On Sunday, the London Independent reported that U.S. military officials' account of how Iraqi civilians died in Haditha, a town on the banks of the Euphrates in western Iraq, unraveled when "an Iraqi human rights group obtained a video, shot by a local journalism student, which showed that the civilians could not have been killed by a bomb. It also showed that although the houses where they died were bullet-riddled indoors, there were no exterior marks, casting doubt on the Marines' claims of a firefight."  --  Reporter Raymond Whitaker observed that "U.S. troops are frequently accused of massive over-reaction when attacked, even allowing for the stress of combat. According to human rights groups, the only unusual feature of the events of 19 November was that there was video evidence to contradict the military account."  --  At present, "An inquiry has been launched by the U.S. Navy's Criminal Investigation Service after the military was presented with evidence that the 15 civilians, including seven women and three children still in their nightclothes, had been killed in their homes in the wake of the bombing.  If it is proved that they died in a rampage by the Marines, and not as a result of 'collateral damage,' it would rank as the worst case of deliberate killing of Iraqi civilians by U.S. armed forces since the invasion three years ago."  --  A Mar. 22 editorial in Arab News called the incident the first "cogent allegations that U.S. troops have run amok among civilians" in Iraq.[2]  --  "Haditha may thus be the place where America finally surrendered its last patch of moral high ground," said the unsigned editorial.  --  Time magazine's 2,250-word account, posted on the web a week ago, includes frames from the video and detailed testimony from Eman Waleed, 9, who says many members of his family killed in their own house, including his grandfather and grandmother shot before his own eyes.[3] ...

1.

World

Americas

DID AMERICAN MARINES MURDER 23 IRAQI CIVILIANS?
By Raymond Whitaker

** The U.S. military deny accusations of massive over-reaction when attacked. But video evidence from one incident has led the official story to unravel. **

Independent (UK)
March 26, 2006

http://news.independent.co.uk/world/americas/article353678.ece

U.S. military investigators are examining allegations that Marines shot unarmed Iraqis, then claimed they were "enemy fighters," the Independent on Sunday has learned. In the same incident, eyewitnesses say, one man bled to death over a period of hours as soldiers ignored his pleas for help.

American military officials in Iraq have already admitted that 15 civilians who died in the incident in the western town of Haditha last November were killed by Marines, and not by a roadside bomb, as had previously been claimed. The only victim of the remotely triggered bomb, it is now conceded, was a 20-year-old Marine, Lance-Corporal Miguel Terrazas, from El Paso, Texas.

An inquiry has been launched by the U.S. Navy's Criminal Investigation Service after the military was presented with evidence that the 15 civilians, including seven women and three children still in their nightclothes, had been killed in their homes in the wake of the bombing. If it is proved that they died in a rampage by the Marines, and not as a result of "collateral damage," it would rank as the worst case of deliberate killing of Iraqi civilians by U.S. armed forces since the invasion three years ago.

The military still insists that eight men who also died on 19 November were insurgents who opened fire on a Marines patrol after the bomb explosion. One military spokeswoman said the civilian deaths were their fault, because they "placed noncombatants in the line of fire as the Marines responded to defend themselves." But numerous witnesses say the only shooting was by the Marines, and that the only difference between these victims and the rest were that they were young men who could be depicted as insurgents. Despite claims of a fierce firefight after the explosion, military officials say two AK-47 rifles were the only weapons recovered.

Four of the young men who died were students on their way to college. They were in a car which was near the Marines' convoy when the bomb went off. According to the soldiers' statements to investigators, they told the youths to leave the car and lie face down in the road. Instead they ran, and were shot down. All this time, the Marines said, they were under fire from nearby houses.

The IoS understands, however, that local people have contradicted this account in almost every detail. According to their statements, the soldiers were not under fire when they approached the car. Rather than order the occupants to leave the vehicle and lie down, they simply dragged them out and shot them. While investigators seek to determine the truth of the incident, the military has admitted no weapons were found in the vehicle.

