Only the dead have seen the end of war.
War is the continuation of politics by other means.
-- Karl Von Clausewitz
November 19, 2005: 24 civilians, including women and young children, in the Iraqi city of Haditha are dead. Implicated in their deaths are Marines from Company K, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines. Prior to the deaths of the civilians, a roadside bomb exploded as the Marines' convoy passed by, killing 20-year-old Lance Corporal Miguel Terrazas. According to various reports, the Marines responded to small-arms fire from multiple directions immediately after the explosion that killed Terrazas.
An official statement was released immediately following the subsequent deaths of civilians.
According to The Washington Post:
The first account of the killings there was a false or erroneous statement issued the next day, Nov. 20, by a U.S. Marine spokesman from a Marine base in Ramadi: "A U.S. Marine and 15 civilians were killed yesterday from the blast of a roadside bomb in Haditha. Immediately following the bombing, gunmen attacked the convoy with small arms fire. Iraqi army soldiers and Marines returned fire, killing eight insurgents and wounding another.''However, since that first report, other events of November 19 have come to light. Time magazine reported that it had obtained a videotape from a Haditha journalism student that contradicted the Marines' official statement. Via the Associated Press:
The charges against the Marines were first brought forward by Time magazine, which reported this week [in March] that it obtained a videotape two months ago taken by a Haditha journalism student that shows the dead still in their nightclothes.
According to eye witnesses who spoke to The Washington Post, after the bomb exploded, two squads of Company K Marines allegedly went from house to house, finding unarmed civilians inside and summarily executing them:
In the house with Ali and his 66-year-old wife, Khamisa Tuma Ali, were three of the middle-aged male members of their family, at least one daughter-in-law and four children -- 4-year-old Abdullah, 8-year-old Iman, 5-year-old Abdul Rahman and 2-month-old Asia.The Post could not independently verify these reports, but the death certificates issued from the Haditha hospital seemed to support the witnesses' claims, and according to CNN, the Pentagon's own investigations into the incident have determined that the civilians were probably killed "without provocation."
Marines entered shooting, witnesses recalled. Most of the shots -- in Ali's house and two others -- were fired at such close range that they went through the bodies of the family members and plowed into walls or the floor, physicians at Haditha's hospital said.
A daughter-in-law, identified as Hibbah, escaped with Asia, survivors and neighbors said. Iman and Abdul Rahman were shot but survived. Four-year-old Abdullah, Ali and the rest died.
Ali took nine rounds in the chest and abdomen, leaving his intestines spilling out of the exit wounds in his back, according to his death certificate.
The Haditha hospital's death certificates also indicated that some of the bodies had been charred, supporting allegations that the Marines had used grenades during their alleged assault, in addition to point-blank rifle fire.
Company K has since rotated back to the United States, and Battalion Commander Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani, Capt. Luke McConnell and Capt. James Kimber, both company commanders, have been relieved of command as the Defense Department and Naval Criminal Investigative Service conduct their official probe into the incident.
These, as far as I can tell, are the facts of the case. The appropriate officials are currently conducting their investigations, and once these have been completed, it may be easier to put together a coherent timeline of events.
However, the volume of damning evidence is hard to ignore. A videotape of the bodies, death certificates issued by the hospital, and photographs that contradict the first official statement do not paint a pretty picture of what the Marines did in Haditha on Nov. 19.
Haditha, it seems, was known for its high volume of Improvised Explosive Devices. Some also say that insurgents in the area notoriously used women and children as human shields. But the ferocity that the two squads are reported to have used against the three households is unfathomable -- particularly if reports that there was only a single AK-47 between the three are accurate.
No event happens in a vacuum, particularly not now, in an age where information can be passed around the world over in mere seconds. The world is screaming for justice, and perhaps justice will eventually be done. I doubt, however, that whatever justice the U.S. military eventually decides upon will be sufficient to recoup the credibility, trust, and respect America has lost as a direct result of this carnage.
It isn't as if there's any of that to spare, anyway. And no investigation, no amount of individual punishment, will do anything to patch the widening hole out of which credibility, trust, and respect are currently hemorrhaging. Whether the U.S. has earned the world's distrust or not is immaterial, practically speaking. Despite the fact that it was an incident that involved a relatively small number of people, Haditha, like Abu Ghraib and My Lai before it, will become one of the ugly scars on the memory of America's involvement in Iraq... and it will be one that is a long time in healing.
UPDATE: Some heated discussion over the distinction between "provoked" and "unprovoked" and how it relates to the Marines' alleged actions is going on over at Greyhawk's place, in the Comments section.
UPDATE II: Open Post at Mudville.