while the shooting was going on.
The rest of today's coverage follows two tracks. One is devoted to showing how tough the Marines have had it in Haditha. This AP story paints it as the equal of any snakepit in Iraq; Zarqawi is rumored to have lived there, and voter turnout for last year's constitutional referendum was estimated at 150 out of a city of 90,000. So hard is it, in fact, that Knight-Ridder's Iraq correspondent reported last August - three months before the alleged massacre - that some of the Marine officers stationed there worried that their men might crack. Editor & Publisher reprinted the article today. Quote:
Officers worry about the enemy while trying to make sure their men don't crack under the pressure.
"I tell the guys not to lose their humanity over here, because it's easy to do," said Marine Capt. James Haunty, 27, of Columbus, Ohio. "I tell them not to turn into Col. Kurtz."
Sitting with his men at a morning meeting in the town of Hit, Marine Maj. Nicholas Visconti said he was up late the night before, unable to sleep in the heat, when a call came from a patrol requesting permission to shoot an Iraqi man. The man, the patrol leader said, was out past curfew and appeared to be talking on a cell phone. Visconti intervened and told the patrol leader not to shoot...
With a worried look, Visconti, 35, of Brookfield, Conn., continued: "There's killing bad guys and there's murdering civilians. Let's do the first and not the second. Murderers we’re not, OK?"
Read it all. It's even more vivid than the AP story re: the snakepit.
The Commisar has a very compelling paragraph at the end of his post:
There is a lot of commentary on this, some very confused. In particular, many commenters are confusing "explanation" with "excuse." Is there an explanation for this? Absolutely. Young Marines seeing their buddy get killed, in a hot, dangerous town, when their nerves have been on edge for months? I've seen parents get crazy at youth soccer games. Try to imagine how crazy people get when they are being shot at. That's a whole order of magnitude of higher emotion. Now try to imagine seeing a buddy get killed. The emotional reaction is not even comprehensible to people whose daily lives are comfortable and safe.
It's probably fair to say that only the rigorous training and discipline of the US military prevents a Haditha from happening every day.
But all of the foregoing is an "explanation." It's no "excuse." The soldiers and Marines have the responsibility to conduct themselves properly, or certainly not to blow away dozens of civilians in misguided retaliatory massacres.
I am not going to judge these Marines.... I have not walked a mile in their combat boots. If they killed innocents, knowingly and in cold blood, they must pay. If they killed women and children, I will pray for their souls. But I will not judge them. The law must do that. I understand the anger that comes from losing a friend, a brother. I can only imagine what that is like, compounded with the stress of daily living under the gun. There is no moral justification for murder, but we can try to understand the circumstances that possibly drove them to it, even if we must condemn their actions.
I am very concerned about the possibility of a cover up, and complicity by the officer corps. My sincere hope is that this was not the case, and if it was, that the officers responsible are held responsible. That is all any reasonable person can ask for. It's a sad story, growing sadder with each new revelation. Let us hope that this investigation comes to a swift and just conclussion, and that we can do all possible to heal the scar left in this incidents' wake.
The Haditha "unpleasantness" is probably more of an issue in Iraq than in the U.S. where we can scarely get off the couch to get exercised about torture, a fake war, or the slow-motion erosion of our civil liberties much less killing a few more Iraqis. Perhaps Dan would like to go over to Iraq and explain to the people of Haditha that the, and we'll insert "alleged", slaughter is within an acceptable tolerance if compared to the U.S. murder rates and, even if we did invade their country and destroyed their economy and infrastructure, they should be happy that they're not living in Detroit. I know I am.
I am from the Left. I do not support the war, or our reasons/lack thereof for being there. But I don't want us to lose. Hell, I don't even want us to leave, until we put that country back together. But this story is not about Left or Right, at least not for me. It is about the possible slaughter of innocents. We need to ALL get over the political posturing on this issue, and put our efforts towards making sure JUSTICE is done, either for the victims, if they were murdered, or for the Marines if they were wrongly accussed. There are some things that are beyond politics, this should be one of them!
I have never read anything more brutal in my life... My God, if the investigation proves these accussations true, these men deserve death, and just as important, our Military leaders need to understand what caused our young men to break like this...
Then one of the Marines took charge and began shouting, said Fahmi, who was watching from his roof. Fahmi said he saw the Marine direct other Marines into the house closest to the blast, about 50 yards away.
It was the home of 76-year-old Abdul Hamid Hassan Ali. Although he had used a wheelchair since diabetes forced a leg amputation years ago, Ali was always one of the first on his block to go out every morning, scattering scraps for his chickens and hosing the dust of the arid western town from his driveway, neighbors said.
In the house with Ali and his 66-year-old wife, Khamisa Tuma Ali, were three of the middle-aged male members of their family, at least one daughter-in-law and four children -- 4-year-old Abdullah, 8-year-old Iman, 5-year-old Abdul Rahman and 2-month-old Asia.
Marines entered shooting, witnesses recalled. Most of the shots -- in Ali's house and two others -- were fired at such close range that they went through the bodies of the family members and plowed into walls or the floor, physicians at Haditha's hospital said.
A daughter-in-law, identified as Hibbah, escaped with Asia, survivors and neighbors said. Iman and Abdul Rahman were shot but survived. Four-year-old Abdullah, Ali and the rest died.
Ali took nine rounds in the chest and abdomen, leaving his intestines spilling out of the exit wounds in his back, according to his death certificate.
The Marines moved to the house next door, Fahmi said.
Inside were 43-year-old Khafif, 41-year-old Aeda Yasin Ahmed, an 8-year-old son, five young daughters and a 1-year-old girl staying with the family, according to death certificates and neighbors.
The Marines shot them at close range and hurled grenades into the kitchen and bathroom, survivors and neighbors said later. Khafif's pleas could be heard across the neighborhood. Four of the girls died screaming.
Only 13-year-old Safa Younis lived -- saved, she said, by her mother's blood spilling onto her, making her look dead when she fell, limp, in a faint.
Townspeople led a Washington Post reporter this week to the girl they identified as Safa. Wearing a ponytail and tracksuit, the girl said her mother died trying to gather the girls. The girl burst into tears after a few words. The older couple caring for her apologized and asked the reporter to leave.
I have read the numerous reports of the psychological strain on troops repeadedly deployed to Iraq. I have often wondered how I would react to that stress, and how our troops are able to deal with it every day. This case is going to have some serious impact, including political impact. Reports like the one quoted above will likely outrage and disgust the American people. There is no doubt that it will also inflame our enemies and help them to justify internally, "bringing it back to our civilian population." It's a mess, and one that is not going to go away for a while. And well it shouldn't. If innocents, especially women and children were killed in this fashion, the ramifications will be 100 times worse than Abu Gharib.