As the Los Angeles Times reported on Saturday, this much is known to be true: On November 19, after a roadside bomb killed Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas, 15 Iraqi civilians – including seven women and three children – were allegedly shot and killed by a unit of US Marines operating in Haditha, Iraq. Then, this past Friday, a battalion commander and two company commanders from the same unit were relieved of their duties.
We also know that the Marine Corps initially claimed that the 15 Iraqi civilians were killed by a roadside bomb. But in January, after Time magazine presented the military with Iraqi accounts and video proof of the attack’s aftermath, officials acknowledged that the civilians were killed by Marines but blamed insurgents nonetheless who had “placed noncombatants in the line of fire.”
However, video evidence shows that women and children were shot in their homes while still wearing nightclothes. And while there are no bullet holes outside the houses to support the military’s assertion of a firefight with insurgents, “inside the houses…the walls and ceilings are pockmarked with shrapnel and bullet holes as well as the telltale spray of blood.”
The Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) has launched a criminal investigation to determine whether the civilians were intentionally massacred by Marines. A second investigation will explore the initial misleading explanations of the killings.
US media coverage of the Haditha allegations has been startlingly limited. In addition to the Time investigation, AP reporter Bassem Mroue has followed the case and Knight-Ridder reporter Nancy A. Youssef has written an article as well. That’s it. Much has been written in the UK press and in English-language papers around the world.
And while the NCIS investigation is still pending, circumstances surrounding the events of November 19 are strikingly similar to an “atrocity-producing situation,” as described by Pulitzer Prize-winning war reporter and Nation Institute Fellow, Chris Hedges.
In Yes! Magazine‘s Winter 2005 issue, Hedges describes, “You have an elusive enemy. You’re not fighting a set organized force…So you very rarely see your attacker, and this builds up a great deal of frustration. This frustration is compounded by the fact that you live in an environment where you are almost universally despised. Everyone becomes the enemy. And… after, for instance, somebody in your unit is killed by a sniper who melts back into the slums where the shot was fired from–it becomes easy to carry out acts of revenge against people who are essentially innocent, but who you view as culpable in some way for the death of your comrades.”
One hopes that the NCIS investigation will be thorough and will reveal the facts about what exactly happened on November 19. But judging from the scapegoating and inaction in torture cases, what are the chances of any real accountability?
As Hedges notes of his experiences, “One of the frustrating things for those of us who have spent so much time in war zones is to come back and see how those who are guiltiest–those who pushed the country into war, who told the lies that perpetuated the war–are never held accountable. And those who suffer the most, those who endure the trauma and have to live with the memories for the rest of their lives, are blamed unjustly.”