Sunday, November 19, 2006

November 19

12336One year ago today in Iraq, Marines from Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division allegedly massacred two dozen civilians in the town of Haditha. Among the dead were six children under the age of fourteen as well as an elderly man shot to death in his wheelchair.

On November 20, the day after the incident, the Marines issued a statement announcing that "a US 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."

With the exception of the first three words, nothing in that statement appears to have been true. Lance Corporal Miguel Terrazas had indeed been killed when his humvee was struck by an IED shortly after 7 a.m. Over the next several hours, however, Marines from Kilo Company are believed to have stormed four houses, where they left only a small handful of survivors. Nine-year-old Eman Waleed, who lived in the first house attacked by the US, described the events to Time magazine:
First, they went into my father's room, where he was reading the Koran and we heard shots. . . . I couldn't see [the Marines'] 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.

. . . 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."

After the killings were concluded, Marines swept back through the four homes.
Lance Corporals Andrew Wright and Roel Ryan Briones was charged with the task of photographing the dead and removing their bodies, at which point they were brought to a local morgue in American body bags. Among those whose bodies Briones carried was that of a young girl who had been shot in the head. "I held her out like this," he explained to the Los Angeles Times, "but her head was bobbing up and down and the insides fell on my legs."

"I used to be one of those Marines who said that post-traumatic stress is a bunch of bull. But all this stuff that keeps going through my head is eating me up. I need immediate help."

Wright and Briones each earned Purple Hearts after the Haditha Massacre.

Less distressed by the slaughter was Lance Corporal James Crossen, who was injured in the explosion that killed Terrazas. "Probably half of them were bad guys and you just don't know," he told the Associated Press, "so it really doesn't cross my mind. [...] Being so far away and it being so hot... you just lose control sort of and kind of stop caring what happened and I'm pretty sure that's what happened over there."

To this date, no charges have been filed in the Haditha massacre, although investigations -- in keeping with the customary deferral of justice -- are ongoing.