Haditha, a My Lai for our times

by Jordan Green

Last November, we wrote about Jimmy Massey, a Marine staff sergeant from Waynesville, NC, whose accounts of US military atrocities have been highlighted by peace activists calling for an end to the war in Iraq. Massey admitted that his claim that Marines killed more than 30 Iraqi civilians in two days was exaggerated. And when a St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter tried to pin him down on details about Massey’s claim that his unit shot into cars full of civilians, the Marine changed his story, essentially sending the frustrated reporter back on the hunt for corroborating facts.

It’s impossible to say whether Massey was lying or not, but given the number of times he changed his story, his claims cannot be treated as credible. It’s objectionable whenever anyone distorts the facts about the human cost of war, but what is really unfortunate is that Massey’s discredited story gives supporters of President Bush’s Iraq policy helpful cover to dismiss any reports of US atrocities as the propaganda of the anti-war movement.

Although reporters and soldiers spoke up about similar incidents involving Marines shooting unarmed civilians without provocation around the same time, Massey’s challenged story muddied the discourse and may have made it harder for critics of the war to hold the civilian war planners accountable.

But those tempted to write off reports of atrocities should pay close attention.

In March, Time magazine reported grisly allegations that Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine regiment, enraged after one of their own was killed by a roadside bomb, went house to house and shot as many as 24 civilians, men, women and children, as a matter of revenge. Initially, the marines attributed the deaths to the roadside bomb that killed Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas or to crossfire from a shootout with insurgents hiding in the houses.

Those claims began to unravel when military investigators examining bullet holes at the scene found irreconcilable contradictions in the Marines’ account. Rep. John Kline, a Minnesota Republican and former Marine who has been apprised of the ongoing investigations, is quoted in a May 28 Time article as saying, ‘“This is going to be an ugly story.’”

Word from military investigators and members of Congress suggests that the account given by 9-year-old Eman Waleed, one of two children who survived the assault, is likely true.

As Time reported in March:

‘“Eman says she ‘heard a lot of shooting, so none of us went outside. Besides, it was very early, and we were all wearing our nightclothes.’ When the Marines entered the house, they were shouting in English. ‘First, they went into my father’s room, where he was reading the Koran,’ she claims, ‘and we heard shots.’ According to Eman, the Marines then entered the living room. ‘I couldn’t see their faces very well ‘— only their guns sticking into the doorway. I watched them shoot my grandfather, first in the chest and then in the head. Then they killed my granny.’ She claims the troops started firing toward the corner of the room where she and her younger brother Abdul Rahman, 8, were hiding; the other adults shielded the children from the bullets but died in the process. Eman says her leg was hit by a piece of metal and Abdul Rahman was shot near his shoulder. ‘We were lying there, bleeding, and it hurt so much.””

It appears that Haditha will enter the historical memory as another forlorn locale where members of the US military killed innocent civilians without provocation, joining My Lai and No Gun Ri Bridge. Americans can no longer afford the luxury of ignoring the moral cost of such savagery and inhuman destruction as has been exposed at Haditha.

Also in the department of ‘“more to the story than we initially reported,’” we got some interesting feedback to our cover story about how Guilford County’s small-claims court handles landlord-tenant disputes [‘“Summary ejectment: How landlords almost always prevail in small-claims court, and tenants rarely have their cases heard,’” by Jordan Green, May 24, 2006]. We anticipated that our story would be a hard-hitting look at whether the courts have a bias, institutional or otherwise, against tenants, so the feedback we received was not exactly what we expected.

A High Point tenant who lived in federally subsidized Section 8 housing wrote us to say that a small-claims court magistrate refused to hear her testimony or let her present evidence in her defense when her landlord tried to evict her without cause. The tenant, Stephanie West, said we got the ‘“heart of the matter,’” but might be somewhat naïve about the true reasons tenants don’t turn to the court system to defend their rights. On the other hand, Tina Hedrick, secretary of the Catawba Valley Landlords Association in Hickory, wrote us to say the article was informative and she would like to republish it in the association’s newsletter to educate its members on the finer points of housing law.

We also received a call from Magistrate Jim Pfaff, who had generally complimentary things to say about the story. Pfaff wanted to point out one oversight, however. Tenants who cite the cost of filing claims as a disincentive to use the courts to seek justice, he said, should be aware that they can file an affidavit of indigency. Those affidavits are available at the clerk’s office in the county courthouse, and indigent tenants can almost always have their fees waived.

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