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Haditha Massacre: Was it an Isolated Event and Did the Military Try to Cover it Up?
An internal military investigation has found that U.S. marines killed as many as 24 Iraqis - including women and children - in the city of Haditha last November and then tried to cover it up. We speak with an attorney and researcher at Human Rights Watch, an independent journalist who spent months unembedded in Iraq and we go to Baghdad to speak with the bureau chief for Knight Ridder.
We take a look at the Haditha massacre and the aftermath, which has continued to rock the military and political establishments. Last November, a roadside bomb struck a Humvee carrying US troops in the western Iraqi town of Haditha. The bomb killed one marine and injured two others. The next day, the Marines said in a statement that 15 Iraqi civilians died in the initial blast. They said that after the explosion, gunmen attacked the US convoy with small arms fire, prompting the Marines to return fire, killing eight insurgents. But eyewitnesses contradicted this account. They said the men, women and children were killed when marines burst into their houses after the blast and shot them dead in their nightclothes. Early this year, a videotape of the aftermath of the incident, showing the bodies of women and children, was obtained by Time magazine. The video verified the eyewitness accounts and prompted an investigation by the military. There are now 2 investigations - one into the encounter itself and another into whether it was the subject of a cover-up by the military.
Last week, the Pentagon concluded one of its investigations. Members of Congress who were briefed said that at least some members of the Marine unit may be charged with murder, which carries the death penalty.
Abdul Salam Al-Kubaissi, spokesman of the Muslim Clerics Association spoke at news conference in Baghdad on Sunday:
We invited a representative from the Military to be on the program but they declined our request.
A few days after the Haditha story broke, the military launched another investigation into the killing of Iraqi civilians by American troops. In March, the Knight Ridder news agency obtained an Iraqi police report accusing U.S forces of of murdering 11 civilians by rounding them up them up into one room of a house near the city of Balad and shooting them. The US military stated that only four civilians were killed in the raid and that they came under fire while trying to capture an al-Qaeda suspect.
The reporter who broke the story for Knight Ridder, Matthew Schofield, was interviewed by Democracy Now.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Abdul Salam Al-Kabaissi, spokesperson for the Muslim Clerics Association, speaking at a news conference in Baghdad on Sunday.
ABDUL SALAM AL-KUBAISSI: [translated] The situation has reached a level when the U.S. soldier becomes a professional killer, who kills with premeditation and deliberation. This should be among war crimes, and the ones who should be put on trial are the U.S. commanders and not the U.S. soldier, because the commanders are the ones who instruct those (soldiers) and justify their acts as it happened in Abu Ghraib's scandal.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Abdul Salam Al-Kubaissi speaking on Sunday. One of the reporters who first broke the Haditha story, Aparisim Ghosh, joined us in our Firehouse studio in March. He's the chief international correspondent for Time magazine. We wanted to go back to replay a clip of Aparisim from that day. I began by asking him to tell us about his story in Time called "One Morning in Haditha."
APARISIM GHOSH: Haditha is a small town northwest of Baghdad, a very, very dangerous place. It’s in the heart of what’s known as the Sunni Triangle, and Marines and soldiers who operate in that area are under constant threat. On the morning of the 19th of November, a four-Humvee patrol going through town was hit by an I.E.D., an improvised explosive device, which sheered off the front of one of the Humvees, killed one of the soldiers inside. What happens next is a matter of some debate, as you pointed out. Initially the Marines claimed that a total of 23 people were killed on the spot, 15 of them innocent civilians, all of whom the Marines said were killed by the I.E.D., and eight of them, enemy combatants who were shot by the Marines.
AMY GOODMAN: In addition to the 15?
APARISIM GHOSH: In addition to the 15. We looked into this case, and the more we dug, the more we thought that something didn't quite add up. And when we finally got our hands on this videotape, it became very clear to us that these people could not have been killed outdoors by an explosive device. They were killed in their homes in their night clothes. The night clothes are significant, because Iraqi women and children, especially, are very, very unlikely to go outdoors wearing their night clothes. It is a very conservative society.