The most shocking allegation concerns what happened when the Marines approached a house nearby. Although investigators are again struggling to reconcile wildly differing accounts, the military confirms that seven people were killed inside the house, including two women and a child. The Marines also reported seeing a man and a woman run out of the house, at which they gave chase and shot and killed the man. Relatives named the woman as Hiba Abdullah, and said she escaped with her baby. The dead man, they added, was her husband, Rashid.

But according to statements seen by the investigators, the first time the Marines saw the couple was not when they were running away. Instead they confronted them in or near the house. Hiba Abdullah, who spoke some English, asked if she could flee, and the soldiers let her run away. Her husband, after a moment of hesitation, ran after her and was shot in the chest.

Rather than dying immediately, local people have told investigators, Rashid lay bleeding for hours, pleading for help, but the Marines, who had cordoned off the area, refused to allow anyone access to him.

The other four men claimed to be insurgents were all the sons of a man called Ahmed Ayed. The Marines say that when they entered a house, one of the brothers had an AK-47 and another appeared to be reaching into a wardrobe for a weapon. The soldiers opened fire, killing all four. But another member of the family said the brothers had all been forced into the wardrobe and killed there.

Last November the first report of the incident, in a communiqué from the Marines, said Lance-Corporal Terrazas and "15 Iraqi civilians were killed yesterday from the blast of a roadside bomb." Gunmen "attacked the convoy with small-arms fire," the statement added, and the Marines returned fire, killing eight insurgents and wounding one.

Although the mayor of Haditha led a protest delegation to the local Marines camp soon afterwards, the official story did not begin to unravel until an Iraqi human rights group obtained a video, shot by a local journalism student, which showed that the civilians could not have been killed by a bomb. It also showed that although the houses where they died were bullet-riddled indoors, there were no exterior marks, casting doubt on the Marines' claims of a firefight.

After Time magazine took up the story, an infantry colonel was sent to Haditha for an inquiry which concluded that the civilians died as a result of the Marines' actions rather than the bombing. But the colonel did not accuse the Marines of wrongdoing, saying the deaths were "collateral damage." Nor was there a challenge to the claim that the others were insurgents; it is not known whether the criminal inquiry now in progress will reopen the issue.

U.S. troops are frequently accused of massive over-reaction when attacked, even allowing for the stress of combat. According to human rights groups, the only unusual feature of the events of 19 November was that there was video evidence to contradict the military account.

Almost the only other instance was an air attack in May 2004 on what the U.S. military described as a gathering of "foreign fighters" and local people said was a wedding party. Their version was backed up by a video showing dead children and smashed musical instruments. When asked to account for the footage, the response of the authorities was to demand the name of the cameraman who shot it. An aggressive response to accusations of misconduct is common. Last week Iraqi journalists filmed the bodies of five children, four women, and two men whom local police said had been killed in their home in Ishaqi, north of Baghdad. A spokesman, Lt.-Col. Barry Johnson, said coalition forces knew of four people killed in crossfire but denied claims that officers had failed to attend a meeting with local people.

"There appears to be a distinct pattern of misinformation," complained Lt.-Col. Johnson. "This is another clear sign of that happening, making allegations for the sake of prompting media reporting and attempting to discredit coalition operations. This is a pattern we've seen the terrorist-backed insurgency use repeatedly."

2.

HADITHA KILLINGS

Arab News
March 22, 2006

Original source: Arab News

Something truly tragic happened in Haditha on last Nov. 19. On the face of it, 16 more deaths -- 15 of them Iraqi and one American -- do not loom large in the scale of butchery and destruction that has followed the U.S.-led invasion three years ago this week. But the killings in this western Iraqi town could very well be among the most significant in the whole wretched conflict. They could indeed mark the moment when Washington finally lost its battle for Iraqi hearts and minds.

