Ex-Marine admits to embellishing claims of atrocities in Iraq
The credibility of a North Carolina Marine who has given riveting accounts at anti-war rallies and to members of the news media about US troops committing atrocities against civilians in Iraq has been called into question by a St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter who was embedded with the Marines in Iraq.
Jimmy Massey, a former staff sergeant from Waynesville who was honorably discharged from the Marines after serving in Iraq, has given multiple interviews in which he characterized US troops as killing and brutalizing Iraqi civilians, sometimes intentionally and often callously.
In a widely circulated story on the World Socialist Web Site in November 2004, he is quoted as saying: ‘“After we shot up this car with civilians, I called in the corpsmen to bring in stretchers. They came in and put two men on stretchers. Five minutes later, they brought them back and dumped their bodies on the side of the road. They were still alive. They were riddled with bullets ‘— one guy was just rolling in agony on the side of the road.’”
In the same story he is quoted as saying US forces killed more than 30 civilians in two days at military checkpoints.
Massey spoke at a press conference organized by the NC Peace & Justice Coalition on March 18 in Fayetteville to mark the second anniversary of the American invasion of Iraq, one of many appearances before anti-war audiences this year.
Ron Harris’ story, ‘“Is Jimmy Massey telling the truth about Iraq?’” was published by the Post-Dispatch on Nov. 5. Harris said he interviewed dozens of other Marines and journalists to try to corroborate Massey’s claims and found them to be ‘“either demonstrably false or exaggerated.’” Specifically, he reported that Massey wasn’t telling the truth when he told people that Marines killed peaceful Iraqi protesters, Americans shot a 4-year-old girl in the head and a tractor-trailer was filled with the bodies of civilian men, women and children killed by US soldiers.
An editorial page editor at The Sacramento Bee acknowledged that his newspaper did not make adequate efforts to verify Massey’s claims before running an article by an Oakland freelance writer that advanced similar claims.
‘“We should have done more to check the truth of Massey’s charges before deciding whether to publish them,’” wrote David Holwerk in a Nov. 13 mea culpa, ‘“How we came to publish a story we shouldn’t have.’” He said: ‘“We didn’t, and the responsibility for that is mine,’” adding that Massey’s accounts also showed up in the Associated Press, USA Today and the Albany (NY) Times-Union.
In a rebuttal posted on the Iraq Veterans Against the War website, ‘“Is Ron Harris telling the truth?’” Massey cited three anonymous Marine sources as corroborating his statements. He suggested that Harris had it in for him after Massey told an audience at a Boston Veterans for Peace Convention that the reporter exaggerated a battle at Rasheed military complex early in the war.
Massey did not respond to an interview request left with Iraq Veterans Against the War and could not be reached at a listed phone number in Waynesville.
Chuck Fager, director of the Quaker House GI counseling center in Fayetteville, said he’s not in a position to judge the credibility of accounts by Massey about atrocities he might have participated in or observed. Fager was one of the organizers of the Fayetteville anti-war rally, in which Massey spoke at the press conference.
Fager declined to comment on whether challenges to Massey’s credibility might pose a liability to the peace movement.
‘“Jimmy Massey is only one of many soldiers who shared stories about atrocities committed in the course of the Iraq war and occupation,’” he said, ‘“and I think ensuring that they’re investigated and prosecuted all the way up the chain of command is really the priority that I think the peace movement ought to be pushing for.’”
In a Nov. 13 exchange with Harris on the Pacifica Radio program ‘“Democracy Now!’” Massey acknowledged that he had not seen a tractor-trailer full of the corpses of Iraqi civilians, which he had described in a May 2004 radio interview.
‘“The makeshift morgue was definitely ‘— I admit it was secondhand information that I did receive from other Marines,’” he said, according to a transcript provided by the program.
Massey denied that he had ever claimed that a 4-year-old girl was shot in the head, saying he had been misquoted by at least two reporters, including Harris.
Harris said he and a Post-Dispatch photographer were present at the incident in which Massey claimed that a 4-year-old girl was killed, and that no such incident took place. He said innocent civilians were killed by the Marines, but not in the way Massey described.
‘“They did shoot innocent civilians,’” he said. ‘“We reported it, we took photographs of it, we published it. But in that case there was no four-year-old girl.’”
At the end of the exchange ‘“Democracy Now!’” host Amy Goodman noted that Massey testified that his unit killed 30 innocent Iraqi civilians in the span of two days before a Canadian tribunal considering an asylum request by American conscientious objector Jeremy Hinzman. She asked him if he stood by his statement.
‘“No, I actually have to retract that,’” he said.
Massey said while he was writing a book entitled Kill, Kill, Kill that was recently published in France he realized that it was actually 30 Iraqi civilians killed in three month’s time.
‘“It took me sitting down with counselors and therapists and actually writing the book, which was a form of therapy for me, to recall and to have these flashbacks,’” he said. ‘“So that was an error on my part.’”
To comment on this story, e-mail Jordan Green at firstname.lastname@example.org.