The Haditha Massacre

The march of historic parallels with Vietnam continues, with the following headline greeting me in this morning’s LA Times: Photos indicate civilians slain execution-style.

WASHINGTON — Photographs taken by a Marine intelligence team have convinced investigators that a Marine unit killed as many as 24 unarmed Iraqis, some of them “execution-style,” in the insurgent stronghold of Haditha after a roadside bomb killed an American in November, officials close to the investigation said Friday.

The pictures are said to show wounds to the upper bodies of the victims, who included several women and six children. Some were shot in the head and some in the back, congressional and defense officials said.

One government official said the pictures showed that infantry Marines from Camp Pendleton “suffered a total breakdown in morality and leadership, with tragic results.”

No, it’s not exactly like My Lai, which saw more deaths, more official complicity, and more of a cover-up.

It’s not exactly like My Lai. It’s just horrible beyond description in the same way My Lai was.

That’s all.

More details:

I also found this piece from blogger Polimom interesting: War is hell. Seriously.

Just two days before this incident apparently occurred in November, I wrote a rare rant. At the time, I was ticked off about reports coming out of Iraq about the use of white phosphorous in Fallujah, and stories of torture. I said:


Bad enough that the American public was “dismayed” and “disturbed” when our little Janeys and Johnnys were discovered torturing their prisoners (remember Abu Ghraib?). Now, we’re hearing about lions, too. (LIONS????)

Folks, if you think our sons and daughters are being sent to a war with anything less than a targeted, focused hatred for the “enemy”, you are clueless. In basic training, they are given bayonets, with which they charge, screaming vicious epithets, at a straw dummy. Years ago, that straw dummy was a “Red” named Ivan. Any guesses what names they use today to dehumanize their “targets”?

War cannot be waged without virulent hate. It is not an academic exercise.


To kill, as we’ve asked our children to do in Iraq, requires hate, and whatever comes of the investigation in Haditha, we cannot forget that along with all the other losses and deaths, this is also the price we pay to wage war.

We sent them into hell, and the devil is running free. Surely we didn’t expect something different… did we?


27 Responses to “The Haditha Massacre”

  1. Craig Says:

    I think Polimom’s explaination is rather simplistic. Soldiers are not trained to have a raging hatred for the “enemy” (which she also seems to imply as being Iraqis, or even Muslims, in general). These Marines are professional soldiers not armed thugs. They are not trained to knock off every Tom, Dick, and Muhammad that they see. They are trained to understand who and why they are fighting, and who they are fighting for. An army of armed maniacs who want to kill indiscriminatly is contrary to the mission. The general hatred theory doesn’t square with the overwhelming facts and images in reality of soldiers befriending as well as fighting along side so many Iraqis, and the soldiers going out of their way to give candy and friendship to Iraqi children despite the risks involved. Operating as an effective fighting force with just an emotion, such as an instilled hate as your sole motivation, is not possible.

    Despite all this, there is still a fustration and anger of dealing with a population that is one-part thankful for providing freedom, but another part bitter and distrusting of US actions and presence, as well as dealing with a population that is hard to distingush between friend and foe.

    If this or any other investigation turns up deliberate murder of innocents then I hope justice weighs heavily on all the guilty. Even though you can only try to imagine the strain and stress these soldiers are subjected to daily when you have to make so many life-and-death decisions.

    Unfortunately there are some who weren’t even able to wait for the investigative findings before using such claims for expedient political purposes.

  2. leftbehind Says:

    Craig, we can all rest assured that this incident will provide a field day for all sorts of partisan hacks – professional and otherwise – although reducing this to political expedience is missing the whole point. Poliman’s post echoes a debate which has raged as long as there have been moral men, and transcends this time, this war, even this nation.

    “Maaan is a baaad animal.” – William S. Burroughs

  3. jbc Says:

    Unfortunately there are some who weren’t even able to wait for the investigative findings before using such claims for expedient political purposes.

    Are you saying that that’s what I’ve done merely be bringing the story up, or by mentioning its similarities and differences with My Lai? Or are you perhaps demonstrating your own inability to process the information on its own terms without immediately jumping to a political interpretation?

  4. Craig Says:

    I’m actually talking about people like Murtha who couldn’t wait for the official findings of an investigation to come out publically before running in front of the press to take political advantage of an apparent ugly and tragic situation.

    But that wasn’t really even the thrust of my earlier comment anyway.

  5. jbc Says:

    Actually, I’d disagree that that’s actually what Murtha did, though I realize his actions were painted that way in the right-leaning parts of the blogosphere.

