'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Friday, January 11, 2008

Haditha: No Murder Charges 

For background on this grisly incident, go here and here and here and here. According to the eyewitness accounts of Iraqis, 24 Iraqis were massacred by Marines after a roadside blast. Consider, for example, this televised interview with a 10 year girl who saw the Marines kill 7 members of her family.

Or, these two accounts from my post of May 29, 2006:

A harrowing eyewitness account of the killings at Haditha in the London Times:

The latest accounts given to The Times paint a gruesome picture of events on November 19. About a quarter of an hour after the attack on Iman’s house, Mohammed Basit, 23, an engineering student, said that he watched as Marines entered the home of his neighbour, Salim Rasif, He peered from a window as the family, including Salim’s wife, sister-in-law and their five children, rushed into a bedroom.

I saw them all gathering in their parents’ room, then we heard a bang which was most likely a hand grenade, then we heard shooting,” he said. Fearing for his life, he moved away from the window.

Throughout the next day the Americans cordoned off Salim and Iman’s homes, which are located about 20 metres apart. The next night Basit and his father slipped inside Salim’s house. “The blood was everywhere in Salim’s bedroom,” Basit said. “I saw organs and flesh on the ground and a liver on the bed. Blood splattered the ceiling. The bullet holes were in the walls and in different parts of the house.

Even the editors of the New York Times have been compelled to get the story:

Hiba Abdullah said that after the killings in her father-in-law's home the American troops moved to the house of a neighbor, Younis Salim Nisaif. She said he was killed along with is wife, Aida, and Aida's sister, Huda. She said five children were also killed at that home, all between ages of 10 and 3.

There was one survivor, Safa Younis Salim, 13, who in an interview said she lived by faking her death. "I pretended that I was dead when my brother's body fell on me and he was bleeding like a faucet," she said. She said she saw American troops kick her family members and that one American shouted in the face of one relative before he was killed.

The Marines initially brought murder charges, but, predictably, these killings of Iraqis by US troops, some of them execution style, no longer merit such serious charges:

After a two-year investigation into the killings of up to 24 civilians in Haditha, Iraq, the Marine Corps has decided that none of the Marines involved in the incident will be charged with murder. Instead, two enlisted Marines and two Marine officers will face trial in coming months for the killings and for failing to investigate them.

The most serious charges have been leveled against Marine Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich, who is scheduled to be arraigned on charges of voluntary manslaughter in California next week, the last step before the case officially moves to trial.

Initially called a massacre by Iraqi residents of Haditha and later characterized as coldblooded murder by a U.S. congressman, the case has turned not on an alleged rampage but on a far more complex analysis of how U.S. troops fight an insurgency in the midst of a population they seek to protect.

The Marine Corps at first charged eight Marines and officers with murder or failing to investigate an apparent war crime. The charges have since been narrowed to four men in the unit, after three were cleared and a fourth was granted immunity to testify.

Wuterich is charged with nine counts of voluntary manslaughter, with the charges alleging that he had an intent to kill and that his actions inside a residential home and on a residential street in November 2005 amounted to unlawful killing "in the heat of sudden passion caused by adequate provocation." Charging documents released this week say he killed at least nine people without properly obtaining positive identification that they were the enemy in the midst of an attack. 1st Lt. Andrew Grayson has been charged with obstructing the investigation.

Wuterich and Lance Cpl. Stephen B. Tatum are the only two shooters that day to face criminal scrutiny; Lt. Col. Jeffrey R. Chessani, the battalion commander, faces charges that he was derelict in his duty for failing to ask for an investigation.

The charges arise from the Nov. 19, 2005, shootings of as many as 24 innocent civilians who were nearby when a roadside bomb killed a member of Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines. Wuterich and others in his unit killed a group of men who were in a white car near the blast and then stormed into two nearby houses, killing unarmed men, women and children after the Marines believed they were taking fire from the homes.

Did you catch it? . . . the case has turned not on an alleged rampage but on a far more complex analysis of how U.S. troops fight an insurgency in the midst of a population they seek to protect . . . An alleged rampage? They burst into people's homes and killed 24 people, some by shooting them dead, others by sitting off a grenade. There are numerous Iraqi eyewitnesses who provided statements to the media and the investigators.

Which is why, of course, it was essential for the case to turn, not on the facts, the brutality of the massacre, but, instead upon the complex analysis of how U. S. troops fight an insurgency. Apparently, the lesson to be drawn from the desultory outcome of the Haditha prosecution is that, at worst, U. S. troops can arbitrarily kill civilians and only face the reduced criminal charge of manslaughter, as Wuterich currently does. Another soldier, Tatum, faces an unspecified charge, a reduced one of some kind, related to the killings. Two others, Chessani and Grayson faces ones related to the need for an investigation and the subsequent obstruction of it. Charges against four others have been dropped.

One suspects that the charges may have been dropped against many of the soldiers involved, and reduced against Wuterrich, Grayson and Tatum, because it would have resulted in a full airing of the rules of engagement for U. S. troops in Iraq. It is common for the attorneys representing soldiers facing serious discipline to claim that the actions of their clients, no matter how grotesque, are consistent with them. In other words, the rules of engagement place no restriction upon the use of deadly force against anyone or anything in event of an attack.

Note, for example, the remarks of one of Wuterich's defense attorneys:

Mark Zaid, one of Wuterich's defense attorneys, said the charges show there was no "massacre" and that the case highlights how difficult it is for U.S. troops to make tough battlefield decisions. He said Wuterich and the other Marines were following their rules of engagement when they shot and killed their targets in Haditha, with unfortunate -- but not illegal -- consequences.

"Every Marine, period, is trained with the intent to kill," Zaid said. "What everyone will realize at the end of the day is that the characterization of the events was nothing like reality, that the training the troops on the ground received was primarily responsible for what happened, and that the fog of war sometimes ends up with terrible results."

In any event, the Haditha killings exposed a face of the occupation that one rarely encounters in the U. S. They constitute the most extreme manifestation of the violence and degradation that U. S. troops inflict upon Iraqis as a matter of course. But don't expect anyone in the U. S. media and political system to emphasize it, or even acknowledge it, that's something that only Iraqis need to know.

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