The U.S. military is now mounting a proper investigation into what happened, but the evidence is already tragically clear. On that November night, after a roadside bomb killed one of their unit and injured two of their comrades, a dozen Marines went on a vengeful rampage. They burst into nearby houses and gunned down 15 people, including seven women and three children. They later reported these civilians were also victims of the roadside blast and claimed to have killed eight insurgents. However, video footage taken after the U.S. Marines moved out seems to make it clear that most of the dead civilians were wearing night clothes.

There has been enough evidence of jumpy U.S. soldiers wildly opening fire on targets, as in the Fallujah siege, the slaying of a pregnant woman as her husband rushed her to hospital, or the killing of an Italian secret agent accompanying freed kidnapped journalist Giuliana Sgrena to Baghdad airport. But not until now have there been cogent allegations that U.S. troops have run amok among civilians.

This apparent atrocity has grim echoes of the 1968 My Lai massacre in Vietnam, when angry and scared U.S. troops murdered over 300 civilians in cold blood. The death toll in Haditha was not as horrific but as happened with the Vietnamese, it may well be the moment when decent people, in Iraq, America or elsewhere, who tried to believe U.S. promises about its mission to bring peace and democratic justice to Iraq, finally gave up.

It will of course be argued that U.S. troops are under immense strain as they seek to confront the insurgents who wear no uniforms and who melt back into the civilian community after their attacks. This is, however, no excuse for the berserk retaliation against the nearest Iraqis. What is worse is that the men responsible for this vindictive bloodletting were Marines, one of the elite units in America’s armed forces.

The American military failed to build upon the early euphoria at Saddam’s overthrow. The grunts on the ground understood little about Iraq and most probably cared even less. They relied on their leaders, including their commander-in-chief in the White House to do what was best. In the event President Bush and his neocon advisers have invariably done exactly what was worst. Thus U.S. soldiers have become marooned and easy targets. Angry and afraid, they have come to see all Iraqis as the enemy, just as in Vietnam every Vietnamese became a “gook.” Haditha may thus be the place where America finally surrendered its last patch of moral high ground.

3.

Web exclusive

World

COLLATERAL DAMAGE OR CIVILIAN MASSACRE IN HADITHA?
By Tim McGirk

** Last November, U.S. Marines killed 15 Iraqi civilians in their homes. Was it self-defense, an accident or cold-blooded revenge? A Time exclusive **

Time
March 19, 2006

http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1174649,00.html

BAGHDAD -- The incident seemed like so many others from this war, the kind of tragedy that has become numbingly routine amid the daily reports of violence in Iraq. On the morning of Nov. 19, 2005, a roadside bomb struck a humvee carrying Marines from Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines, on a road near Haditha, a restive town in western Iraq. The bomb killed Lance Corporal Miguel (T.J.) Terrazas, 20, from El Paso, Texas. The next day a Marine communiqué from Camp Blue Diamond in Ramadi reported that Terrazas and 15 Iraqi civilians were killed by the blast and that "gunmen attacked the convoy with small-arms fire," prompting the Marines to return fire, killing eight insurgents and wounding one other. The Marines from Kilo Company held a memorial service for Terrazas at their camp in Haditha. They wrote messages like "T.J., you were a great friend. I'm going to miss seeing you around" on smooth stones and piled them in a funeral mound. And the war moved on.

But the details of what happened that morning in Haditha are more disturbing, disputed, and horrific than the military initially reported. According to eyewitnesses and local officials interviewed over the past 10 weeks, the civilians who died in Haditha on Nov. 19 were killed not by a roadside bomb but by the Marines themselves, who went on a rampage in the village after the attack, killing 15 unarmed Iraqis in their homes, including seven women and three children. Human-rights activists say that if the accusations are true, the incident ranks as the worst case of deliberate killing of Iraqi civilians by U.S. service members since the war began.

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. 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."

