Saturday, May 27, 2006

The Haditha Incident

In the Washington Post, Ellen Knickmeyer relays the story of the incident at Haditha in which U.S. Marines are accused of committing murder in retaliation for the death of one of their own.

Witnesses to the slaying of 24 Iraqi civilians by U.S. Marines in the western town of Haditha say the Americans shot men, women and children at close range in retaliation for the death of a Marine lance corporal in a roadside bombing.

Aws Fahmi, a Haditha resident who said he watched and listened from his home as Marines went from house to house killing members of three families, recalled hearing his neighbor across the street, Younis Salim Khafif, plead in English for his life and the lives of his family members. “I heard Younis speaking to the Americans, saying: ‘I am a friend. I am good,’ ” Fahmi said. “But they killed him, and his wife and daughters.”

The 24 Iraqi civilians killed on Nov. 19 included children and the women who were trying to shield them, witnesses told a Washington Post special correspondent in Haditha this week and U.S. investigators said in Washington. The girls killed inside Khafif’s house were ages 14, 10, 5, 3 and 1, according to death certificates.

Two U.S. military boards are investigating the incident as potentially the gravest violation of the law of war by U.S. forces in the three-year-old conflict in Iraq. The U.S. military ordered the probes after Time magazine presented military officials in Baghdad this year with the findings of its own investigation, based on accounts of survivors and on a videotape shot by an Iraqi journalism student at Haditha’s hospital and inside victims’ houses.

An investigation by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service into the killings and a separate military probe into an alleged coverup are slated to end in the next few weeks. Marines have briefed members of the Senate Armed Services Committee and other officials on the findings; some of the officials briefed say the evidence is damaging. Charges of murder, dereliction of duty and making a false statement are likely, people familiar with the case said Friday.

“Marines overreacted . . . and killed innocent civilians in cold blood,” said one of those briefed, Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), a former Marine who maintains close ties with senior Marine officers despite his opposition to the war.

Rep. Murtha first spoke out about this two weeks ago — and was roundly excoriated in the right-wing press and blogosphere with accusations of treason from some of the more decipherable ranters — but now it appears that Mr. Murtha was right, and the Marines will stand for court-martial.

There are those who will say that this happens in every war. Yes, it does. Does that make it right? Of course not. Leaving aside for the moment the point that this war itself is unjustified and the larger argument that all war is a waste, the fact that atrocities happen in every war is no excuse. These men should be tried and if convicted subjected to the maximum penalty allowed. And it shouldn’t just stop there. After all, this is the United States military, which has a very strong and accountable chain of command. To leave it at the feet of these soldiers and call it an “isolated incident” would be as serious a crime as the act itself.

I’m glad to see that some of the more cogent of the right wing are also horrified by this. It would be nice if they would retract the awful things they said about Mr. Murtha two weeks ago, such as “traitor” and “turncoat.” A sincere apology is a true sign of character, something the righties seems so fond of demanding from everybody else. Now it’s their turn.