What is it that makes the Marine massacre of civilians at Haditha such a big issue, when we had much worse massacres going on before our eyes much earlier?
The biggest of these was the giant massacre that took place over the course of two weeks in the 300,000-population city of Fallujah in November, 2004
Recall that the Marines–the service that, if we are to believe the propaganda coming out of the Pentagon, have such high standards where civilians are involved–surrounded the city and ordered everyone except the fighters to leave.
The plan was to kill everyone who was left, and that’s what they did.
The problem is that they also were extremely loose in terms of how they defined that “everyone.”
At the time, on the eve of the assault that leveled the entire city, New York Times reporter Dexter Filkins reported that troops were stopping every person who was trying to flee the city and checking them for traces of powder on their hands. Those found to have residues were turned around and sent back to what would be the killing ground. But he reported that those males over the aged of 12 were also turned back, whether they had powder traces on their hands or not.
In other words, the Marines encircling the doomed city decided that all males who were teenagers or older were presumed combatants.
The official tally of dead in Fallujah at the end of the slaughter is 6000, but that is surely too low of a figure. Buildings were leveled by intense bombing and shelling, and nobody was sifting through the wreckage afterwards counting bodies. In fact, much of the city was bulldozed by American forces immediately after the assault, meaning that many bodies will never be found.
We also were treated to a video, taken by an embedded ABC cameraman, which showed a Marine entering a house where several alleged Iraqi fighters were lying, badly wounded, on the floow. The Marine executed them all with “two clicks” to the head. He was later located and exonerated by military “justice,” which accepted his lame excuse that one of the wounded men moved, and might have been hiding a weapon under his shattered body.
All of these things that occurred in Fallujah were war crimes. The very invasion of Fallujah was a major war crime, as the assault was at bottom an act of vengeance and retaliation for the attack in that city earlier in the year on four mercenaries working for the U.S., in which the men were killed and their bodies publicly mutilated. Such revenge upon a city in response to an attack from people in the city is banned under international law, and is a gross war crime.
There were accounts from reporters and from residents of Americans shooting fleeing residents as they tried to swim across the river, even when they were holding up white cloths. The marines attacked a hospital, arrested doctors and dragged wounded inmates from their beds. This was also a war crime.
The Pentagon belatedly admitted to using banned white phosphorus incendiary weapons against the city–weapons that burned enemy fighters and innocent trapped civilians alike to horrible deaths. The U.S. military’s own rules say phosphorus cannot be used even against enemy troops. Yet it was used. There is evidence that napalm, also a banned weapon, was used.
The interesting question is why this one massacre in Haditha is now getting such media attention, while the mainstream media and the Congress completely ignored the much grosser Fallujah attrocities that happened less than two years earlier.
Clearly, the massacre at Fallujah, and the many other attrocities and killings that have left tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis, including many babies and children, dead at the hands of U.S. troops, are not, as Haditha is being portrayed, the work of a few monsters or of a few troops who’s flipped from the stress of battle. The scale of the killings is so great it has to be seen as policy–whether overt or encouraged by a wink and a turned head.
The blame, as in the case of torture, must not be allowed to stay at the enlisted level, or even at the middle ranks. It should be traced out to its source, which is the Secretary of Defense and the Commander in Chief, for it is Rumsfeld and Bush who, in trashing the Geneva Conventions and in looking for ways to get around those civilizing rules or war, have made Haditha, and Fallujah, the norm.
For this, both men should be removed from office and tried for war crimes.
DAVE LINDORFF is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. His new book of CounterPunch columns titled “This Can’t be Happening!” is published by Common Courage Press. Lindorff’s new book is “The Case for Impeachment“,
co-authored by Barbara Olshansky.
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org