A bloody videotape shot by a local Iraqi journalism student has prompted the Pentagon to launch a criminal investigation into an incident that left at least 15 Iraqi civilians dead in the city of Haditha.
The details of what happened four months ago in Haditha are just now coming to light with the release of the videotape by an Iraqi organization called Hammurabi Human Rights.
The tape shows the bloodied and bullet-marked homes that had been allegedly stormed by the Marines, and includes comments by local residents.
"This is my father," a boy says on the tape. "He didn't do anything wrong. Why did they kill him?"
'These Are Children'
The video shows the bodies of some of the dead, including one of three children killed.
"These are children," one man on the tape says. "Are you telling me these are terrorists?"
It all started when a roadside bomb hit a convoy of 12 Marines in Haditha, killing 20-year-old Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas.
The official press release said simply: "A U.S. Marine and 15 Iraqi civilians were killed yesterday from the blast of a roadside bomb."
Prompted by Magazine
Military officials now acknowledge the Iraqis were not killed by the bomb -- but, they now say, by crossfire as U.S. Marines stormed the surrounding homes.
The military did not launch an investigation until two months after the incident, when Time magazine showed officials the video and eyewitness testimony.
"We launched an investigation of our own with the help of a human rights group," said Aparisim Ghosh, a writer for Time. "We spoke to some eyewitnesses. And it turns out all the people killed were killed by the Marines in small arms fire and, in a few instances, by an explosive that was tossed into the home by the Marines themselves."
Senior Pentagon officials would not comment on the details of the case but said they take the allegations very seriously, which is why they've launched the criminal investigation.
It still is not clear the Marines used excessive force, but the locals seem to have made up their minds.
"They came and started shooting all of a sudden," one local said. "They didn't even knock on the door. They killed them wholesale."
According to a military spokesman, the Marines involved still are deployed in Iraq.