BBC World News & Simon Freeman / The Times of London – 2006-05-27 09:04:36
US ‘Winding Up’ Iraq Deaths Probe
BBC World News
An investigation into claims that US marines may have deliberately killed civilians in Iraq is nearing its end, the Pentagon says.
Official accounts from the Iraqi city of Haditha in November said 15 people were killed by a bomb and firefight. But reports in the US press say as many as 24 people may have died, and that murder charges may be in preparation.
Moves are being made to prepare the public, perhaps for something shocking, says a BBC correspondent in Washington.
A defence department spokesman said he believed the inquiry into Haditha — being carried out by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service — was nearing an end. But he would not say what investigators had found, and added that he did not expect an announcement on charges in the next few days.
What took place in Haditha on 19 November last year is not clear. The US military said in statements issued after the incident that 15 Iraqi civilians had been killed by the blast of a roadside bomb, or in a subsequent firefight between US marines and insurgents.
But local Iraqis told a different story.
The criminal investigation has been seeking to establish whether or not the marines killed civilians in cold blood. A 10-year-old girl told The Times of London this weekend that US soldiers deliberately shot and killed almost her entire family as she lay hiding in the corner.
Iman Hassan described how she heard the dying groans of her grandfather, mother, father, two uncles and a young cousin.
The Los Angeles Times has also reported that investigators have concluded that marines went on the rampage, killing unarmed civilians, including women and children, after a marine was killed by a roadside bomb.
According to this account, up to a dozen marines were involved either in the incident, or covering it up afterwards. The LA Times says investigators are preparing to call for charges including murder, negligent homicide, dereliction of duty and filing a false report.
The BBC’s Adam Brookes in Washington says it certainly seems that public opinion in America is being prepared for the possibility that the investigators’ findings will be shocking.
On Thursday, John Warner, chairman the Senate Armed Services Committee, said there were “established facts that incidents of a very serious nature did take place”.
The commander of the US marine corps, Gen Michael Hagee, flew to Iraq the same day and said the scenes and experiences faced by marines “can be numbing”.
“There is the risk of becoming indifferent to the loss of a human life, as well as bringing dishonour upon ourselves,” he said.
Last week John Murtha, a Democrat member of the House of Representatives and a retired marine said US troops in Haditha “overreacted because of the pressure on them. They killed innocent civilians in cold blood. And that’s what the report is going to tell.”
US Military Probes Claims of Civilian ‘Massacre’
Simon Freeman /The London Times
(March 21, 2006) — The United States military today began a criminal investigation into allegations that its soldiers shot dead 15 members of two Iraqi families, including a girl of 3, after the death of a Marine in a roadside bomb.
In its original statement about the incident in November 2005, the Army said that the victims were killed in either the explosion or an ensuing exchange of fire in the town of Haditha, an insurgent stronghold on the Euphrates, 140 miles northwest of Baghdad.
Time magazine this week published an article about the incident asking if it was self-defence or “cold-blooded revenge”. The article is accompanied by stills said to be from a videotape taken by a local journalism student. The pictures are said to show the victims’ bodies being carried from their homes and in the mortuary.
The US conducted a follow-up investigation after Time presented military officials in Baghdad with Iraqis’ accounts of the incident in January. Military investigators interviewed 28 people, including the Marines involved in the incident, the families of the victims and local doctors.
The military inquiry found that the 15 civilians died at the hands of the Marines, not insurgents. Mortuary records showed that the civilians had gunshot wounds and were wearing their nightclothes. The inquiry concluded that the deaths were “collateral damage”.
The US announced last week that the matter had now been handed to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service to investigate allegations of misconduct. This will determine whether troops broke the rules of engagement by deliberately targeting civilians.
The AP news agency today reported that it had independently obtained a detailed description of events from residents that is virtually identical to the Time report. It remains unconfirmed by official sources.
Khaled Ahmed Rsayef, whose brother and six other members of his family were killed in the incident, said that a bomb exploded at about 7.15am as an American armoured vehicle passed through the al-Subhani district.
He told AP: “American troops immediately cordoned the area and raided two nearby houses, shooting at everyone inside. It was a massacre in every sense of the word.”
Mr Rsayef and Imad Jawad Hamza, a former city council worker, said the first house to be entered was that of Abdul-Hamid Hassan Ali near to the scene of the explosion.
In their account Mr Rsayef and Mr Hamza claim that Ali, 76, died instantly after being shot in the stomach and chest. They said his wife, Khamisa, 66, was shot in the back, and Ali’s son Jahid, 43, was hit in the head and chest. Walid, 37, was burned to death after a grenade was thrown in his room. A third son, 28-year-old Rashid, died after he was shot in the head and chest.
The two men said that Walid’s wife, Asma, 32, was shot in the head, and his son Abdullah, four, was shot in the chest. Walid’s eight-year-old daughter Iman, and his six-year-old son Abdul-Rahman, were wounded, they claim, and taken by American troops to Baghdad for treatment.
The only person who escaped unharmed according to their account was Walid’s five-month daughter, Asia. The three children who survived now live with their maternal grandparents.
Mr Rsayef said those killed in the second house were his brother Younis, 43, who was shot in the stomach and chest and his brother’s wife Aida, 40, who was shot in the neck and chest while in bed. Their eight-year-old son Mohammed was shot in the right arm and bled to death, Mr Rsayef said.
Also killed were his brother’s daughters Nour, 14, who was shot in the head; Seba, 10, who was hit in the chest; Zeinab, 5, shot in the chest and stomach, and Aisha, 3, who was shot in the chest. A visiting relative, Hoda Yassin, was also killed, they said.
The only survivor from his brother’s family, Mr Rsayef said, was 15-year-old daughter Safa, who now lives with her grandparents.
The two men told AP that another nine people – including four brothers walking in the streets and five men in a car nearby – were also shot dead in revenge for the killing of Lance Corporal Miguel Terrazas, 20. These allegations are not the subject of the present inquiry.
Dr Walid al-Hadithi, the chief physician at Haditha General Hospital, was on duty at midnight on the day of the explosion.
He told AP: “They [the American troops] told me the women and children were shot in their homes, and they added that the men were saboteurs,” Mr al-Hadithi said. He said he was given a total of 24 bodies. “All had bullet wounds.”
Time made clear that there was no conclusive proof that the Marines deliberately killed the civilians. The magazine said its investigation showed that walls and ceilings inside both houses were pockmarked with shrapnel and bullet holes as well as sprays of blood. There were no signs of damage to the outside walls.
Lieutenant Colonel Michelle Martin-Hing, a spokesman for the United States military, said: “We take these allegations very seriously.
“The incident in question was the first in a series of engagements that day that began when the Marine patrol was ambushed in a residential neighbourhood with an IED [improvised explosive device] followed immediately by small arms fire from multiple directions.”
Mr Martin-Hing said that the troops had spent five hours in the town tracking down those said to be responsible.
He added: “The investigation will examine whether any rules of engagement were violated in the Marines’ response to the insurgent attack. We are committed to thoroughly investigating this incident to determine the facts surrounding the engagement.”
An unnamed military source said: “It is a common enemy tactic to fight from civilian homes and structures, placing non-combatants in the line of fire as forces respond to the attacks.”
Posted in accordance with Title 17, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.