Because the incident is officially under investigation, members of the Marine unit that was in Haditha on Nov. 19 are not allowed to speak with reporters. But the military's own reconstruction of events and the accounts of town residents interviewed by Time -- including six whose family members were killed that day -- paint a picture of a devastatingly violent response by a group of U.S. troops who had lost one of their own to a deadly insurgent attack and believed they were under fire. Time obtained a videotape that purports to show the aftermath of the Marines' assault and provides graphic documentation of its human toll. What happened in Haditha is a reminder of the horrors faced by civilians caught in the middle of war -- and what war can do to the people who fight it.

Here's what all participants agree on: at around 7:15 a.m. on Nov. 19, a U.S. humvee was struck by a powerful improvised explosive device (IED) attached to a large propane canister, triggered by remote control. The bomb killed Terrazas, who was driving, and injured two other Marines. For U.S. troops, Haditha, set among date-palm groves along the Euphrates River, was inhospitable territory; every day the Marines found scores of bombs buried in the dirt roads near their base. Eman Waleed, 9, lived in a house 150 yards from the site of the blast, which was strong enough to shatter all the windows in her home. "We heard a big noise that woke us all up," she recalls two months later. "Then we did what we always do when there's an explosion: my father goes into his room with the Koran and prays that the family will be spared any harm." Eman says the rest of the family -- her mother, grandfather, grandmother, two brothers, two aunts, and two uncles -- gathered in the living room. According to military officials familiar with the investigation, the Marines say they came under fire from the direction of the Waleed house immediately after being hit by the IED. A group of Marines headed toward the house. Eman says she "heard a lot of shooting, so none of us went outside. Besides, it was very early, and we were all wearing our nightclothes." When the Marines entered the house, they were shouting in English. "First, they went into my father's room, where he was reading the Koran," she claims, "and we heard shots." According to Eman, the Marines then entered the living room. "I couldn't see their faces very well -- only their guns sticking into the doorway. I watched them shoot my grandfather, first in the chest, and then in the head. Then they killed my granny." She claims the troops started firing toward the corner of the room where she and her younger brother Abdul Rahman, 8, were hiding; the other adults shielded the children from the bullets but died in the process. Eman says her leg was hit by a piece of metal and Abdul Rahman was shot near his shoulder. "We were lying there, bleeding, and it hurt so much. Afterward, some Iraqi soldiers came. They carried us in their arms. I was crying, shouting 'Why did you do this to our family?' And one Iraqi soldier tells me, 'We didn't do it. The Americans did.'" Time was unable to speak with the only other survivor of the raid, Eman's younger brother, who relatives say is traumatized by the experience. U.S. military officials familiar with the investigation say that after entering the house, the Marines walked into a corridor with closed doors on either side. They thought they heard the clack-clack sound of an AK-47 being racked and readied for fire. (Eman and relatives who were not in the house insist that no guns were there.) Believing they were about to be ambushed, the Marines broke down the two doors simultaneously and fired their weapons. The officials say the military has confirmed that seven people were killed inside the house -- including two women and a child. The Marines also reported seeing a man and a woman run out of the house; they gave chase and shot and killed the man. Relatives say the woman, Hiba Abdullah, escaped with her baby.

According to military officials, the Marines say they then started taking fire from the direction of a second house, prompting them to break down the door of that house and throw in a grenade, blowing up a propane tank in the kitchen. The Marines then began firing, killing eight residents -- including the owner, his wife, the owner's sister, a 2-year-old son, and three young daughters.

The Marines raided a third house, which belongs to a man named Ahmed Ayed. One of Ahmed's five sons, Yousif, who lived in a house next door, told Time that after hearing a prolonged burst of gunfire from his father's house, he rushed over. Iraqi soldiers keeping watch in the garden prevented him from going in. "They told me, 'There's nothing you can do. Don't come closer, or the Americans will kill you too.' The Americans didn't let anybody into the house until 6:30 the next morning." Ayed says that by then the bodies were gone; all the dead had been zipped into U.S. body bags and taken by Marines to a local hospital morgue. "But we could tell from the blood tracks across the floor what happened," Ayed claims. "The Americans gathered my four brothers and took them inside my father's bedroom, to a closet. They killed them inside the closet."

