If the reports coming out of the media from anonymous sources are true, it looks like the much-discussed Haditha incident in which a small group of US Marines allegedly killed 24 Iraqi civilians is the real deal. Via the the LA Times:
SAN DIEGO — Marines from Camp Pendleton wantonly killed unarmed Iraqi civilians, including women and children, and then tried to cover up the slayings in the insurgent stronghold of Haditha, military investigations have found.
Officials who have seen the findings of the investigations said the filing of criminal charges, including some murder counts, was expected, which would make the Nov. 19 incident the most serious case of alleged U.S. war crimes in Iraq.
An administrative inquiry overseen by Army Maj. Gen. Eldon Bargewell found that several infantry Marines fatally shot as many as 24 Iraqis and that other Marines either failed to stop them or filed misleading or blatantly false reports.
The report concludes that a dozen Marines acted improperly after a roadside bomb explosion killed a fellow Marine, Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas.
Looking for insurgents, the Marines entered several homes and began firing their weapons, according to the report.
In its initial statement to the media, the Marine Corps said the Iraqi civilians were killed either by an insurgent bomb or by crossfire between Marines and insurgents.
But after Time magazine obtained pictures showing dead women and children and quoted Iraqis who said the attack was unprovoked, the Marine Corps backtracked on its explanation and called for an investigation.
The Marines, many of whom were on their third deployment to Iraq, are part of the 3rd Battalion, 1st Regiment of the 1st Marine Division.
The battalion commander and two company commanders were relieved of duty last month because, a spokesman said, Maj. Gen. Richard Natonski, commanding general of the division, had lost confidence in their leadership.
The Naval Criminal Investigative Service, which conducted a separate investigation, is expected to call for criminal charges, including murder, negligent homicide, dereliction of duty and filing a false report.
After the roadside bomb killed Terrazas, the Marines conducted a sweep of the area, a common military tactic. But instead of following the Geneva Convention rules about identifying combatants, the Marines killed Iraqis in homes and five sitting in a vehicle, reportedly without provocation, the investigation found.
Haditha does not compare to My Lai in raw numbers, but raw numbers have meant next to nothing in this war. By historic standards, Iraq has been a low-level insurgency occassionally flaring up into a mid-level one. But by press accounts, Iraq is the apocalypse and the End of Days all rolled into one. Likewise, Haditha will join Abu Ghraib if not surpass it as the enemy’s rallying cry and the left’s beating stick. That’s just a fact. This is a post-modern war, and these Marines (should they turn out to be as guilty as they presently seem) have handed the enemy a major victory they could not have won in straight up battle. Their crime makes the war harder to win. Some folks writing here need to understand that.
There is no excusing this. It’s not Hiroshima, a justified destruction to end a war and prevent much greater loss of life. Haditha appears to be a crime, and should be treated as such. It resulted in the deaths of innocent civilians and will hurt the war effort. It’s unfair, of courseâ€“the enemy targets civilians as a central part of his strategy. But it is the reality of this war and those Marines knew that.
As a former military man, this saddens and sickens me. Every time a crime is committed by one or more of our troops, it reflects on all of us. Two or three sailors commit crimes off-base in Korea and the thousands who stand ready to protect that country get smeared for it. A small group of Marines commits very serious crimes in Iraq, and their actions will be used to smear the noble work and sacrifice being done throughout that country. But that, too, is the reality of this post-modern war, and those Marines knew that. The bottom line is or should be, they killed innocent civilians and made the war harder to win.