  6. Craig Says:

    I’d say there wasn’t much “painting” going on here. He took advantage of his position in having access to hear a close-door preliminary report of the ongoing investigation, and then gathered the press to give his assessment of how much worse this will be than the prison abuses, and how devastating it will be on the Iraqi mindset, and how its another example of a failed war, how General Pace is involved in a cover-up, and on and on.

    He knows just how well those juicy soundbites will carry across the US and the Middle East.

    I’m not sure how that could be seen as anything but potential reckless political grandstanding over a sensitive and still-unpublished investigation to forward his agenda on the war.

  7. jbc Says:

    Well, it could be seen as the action of a principled former Marine officer who’s shocked and outraged at the nature of the acts in question, and who has undertaken, despite the obvious costs to his own political standing, to play a lead role in questioning a war that he initially supported, but has come to believe is a horrible mistake that continues to compound as long as its true nature is not acknowledged.

  8. trg34221 Says:

    I agree who made John Murtha Judge and Jury in my America politicians don’t get to convict our soldiers for “War Crimes!” Hell Murtha didn’t even wait for the investigation to be completed before spewing his HATE for GW Bush!

    At this point Murtha has setup the media guns that the second the Investigation is completed and charges are brought forward it will be a media frenzy and any notion of “fair” trial is gone!

  9. treehugger Says:

    Supporters of this war should be glad there are people like Murtha representing the voice of justice and reason in this counrty. Because without those voices, America would just be seen as an oil addicted killing machine and our fate would probably already be sealed.

    But thanks to these voices, America doesn’t completely come off as an oil addicted killing machine that wants to destroy the islamic world.

  10. trg34221 Says:

    My point was could someone explain to John Murtha that is my America you are INNOCENT until proven guilty or did he miss civics 101!

    Bottom line John Murtha obviously has a problem with the Bush administration and the Iraq war. Fair enough. But he should leave the troops out of his left wing extremists vendetta.

  11. leftbehind Says:

    Here is a link to a BBC TV item, featuring a video which seems to contradict some aspects of the military’s version of events:

  12. jbc Says:

    trg, Murtha isn’t convicting the Marines. They still get to have a trial, with a presumption of innocence. Really, the position you’re advocating here is silly. I assume you had no such outrage when the not-convicted-and-presumed-innocent Bill Clinton was being criticized daily by the Republican leadership in Congress over his perjury (excuse me, his _alleged_ perjury; he wasn’t convicted, after all) about Monica Lewinsky.

    Basically, the focus on Murtha in this case is just the echo chamber repeating the right wing’s talking points. It’s bullshit. And referring to Murtha as having a “left wing extremists vendetta” betrays either dishonesty or ignorance as to the kind of politician he, in particular, is.

    leftbehind, that BBC video actually relates to a _different_ civilian massacre by US Marines. Thanks to the right’s moral relativism, I’m sure we’ll hear about how the _real_ outrage in this new case is that the person who provided the video to the Beeb is a Muslim activist who wants the US out of Iraq. Clearly that’s a much more serious affront to our collective sense of decency than a few intentional killings of innocent bystanders, with an ensuing coverup.

  13. leftbehind Says:

    Agreed, by all means, that the information in the video is important, whoever brought it to light. The video is still interesting, and germaine to the present topic of massacres, war ethics, etc. It establishes that an alarming trend has developed which bolsters some larger points you have been making regarding the moral character of the war at large.

    I don’t know that political spin by either side is necessarily “a more serious affront to our collective sense of decency” than “a few intentional killings of innocent bystanders with an ensuing coverup,” however. On any scale, I think we’d all agree that the intentional killing of innocent civilians then covering it up trumps most other transgressions I can think of at the moment. Politics is talk. Dead is dead.

  14. treehugger Says:

    I think what we are starting to see is frustration on the part of the troops being caught in the middle of an unwinnable war.

  15. enkidu Says:

    Haditha is a horrible consequence of a horrible decision (Iraq war)
    What is sickening is how nearly a third of our country seems eager to pretend (believe) this is all just unfortunate but everyone does it, blah blah blah…
    (scroll down until you see “Bill O’Reilly Scumbag”)

    Watch Keith Olbermann rip Bill O’Lie-ly to pieces for saying American troops in WWII slaughtered unarmed SS POWs at Malmedy. This is exactly the opposite of what happened. Not just once did the rightwingnuts favorite bloviator say it, but twice (once to justify Abu Ghriab, then again for Haditha). Even after being corrected (but of course never saying he was wrong), BillO says it again to seemingly say “so what? it happens”.

