By Fred Mazelis
21 December 2011
Previously unreported details on the massacre of civilians
in the town of Haditha in Anbar province in 2005, one of the most notorious
atrocities of the many committed by imperialist forces in Iraq, were revealed
in a special report in the New York Times on December 15.
Four hundred pages of interrogations of US Marines and
their superior officers, part of an official investigation into the massacre
that was supposed to be kept secret, were apparently found by a Times
reporter in a junkyard near Baghdad.
The investigation, led by Maj. Gen. Eldon Bargewell, was
also the subject of a report in the Washington Post more than four
years ago, in April 2007 (see “Haditha
massacre report: US commanders see killing Iraqi civilians as ‘cost of doing
business’ ”). The Post obtained a copy of this report, and the Times
account last week adds new details and verbatim testimony from the extensive
account that was supposed to have been destroyed in advance of the final
withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, but instead wound up discarded and then
The internal military inquiry followed the horrific events
of November 19, 2005, when a US military vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb.
The attack was followed by an orgy of killing by Marines, which left 24 Iraqi
civilians dead, including a 76-year-old man as well as children between the
ages of 3 and 15.
The details of the testimony, freely given by soldiers as
well as their superiors, starkly reveal the essence of the brutal colonial
enterprise that was launched with the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. By its
very nature, this act of unprovoked aggression, which soon led to the growth of
a resistance movement in many parts of the country, demoralized many soldiers
and turned others into sadistic killers.
As the Times account sums up the findings, “The
stress of combat left some soldiers paralyzed…. Troops, traumatized by the
rising violence and feeling constantly under siege, grew increasingly twitchy,
killing more and more civilians in accidental encounters. Others became so
desensitized and inured to the killing that they fired on Iraqi civilians
deliberately while their fellow soldiers snapped pictures….”
The most brazen and revealing description of the nature of
the US mission in Iraq was given, apparently without hesitation or much
concern, by Maj. Gen. Steve Johnson, the commander of American forces in Anbar
province as a whole. Describing his reaction to the report of civilian deaths
in Haditha, Johnson said, “it happened all the time…it was just a cost of doing
business on that particular engagement.”
The Haditha massacre took place in the midst of a growing
debacle for the US occupation forces that stretched over a number of years.
Anbar province was the scene of fierce attacks on occupation forces from
shortly after the successful invasion and toppling of Saddam Hussein.
In 2004, four Blackwater contractors were killed and their
bodies dragged through the streets of Fallujah, in a scene that became
emblematic of the deepening crisis of the occupation. This was followed by the
vindictive assault on Fallujah itself by US forces. Anbar province, west of
Baghdad, was the site of nearly 30 percent of the US death toll of 4,483 since
the start of the war eight years ago.
As the Times explains, American forces, many on
their second and third tours of duty in the country, were completely unable to
tell resistance fighters from noncombatants. As in Vietnam decades earlier, the
occupation forces were fighting against an entire population. Even though the
successful invasion and the establishment of the Iraqi occupation was at first
assisted by the collaboration of elements within Shiite and Kurdish ruling
circles, the hostility among the population as a whole to the occupation was
immediate and only deepened over time.
The details of the Haditha inquiry highlight the enormous
toll of the eight-year war on the Iraqi population and expose the cynical
claims that estimates of 1 million Iraqi civilian deaths is wildly overstated.
In the testimony of the US commanders themselves, as well as the experience of
the US soldiers, killings of noncombatants was an everyday occurrence.
Many civilians were killed, as the interrogations explain,
when they refused to stop their cars at checkpoints, undoubtedly out of fear,
confusion or language difficulties. One officer testified, “I had Marines shoot
children in cars and deal with the Marines individually one on one about it
because they have a hard time dealing with that.”
The Haditha massacre, while not at all unique, became a
defining moment in the aftermath of the claims of the Bush administration that
its war, launched on the basis of lies about weapons of mass destruction, had
concluded in victory. Widespread opposition to the invasion amongst the
population in the Europe and the US grew and contributed to the rout of
Republican candidates in both the 2006 and 2008 elections in the US.
The real significance of the occupation was further spelled
out when none of the Marines charged in connection with the Haditha massacre
paid any price. Charges against six were dropped, one was acquitted, and a
final case is scheduled to go to trial next year.
How the 400 pages of interrogations surfaced provides
another glimpse into the real circumstances surrounding the proclamation of the
end of the US war in Iraq. The fact that the classified material was found in a
junkyard (the newspaper reports that “an attendant was burning them as fuel to
cook a dinner of smoked carp”) recalls the humiliating US retreat from Vietnam
more than 35 years ago.
The Times reports that a spokesman for the US
military in Iraq told the newspaper: “We take any breach of classified information
as an extremely serious matter. In this case, the documents are being reviewed
to determine whether an investigation is warranted