The Haditha Massacre, One Year Later


Oct. 30, 2006 — -- Almost a year ago, 12-year-old Sofa Younis lost her entire family.

Her home in Haditha, Iraq, was raided by American Marines on Nov. 19, 2005.

"They broke into the bathroom. They detonated a hand grenade into the bathroom. We were all sitting in a room. Then comes the American soldier, and [he] shot us all," Sofa said. "I pretended to be dead, and he did not know about me."

Sofa survived, but 24 Iraqi civilians died that day, including six children and four women. All 24 were killed by U.S. Marines from the Kilo Company.

American military authorities have investigated the events of that day and have compiled a 3,500-page report that has yet to be released.

The Kilo Company has been sent home to Camp Pendleton in California. Two officers from the company have been relieved from duty, but no charges have yet been brought against any members of the company.

After arriving in Haditha just 48 hours after the killings, embedded photojournalist Lucien Read did not think he was looking at a crime scene.

"What I was told when I got back and what I saw that day in the house where the bodies were, everything sort of fit together and not in a way that said to me, 'An awful crime has taken place here.' It said to me, 'That happens every day in Iraq,'" Read said. "This is just one more awful day in a long string of them."

According to an article written by William Langewiesche in the current issue of Vanity Fair, the morning of Nov. 19, 2005, began normally for the Kilo Company.

"This patrol was delivering a hot breakfast to an outpost, and on the way back the fourth Humvee was hit by a very powerful improvised land mine known as an IED," Langewiesche said.

Two Marines in the Humvee were injured, and a third, 20-year-old Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas, was killed.

Langewiesche argues that the subsequent deaths of the Iraqi civilians happened under the rules of military engagement.

"The accusation is criminal conduct, murder and war crimes as opposed to legitimate killing and unfortunately collateral casualties," Langewiesche said. "It seems quite clear to me, though, having spent quite a bit of time on this, for the most part the killing was not a question of murder."

Retired Four Star Army Gen. Jack Keane disagrees, based on the alleged facts of the case.

"With no fire coming from the house, which is probably what happened here, to go in there and summarily shoot people who were in those rooms, it is a war crime in every sense of the word," Keane said.

However, Keane maintains that despite the indefensibility of the killings, it is easy to understand how the loss of a comrade could fuel these deaths.

"They took the emotion of that and turned that into hate and then into revenge. And I believe acted more like a gang than a military organization," Keane said.

According to Langewiesche, though, the Marines believed they were still under attack after the IED exploded.

"Into this very tense situation drove a white opal car coming down the road," he said. "And there were five men aboard, and we know that the Marines ordered them out of the car, stopped the car legitimately, and very quickly afterward killed them all."

All five of the Iraqis in the car were shot while running away from the Marines. The Marines headed toward a house from which they believed the fire was coming. They shot a man at the gate and an old woman in the hallway of the house.

But according to Langewiesche, the Marines likely got caught up in the scene and did not realize who they were shooting at.

"Did they see an old woman and they shot her? Or did they see a figure down the hallway and did they shoot in dust and confusion and dimness and racket and noise?" Langewiesche asked.

Keane takes issue with Langewiesche's assessment.

"You're pointing a weapon at a child. You are pointing the weapon at a woman who are not using weapons against you. You know that you have no reason pulling that trigger," he said.

"You have been trained not to do that. You have been trained to target people who are trying to hurt you or to deal with people who have weapons or people who you knew were just armed and you are not certain what their status is," he said.

Keane and Langewiesche agree on one point -- that the house-to-house patrols by U.S. troops, often intruding into private homes and detaining individuals, alienate ordinary Iraqis and fuels the insurgency.

"What a terrifying experience it would be if people 6 feet tall with big burly arms came through the door with weapons and a sense of aggressiveness and took control of our families and escorted the males rather firmly out the door," Keane said. "That is something that would be a defining life experience and everybody that was there would never forget it for the rest of their life."

According to Langewiesche, the patrols are not a new problem to Iraqis.

"It's a cycle. It's well-known," he said. "This is not rocket science. The insurgents themselves know it and it's … the problem is very well-known. The solution is very well unknown."

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