Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

  Why Iraq is not like Vietnam

Today Rep. John Murtha delivered the bad news about the U.S. Marines who stand accused of slaughtering at least 15 Iraqi civilians, several of them children, on November 19, 2005 in Haditha. He was quoted by Knight Ridder.

A Pentagon report on an incident in which U.S. Marines shot and killed more than a dozen Iraqi civilians last November will show that those killings were deliberate and worse than initially reported, a Pennsylvania congressman said Wednesday.

"There was no firefight. There was no IED (improvised explosive device) that killed those innocent people," Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., said during a news conference on Iraq. "Our troops overreacted because of the pressure on them. And they killed innocent civilians in cold blood. That is what the report is going to tell."

Murtha's comments were the first on-the-record remarks by a U.S. official characterizing the findings of military investigators looking into the Nov. 19 incident. Murtha, the ranking Democrat on the Defense Appropriations subcommittee and an opponent of Bush administration policy in Iraq, said he hadn't read the report but had learned about its findings from military commanders and other sources.

NBC News also quotes Murtha as well as unnamed military officials familiar with the investigation.

Military officials say Marine Corp photos taken immediately after the incident show many of the victims were shot at close range, in the head and chest, execution-style. One photo shows a mother and young child bent over on the floor as if in prayer, shot dead, said the officials, who spoke to NBC News on condition of anonymity because the investigation hasn't been completed.

One military official says it appears the civilians were deliberately killed by the Marines, who were outraged at the death of their fellow Marine.

“This one is ugly," one official told NBC News.

It appears that on Nov. 19 a roadside explosion (IED) in Haditha killed a Marine, Miguel Terrazas. In retaliation, his comrades entered at least four houses and massacred most of the people present. When the next day a village resident took a video of the scene that appeared to depict a slaughter, a USMC spokesman issued a denial saying that an IED had blown up a bus killing 15 civilians and one Marine, and that a firefight had followed in which 8 further insurgents were killed.

Yet the video showed no signs of a firefight. The angry villagers visited the Marine camp, but the only explanation they received was that the Marines mistakenly thought there were terrorists in the village. No disciplinary action was taken.

The cover-up continued for some time, it seems. The armed forces opened an investigation only on Feb. 14, after a Time magazine reporter brought pressure to bear.

In January, after Time presented military officials in Baghdad with the Iraqis' accounts of the Marines' actions, the U.S. opened its own investigation, interviewing 28 people, including the Marines, the families of the victims and local doctors. According to military officials, the inquiry acknowledged that, contrary to the military's initial report, the 15 civilians killed on Nov. 19 died at the hands of the Marines, not the insurgents....

In February an infantry colonel went to Haditha for a weeklong probe in which he interviewed Marines, survivors and doctors at the morgue, according to military officials close to the investigation. The probe concluded that the civilians were in fact killed by Marines and not by an insurgent's bomb and that no insurgents appeared to be in the first two houses raided by the Marines. The probe found, however, that the deaths were the result of "collateral damage" rather than malicious intent by the Marines, investigators say.

In mid-March the investigation was handed on to the NCIS, as Time reported.

The military announced last week that the matter has been handed over to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (ncis), which will conduct a criminal investigation to determine whether the troops broke the laws of war by deliberately targeting civilians. Lieut. Colonel Michelle Martin-Hing, spokeswoman for the Multi-National Force-Iraq, told Time the involvement of the ncis does not mean that a crime occurred. And she says the fault for the civilian deaths lies squarely with the insurgents, who "placed noncombatants in the line of fire as the Marines responded to defend themselves."

During the next few months, the explanation for the killings evolved further, as Knight Ridder explains.

After CNN broke the news of the initial investigation in March, military officials told Knight Ridder that the civilians were killed not in the initial blast but were apparently caught in the crossfire of a subsequent gun battle as 12 to 15 Marines fought insurgents from house to house over the next five hours. At that time, military officials told Knight Ridder that four of the civilians killed were women and five were children.

Subsequent reporting from Haditha by Time and Knight Ridder revealed a still different account of events, with survivors describing Marines breaking down the door of a house and indiscriminately shooting the building's occupants.

Twenty-three people were killed in the incident, relatives of the dead told Knight Ridder.

By May 1, as CNN reported, one military official was prepared to admit "It's beginning to look like the Marines were overzealous."

Overzealous? That really does not describe either the killers in Haditha, or the military investigators who for half a year have been applying most of their zeal toward dithering.

So, once again an evolving story from the military about alleged atrocities in Iraq--which never adds up, which dismisses out of hand the accusations of eyewitnesses, and which happens to be utterly false. Plenty of blame to go around, from the killers who pulled the triggers, to the officers who covered up, and to the Secretary of Defense and the President who allowed Iraq to spiral out of control while leaving our troops pinned down in this quagmire, without any strategy to win and no timetable to leave.

But who will actually be made to share the blame? My guess--and this is just a wild hunch--is that after the killers have been held accountable, there won't be much need felt to single anybody else out.

One thing is for certain, though, that Haditha should not be compared to My Lai, because as we've been advised many times, Iraq is definitely not like Vietnam.


  • Iraq is definitely not like Vietnam. I know this. My gut tells me that Iraq is not like Vietnam. It's an entirely different country.


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:54 PM  

  • Plus let's not forget that George Bush has visited Iraq. Very, very briefly, but he was there. So, yes, Iraq is different from Vietnam.

    By Blogger : smintheus ::, at 2:42 AM  

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