The military has a different account of what transpired. According to officials familiar with the investigation, the Marines broke into the third house and found a group of 10 to 15 women and children. The troops say they left one Marine to guard that house and pushed on to the house next door, where they found four men, one of whom was wielding an AK-47. A second seemed to be reaching into a wardrobe for another weapon, the officials say. The Marines shot both men dead; the military's initial report does not specify how the other two men died. The Marines deny that any of the men were killed in the closet, which they say is too small to fit one adult male, much less four. According to the military officials, the series of raids took five hours and left at least 23 people dead. In all, two AK-47s were discovered. The military has classified the 15 victims in the first two houses as noncombatants. It considers the four men killed in the fourth house, as well as four youths killed by the Marines near the site of the roadside bombing, as enemy fighters. The question facing naval detectives is whether the Marines' killing of 15 noncombatants was an act of legitimate self-defense or negligent homicide. Military sources say that if the NCIS finds evidence of wrongdoing, U.S. commanders in Iraq will decide whether to pursue legal action against the Marines.

The available evidence does not provide conclusive proof that the Marines deliberately killed innocents in Haditha. But the accounts of human-rights groups that investigated the incident and survivors and local officials who spoke to Time do raise questions about whether the extent of force used by the Marines was justified -- and whether the Marines were initially candid about what took place. Dr. Wahid, director of the local hospital in Haditha, who asked that his family name be withheld because, he says, he fears reprisals by U.S. troops, says the Marines brought 24 bodies to his hospital around midnight on Nov. 19. Wahid says the Marines claimed the victims had been killed by shrapnel from the roadside bomb. "But it was obvious to us that there were no organs slashed by shrapnel," Wahid says. "The bullet wounds were very apparent. Most of the victims were shot in the chest and the head -- from close range."

A day after the incident, a Haditha journalism student videotaped the scene at the local morgue and at the homes where the killings had occurred. The video was obtained by the Hammurabi Human Rights Group, which cooperates with the internationally respected Human Rights Watch, and has been shared with Time. The tape makes for grisly viewing. It shows that many of the victims, especially the women and children, were still in their nightclothes when they died. The scenes from inside the houses show that the walls and ceilings are pockmarked with shrapnel and bullet holes as well as the telltale spray of blood. But the video does not reveal the presence of any bullet holes on the outside of the houses, which may cast doubt on the Marines' contention that after the IED exploded, the Marines and the insurgents engaged in a fierce gunfight.

There are also questions about why the military took so long to investigate the details of the Haditha incident. Soon after the killings, the mayor of Haditha, Emad Jawad Hamza, led an angry delegation of elders up to the Marine camp beside a dam on the Euphrates River. Hamza says, "The captain admitted that his men had made a mistake. He said that his men thought there were terrorists near the houses, and he didn't give any other reason."

But the military stood by its initial contention -- that the Iraqis had been killed by an insurgent bomb -- until January when Time gave a copy of the video and witnesses' testimony to Colonel Barry Johnson, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad. After reviewing the evidence, Johnson passed it on to the military command, suggesting that the events of Haditha be given "a full and formal investigation." 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.

The U.S. has paid relatives of the victims $2,500 for each of the 15 dead civilians, plus smaller payments for the injured. But nothing can bring back all that was taken from 9-year-old Eman Waleed on that fateful day last November. She still does not comprehend how, when her father went in to pray with the Koran for the family's safety, his prayers were not answered, as they had been so many times in the past. "He always prayed before, and the Americans left us alone," she says. Leaving, she grabs a handful of candy. "It's for my little brother," she says. "I have to take care of my brother. Nobody else is left."

--With reporting by Aparisim Ghosh/Baghdad.