    We are not Nazis. The USA fought and died and bled and sacrificed to defeat real tyranny, evil and stupidity. It was pusch’s grandpappy who bankrolled part of Hitler’s rise to power (until ’42). Look it up.

  16. leftbehind Says:

    Yes, Treehugger. I agree wholeheartedly. As a poster to another blog I read today noted of the Mai Lai massacre – which was another atrocity rooted in frustration and fear:

    “When the fantasy of liberator meets the reality of occupier, bearings are lost. When one of your own is killed by some faceless, unrecognizale enemy, everyone becomes an enemy. Women and children are killed. Our sons and daughters are killed. Our sense of who we are as a fair and just people is killed right along with it. This isn’t a war. This is chaos.”

    -Curtcon at

    For the record, I think your prospective on Murtha is spot-on, too.

  17. treehugger Says:

    That Curtcon post characterizes the situation perfectly.

  18. jbc Says:

    Um, I was going for sarcasm in the last part of my last comment. Dangerous, obviously, in the midst of the current wacky national discussion we’re having.

  19. leftbehind Says:

    Chuck, you sly dog.

  20. Craig Says:

    John, after listening to your recent podcast, I feel the need to clarify the context of my statements on this thread. The bulk of my initial comments were directed at the idea of our troops being motivated amd trained for war based upon a pure emotion, and that emotion being hate. This was the main thrust of the posting, as a sidelight issue to the Haditha tragedy.

    As merely some broad additional comments, I mentioned that I hope all those truly guilty in this event receive the full punishment of the law. I don’t think I could have been much clearer about where I stand on that. I did also mention that as a human, you could only try to begin to understand the emotions and stress that these soldiers must deal with daily, that could potentially escalate into this type of violence (though even now it has still not officially been determined, though it seems likely). That statement is a far cry from any kind of tacit approval or acceptance. It’s simply acknowledging our humaness, and our limits in maintaining moral compasses in times of unending stress, anger and fear.

    But that wasn’t really the point of the initial posting so I didn’t dwell on it.

    I also made a off-hand comment about how I felt some people (Murtha, not you John!!) were rushing to use the blood of civilians to make political points. Again, it wasn’t the focus of my comments.

    So, to say or imply that I put the purposeful death of civilians on an equal or lesser scale of moral outrage with Murtha’s spouting off on the incident before investigations are complete, is simply an incorrect assessment of my post.

    And now, two more side points:

    The moral relativism game is played equally skillfully by those on either side of the political spectrum. I am reminded of this every day when I read about the now many thousands of civilians who are targeted, purposeful victims of insurgent bombings, shootings and beheadings, which don’t garner a peep of indignation and outrage from those against the war.

    Also, I would disagree about Murtha risking political standing by making his comments. He is, after all, a Democrat (and we know that vast majority’s feelings on the war issue), and has taken a point of view now (i.e. immediate withdrawal) that a growing majority of people agree with in a broader sense (i.e. that they want to see a reasonable timeframe for getting the U.S. combat troops out of Iraq). He can certainly read the writing on the wall, as far as public opinion on the war goes. So, I don’t see any great risk being played on his part, unless the truth about the Haditha events are not as they are being described (which seems unlikely at this point).

  21. trg34221 Says:

    Unless you think Democrat Paul Hackett, an Iraq war veteran the darling of liberals last year make a mistake and was reading from Republican talking point he called John Murtha’s statements regarding the Haditha incident over the top specifically he cited the statement by Murtha, “they, killed innocent civilians in cold blood!”

    My gut reaction like Mr. Hackett was Murtha was out of line and it didn’t come from someone’s talking points. Therefore it’s not bullshit but reality!

    Hardball 6/2/06

    Hackett: I don’t think that speculation, I don’t think that Congressman Murtha’s rush to judgment and, frankly, over the top comments will help get to the bottom.

    O’DONNELL: What was over the top, Paul, do you think? Because he came out before we had heard a lot about this and said that these Iraqi civilians were killed in cold blood by U.S. Marines?

    HACKETT: I think that the language “cold blood,” “they committed cold-blooded murder,” that doesn’t allow us to get to the bottom of what happened here.

