Saturday, June 03, 2006

"It's one of those things where we have become the enemy." John Murtha

Here is what we know about Haditha:

Nov. 19: a Marine convoy is hit by an IED. No report of improper action is made immediately thereafter. Initial reports do indicate that the bomb killed non-combatants. This is an error.

Nov. 20: The Marines issue a press release: 15 citizens died in the blast, 8 "insurgents" were killed in the subsequent firefight. Debriefings that day, however, indicate civilians were killed in a cross-fire between Marines and insurgents.

Investigators have since come to the view that 24 civilians died, apparently from shots fired at them by Americans, and not as random victims of stray bullets in a gunfight.

But the senior officer said, "On the 19th and 20th of November, there was no information to indicate there was a law of war violation."
This information all comes from an excellent article at the NYT. Note how close the number of civilians and insurgents (23) is in the press release, to the number now. Except now, none of the dead are "insurgents."

The investigation actually turned on a videotape obtained by Time magazine. According to the reporter for Time, this is what happened:

APARISIM GHOSH:...The Marines claim that they received small arms fire from nearby homes and that they responded to this fire, they shot back, and then they went into the homes to try and flush out the bad guys, the terrorists who were in there. It’s clear from the video that those homes don't have any bullet marks outside, which would suggest that there was very little, if any, shooting by the Marines at the facades of these homes. But there are lots of signs of bullets inside.

The victims told us that the Marines came in and they killed everybody inside. In one house they threw a grenade into a kitchen. That set off a propane tank and nearly destroyed the kitchen and killed several people in that home. The scenes that were described by the survivors and the witnesses were incredibly bloody and very graphic. But they are, unfortunately, very commonplace in Iraq.

AMY GOODMAN: Inside, you talked to -- you have the description of a nine-year-old girl.


AMY GOODMAN: Tell us about her and her family and what she says happened.

APARISIM GHOSH: Well, she was indoors with her family when the explosion took place. The explosion was loud enough to wake everybody up in the neighborhood.

AMY GOODMAN: The bomb that killed the Marine.

APARISIM GHOSH: The first explosion, yes. And she says when she heard gunshots – of course, she's a child, she was frightened. When the Marines stormed towards their home, her grandfather slipped into the next room, as is, apparently, was his custom to pray, to reach out for the family Koran and pray to God that this crisis would pass. On this occasion, the Marines came into the home. They entered the room where the grandfather was, and other members of the family, and killed him.
Is Haditha unique? Perhaps only because there was a videotape of the aftermath:

DAHR JAMAIL: Well, two responses really. First is that this type of situation, like Haditha, is happening on almost a daily basis on one level or another in Iraq, whether it's civilian cars being shot up at U.S. checkpoints and families being killed or, on the other hand, to the level of, for example, the second siege of Fallujah, where between 4,000 and 6,000 people were killed, which I think qualifies as a massacre, as well. But even that number hasn't gotten the attention that this Haditha story has.

And the other really aspect of that, I think is important to note on this, is the media coverage, again, surrounding what has happened around Haditha simply because Time magazine covered it, and thank heavens that they did, but this has gotten so much media coverage, and in comparison, so many of these types of incidents are happening every single week in Iraq. And I think that's astounding and important for people to remember, as well.
And if this all starts to sound familiar, there is a reason for that:

JOHN SIFTON: Yeah. It took a lot of work for Time magazine to convince the Navy commanders to order that investigation. But once it took place, it actually did find a lot of disturbing things, and the new information we have is in large part due to that investigation. The second investigation, which is much more important in some respects, is the investigation into the possibility that officers lied about the incident when it occurred, tried to cover it up. The question isn't “Did a lie take place?” because definitely the first accounts of the incident were erroneous and appear to be falsified. The question is how high up the chain of command those lies went.
Which returns us to the NYT article today:

Marine commanders in Iraq learned within two days of the killings in Haditha last November that Iraqi civilians had died from gunfire, not a roadside bomb as initially reported, but the officers involved saw no reason to investigate further, according to a senior Marine officer.

The commanders have told investigators they had not viewed as unusual, in a combat environment, the discrepancies that emerged almost immediately in accounts about how the two dozen Iraqis died, and that they had no information at the time suggesting that any civilians had been killed deliberately.

But the handling of the matter by the senior Marine commanders in Haditha, and whether officers and enlisted personnel tried to cover up what happened or missed signs suggesting that the civilian killings were not accidental, has become a major element of the investigation by an Army general into the entire episode.

Officials have said that the investigation, while not yet complete, is likely to conclude that a small group of marines carried out the unprovoked killings of two dozen civilians in the hours after a makeshift bomb killed a marine.

A senior Marine general familiar with the investigation, which is being led by Maj. Gen. Eldon A. Bargewell of the Army, said in an interview that it had not yet established how high up the chain of command culpability for the killings extended. But he said there were strong suspicions that some officers knew that the Marine squad's version of events had enough holes and discrepancies that it should have been looked into more deeply.

"It's impossible to believe they didn't know," the Marine general said, referring to midlevel and senior officers. "You'd have to know this thing stunk." He was granted anonymity, along with others who described the investigation, because he was not authorized to speak publicly about it.
It is unlikely to reach beyond, or even to, the Pentagon. But that's where responsibility for the "chain of command" lies. It is also unlikely this will be seen as a symbol of a panoply of problems, as My Lai was finally seen as a part of Vietnam, not an aberration of it. But there are clear indications "Haditha" is emblematic, not asymptomatic. Maureen Dowd is right; this is not the outcome the "Neo-cons" expected:

The virtuecrats of the right thought they would demonstrate American virtue to the world as they imposed American democracy. But now, with murder charges expected against some marines, and a cover-up investigation under way, the values president is running a war that requires a refresher course on values. A bitter irony.
But the real irony is imagining war is ever anything other than mindless slaughter, or that it ends for reasons other than there are no combatants left with the will to fight:

O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with hurricanes of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it – for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet!
Mark Twain, The War Prayer

In war, the death of innocents and innocence is not an aberration; it is a consequence of war, which is itself a consequence of worshipping power, and of seeing power as the salvation of our ideals. War is always about becoming the enemy; which returns us to prayers.

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