The Horrors of Haditha

Article excerpt

It's hard to read about Haditha, this place in Iraq where, last November 19, some U.S. Marines went on a rampage, reportedly massacring twenty-four Iraqis, including a man almost eighty years old in a wheelchair and children as young as one, three, four, and five.

"Some victims had single gunshot wounds to the head," a Defense Department. official told The New York Times.

"Most of the shots," The Washington Post reported, "were fired at such close range that they went through the bodies of the family members and plowed into walls or the floor," according to doctors who saw the bodies.

The old man in the wheelchair "took nine rounds in the chest and abdomen, according to his death certificate," the Post story said.

"I watched them shoot my grandfather, first in the chest and then in the head," Eman Waleed told Time magazine. "Then they killed my granny."

How does that make you feel?

It fills me first with nausea and revulsion, and then fury.

Fury at the Marines who allegedly did this.

All those who took part in this massacre, all those who covered it up, must be held responsible. Being a Marine does not give you a license to murder.

But fury, too, at Bush for putting them over there.

Bush has turned Iraq into what the psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton has called an "atrocity-producing situation." In such a situation, he notes, "ordinary people--men or women no better or worse than you or I--can regularly commit atrocities." Lifton, who described this situation first in his classic work, The Nazi Doctors, warned two years ago in The Nation that the Iraq War has become practically a laboratory for atrocities: "A counterinsurgency war in a hostile setting, especially when driven by profound ideological distortion, is particularly prone to sustained atrocity--all the more so when it becomes an occupation."

Bush has placed U.S. troops under enormous stress in Iraq. It was only a matter of time before some of them snapped.

And that's what appears to have happened at Haditha.

Though we would not have known that from the Marines themselves. According to Time, the initial report from a Marine spokesperson was: "A U.S. Marine and fifteen 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."

The only part of that account that appears to be true is that a U.S. Marine was killed by a roadside bomb. (Time broke this story, but only months after a video shot by a local journalism student and witness testimony to human rights groups had been reported in the Arab press. Some of the most damning evidence appears to have come from a U.S. soldier who took pictures of the atrocity on his cell phone and transmitted them to a friend.)

Once again, as at Abu Ghraib, the gravity of the massacre did not register on Bush. "I am troubled by the initial news stories," he said on May 31. Hell, I am "troubled" when my teenagers are out past curfew. Couldn't the President have expressed a more powerful emotion, one that is more appropriate to the gravity of the allegations? How about disgusted or appalled or outraged?

Like My Lai, Haditha, as horrible as it appears, cannot be called a surprise. This is the trajectory of occupation. And there s been a stream of reports about U.S. atrocities in Iraq prior to this, just as there was in Vietnam prior to My Lai.

"The story is unique only in that the evidence that a terrible crime took place appears to be too great for 'plausible deniability,'" writes Joshua Holland for Alternet. …