  22. Craig Says:

    Enkidu, I hope you don’t put Keith O. on too high of a pedestal in terms of accuracy, fairness and honesty. As bad as O’Reilly can be in slanted presentation and playing loose with facts, good ole’ Keith has been proven, many times over, to be at least as bad. And he has a nasty case of ratings envy, which no doubt explains much about his obsession in talking about O’Reilly on practically every show! It’s kind of embarrassing, really.

    Probably a lesson to be learned here for anyone who puts too much stock in any of the talking heads on TV, no matter what their political stripes are.

  23. Craig Says:

    Also Enkidu, to suggest that Bush’s grandfather bankrolled Hitler’s rise to power is quite misleading in terms of his implied support. According to The Straight Dope:

    The central charge against Prescott Bush has a basis in fact. In 1942, under the Trading With the Enemy Act, the U.S. government seized several companies in which he had an interest. Prescott at the time was an investment banker with Brown Brothers Harriman (BBH), which had funneled U.S. capital into Germany during the 1920s and ’30s. Among the seized companies was the Union Banking Corporation (UBC) of New York, which was controlled by German industrialist Fritz Thyssen. Thyssen had been an early financier of the Nazi party–in fact, in 1941 he published a book entitled I Paid Hitler. Ergo, Prescott helped finance the Nazis.

    Prescott’s involvement with Nazi finance is more complicated. Though Thyssen had been an ardent backer of the Nazis in the early days, he broke with them in 1938 after the Kristallnacht pogrom against the Jews. He fled to Switzerland the following year, and Hitler confiscated his fortune and stripped him of his citizenship. In I Paid Hitler Thyssen confessed his role in financing the Nazis and denounced the Führer. Arrested in Vichy France, he spent the balance of the war as an Axis prisoner. Prescott Bush, for his part, owned a single share of stock (of 4,000) in UBC, the Thyssen bank. According to a 2001 Boston Globe piece, the New York Herald Tribune ran a story in July 1942 headlined “Hitler’s Angel Has 3 Million in US Bank,” in which Prescott and other BBH partners “explain[ed] to government regulators that their position [as directors of UBC] was merely an unpaid courtesy for a client.”

    “So, did Bush and his firm finance the Nazis and enable Germany to rearm? Indirectly, yes. But they had a lot of company. Some of the most distinguished names in American business had investments or subsidiaries in prewar Germany, including Standard Oil and General Motors. Critics have argued for years that without U.S. money, the Nazis could never have waged war.”

  24. enkidu Says:

    fact: at Malmedy SS troops shot defenseless US POWs (I can recall reading about that sh!t Piper as a boy and thinking “this is why we had to win”)
    fact: O’Lielly has mis-stated this not once but twice to support his ‘moral relativism’ that heck everybody does it nbd!
    fact: you folks are desperate to deny the horrible ****ing consequences of The Decider’s poor decisions
    fact: shrub could eat a plate of live puppies on live TV and you folks would be swearing up and down that puppies must die! DIE! DIE!!!!!! (plus they are delicious!)

    have a nice day (enjoy your puppies!)

  25. Craig Says:

    Here’s a sad, sobering, and inspiring article that uses Haditha as a touchstone, but talks of the bigger picture regarding on how the US military generally conducts itself and through the bad and the good.

  26. Craig Says:

    There are some questions building about the credibility of those involved in filming, reporting, or otherwise witnessing the results of Haditha tragedy.

    I post this, not because I believe (yet) that this could be true, but to keep people abreast of all the different angles this story is taking. The “evidence” shown here is still circumstancial and focused more on the possible motives of the key people involved, rather than the event itself.

    The investigation is still not finished (despite Murtha’s judgements) and not available to the public yet. But based upon some of the prior comments by high-profile military commanders in a position of direct knowledge, I’d still say that some improper and criminal actions were taken by some Marines. How many and how much, is yet to be seen.

  27. nowhereman77 Says:

    I have heard of this story before but haven’t read the washington post article until today. The only thing I can say about it is that it made me sick..

    So this is “winning the hearts and minds” isn’t it? Well I guess it is if the subject is terrorists (you name the group of your preference). They must love the US marines who do an excellent job for their cause. When I imagine myself an Iraqi, the first thought after reading this article would be: revenge. Do you think it’s unreasonable? Would anybody?

    America shouldn’t be surprised that “winning the hearts and minds” isn’t happening and indeed the opposite sentiments gain support all around the world. America (and its people who elected Mr. Bush et al) is its own biggest enemy – in very effectively recruiting people for the terrorist groups.

    Does it matter if the marines responsible (and indeed their commanders etc) were tried, found guilty and sentenced? No. I don’t think so.

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