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Haditha Massacre Raises Doubts about Conduct of War

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Revelations of atrocities in Haditha, Iraq and a possible subsequent cover up continue to deeply divide Americans over the war on and occupation of Iraq. For most, the accounts of atrocities enforce doubts about why the troops are still there, raising serious objections to remaining in Iraq.

For many people, a war based on lies, the administration’s rejection of international agreements banning torture and abuse of prisoners, and the declaration of a global war on terror that requires the use of any means – no matter how violent or illegal – in order to win led inevitably to Haditha.

On November 19, 2005, according to media accounts of eyewitness reports and Pentagon insider statements, a squad of US Marines went from house to house in a neighborhood in Haditha killing 24 people, including women and children. According to one report based on a Pentagon briefing of several members of Congress, the event may have lasted from three to five hours and was "methodical in nature."

Subsequent to the killings, media reports on the actions of military investigators say, individuals involved and their immediate superiors may have filed false reports about the event. Reports made up the chain of command may falsely indicate that the civilians were killed by terrorist attacks, investigators say.

Investigators also told Congress that as many as 12 men may be under investigation for the massacre and the subsequent cover up.

As expected, the Bush administration has described reports of the massacre of 24 Iraqi civilians in the town of Haditha as an isolated event. Defenders of Bush's war on Iraq, such as TV personalities Bill O'Reilly and Neil Cavuto (both of Fox News), have hysterically accused those who raise the issue and demand a full and open elaboration of the massacre of being guilty of "bomb throwing" and as "bashing the military."

Fox's Josh Gibson even remarked on a recent episode of his TV program that the atrocities at Haditha "fits together neatly in a slime-fest designed to win elections and set the direction of the history books," implying that people who demand justice are simply using the crimes to win elections. In any event, war supporters in the right-wing media downplay the massacre and simply want the story to go away without dealing with potential war crimes.

For some Iraq war veterans, however, the Haditha massacre is not isolated. In a statement released to the press this week, Iraq war veteran and former sniper who served at the siege of Fallujah, Garrett Reppenhagen said, "There were massacres by ones and twos all over Iraq."

Reppenhagen also stated that some members of his organization, Iraq Veterans against the war (IVAW), described incidents where service members planted shovels next to dead civilians in order to give the appearance that they were terrorists trying to bury explosives.

Reppenhagen also stated, "There are a lot of reasons that lead to events like this, but the thing you can't get way from is that if these troops were not in Iraq, this wouldn't be happening." He also expressed doubts that anyone higher than a lieutenant would be punished for the Haditha atrocities.

Former Navy corpsman Charlie Anderson, who accompanied Marines during the initial invasion, added that US Marines typically responded to shots with overwhelming force even in populated areas. "How big a step is it really from shooting up a village from 100 meters away and shooting a family in its home?" he wondered.

The IVAW statement concluded that "The massacre at Haditha is not an exception to the situation in Iraq, it is a punctuation mark in a longer atrocity – the war itself."

--Joel Wendland is managing editor of Political Affairs and will be door-knocking and phone-banking this fall to bring down the corrupt Republican Congress.
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--Joel Wendland is editor of Political Affairs.
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