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2006-05-30

Haditha Massacre: Was it an Isolated Event and Did the Military Try to Cover it Up?

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An internal military investigation has found that U.S. marines killed as many as 24 Iraqis–including women and children–in the city of Haditha last November and then tried to cover it up. We speak with an attorney and researcher at Human Rights Watch, an independent journalist who spent months unembedded in Iraq and we go to Baghdad to speak with the bureau chief for Knight Ridder. [includes rush transcript]

We take a look at the Haditha massacre and the aftermath, which has continued to rock the military and political establishments. Last November, a roadside bomb struck a Humvee carrying US troops in the western Iraqi town of Haditha. The bomb killed one marine and injured two others. The next day, the Marines said in a statement that 15 Iraqi civilians died in the initial blast. They said that after the explosion, gunmen attacked the US convoy with small arms fire, prompting the Marines to return fire, killing eight insurgents. But eyewitnesses contradicted this account. They said the men, women and children were killed when marines burst into their houses after the blast and shot them dead in their nightclothes. Early this year, a videotape of the aftermath of the incident, showing the bodies of women and children, was obtained by Time magazine. The video verified the eyewitness accounts and prompted an investigation by the military. There are now 2 investigations–one into the encounter itself and another into whether it was the subject of a cover-up by the military.

Last week, the Pentagon concluded one of its investigations. Members of Congress who were briefed said that at least some members of the Marine unit may be charged with murder, which carries the death penalty.

Abdul Salam Al-Kubaissi, spokesman of the Muslim Clerics Association spoke at news conference in Baghdad on Sunday:

  • Abdul Salam Al-Kubaissi: "The situation has reached a level when the U.S. soldier becomes a professional killer, who kills with premeditation and deliberation. This should be among war crimes and the ones who should be put on trial are the U.S. commanders and not the U.S. soldier because the commanders are the ones who instruct those (soldiers) and justify their acts as it happened in Abu Ghraib’s scandal."

One of the reporters who broke the Haditha story, Aparisim Ghosh, joined us in our firehouse studio in March. He is the chief international correspondent for Time Magazine. He spoke about his article titled "One Morning in Haditha."

On Saturday, the Marines released their first official statement about the Haditha events. It reads in part, All Marines are trained in the Law of Armed Conflict and our core values of honor, courage and commitment. We take allegations of wrong-doing by Marines very seriously and are committed to thoroughly investigating such allegations. We also pride ourselves on holding our Marines to the highest levels of accountability and standards. The Marines in Iraq are focused on their mission. They are working hard on doing the right thing in a complex and dangerous environment. It is important to remember that the vast majority of Marines today perform magnificently on and off the battlefield. Tens of thousands have served honorably and with courage in Iraq and Afghanistan."

We invited a representative from the Military to be on the program but they declined our request.

  • Nancy Youssef , Baghdad Bureau Chief for Knight Ridder.
  • Dahr Jamail, independent journalist who was based for a time in Baghdad. He was one of the only independent, unembedded journalists in Iraq at the time. Dahr publishes his reports on a blog called DahrJamailIraq.com.
  • John Sifton, researcher at Human Rights Watch.

A few days after the Haditha story broke, the military launched another investigation into the killing of Iraqi civilians by American troops. In March, the Knight Ridder news agency obtained an Iraqi police report accusing U.S forces of of murdering 11 civilians by rounding them up them up into one room of a house near the city of Balad and shooting them. The US military stated that only four civilians were killed in the raid and that they came under fire while trying to capture an al-Qaeda suspect.

The reporter who broke the story for Knight Ridder, Matthew Schofield, was interviewed by Democracy Now.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Abdul Salam Al-Kabaissi, spokesperson for the Muslim Clerics Association, speaking at a news conference in Baghdad on Sunday.

ABDUL SALAM AL-KUBAISSI: [translated] The situation has reached a level when the U.S. soldier becomes a professional killer, who kills with premeditation and deliberation. This should be among war crimes, and the ones who should be put on trial are the U.S. commanders and not the U.S. soldier, because the commanders are the ones who instruct those (soldiers) and justify their acts as it happened in Abu Ghraib’s scandal.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Abdul Salam Al-Kubaissi speaking on Sunday. One of the reporters who first broke the Haditha story, Aparisim Ghosh, joined us in our Firehouse studio in March. He’s the chief international correspondent for Time magazine. We wanted to go back to replay a clip of Aparisim from that day. I began by asking him to tell us about his story in Time called "One Morning in Haditha."

APARISIM GHOSH: Haditha is a small town northwest of Baghdad, a very, very dangerous place. It’s in the heart of what’s known as the Sunni Triangle, and Marines and soldiers who operate in that area are under constant threat. On the morning of the 19th of November, a four-Humvee patrol going through town was hit by an I.E.D., an improvised explosive device, which sheered off the front of one of the Humvees, killed one of the soldiers inside. What happens next is a matter of some debate, as you pointed out. Initially the Marines claimed that a total of 23 people were killed on the spot, 15 of them innocent civilians, all of whom the Marines said were killed by the I.E.D., and eight of them, enemy combatants who were shot by the Marines.

AMY GOODMAN: In addition to the 15?

APARISIM GHOSH: In addition to the 15. We looked into this case, and the more we dug, the more we thought that something didn’t quite add up. And when we finally got our hands on this videotape, it became very clear to us that these people could not have been killed outdoors by an explosive device. They were killed in their homes in their night clothes. The night clothes are significant, because Iraqi women and children, especially, are very, very unlikely to go outdoors wearing their night clothes. It is a very conservative society.

When we first approached the Marines with this evidence, they responded in quite a hostile fashion. They accused us of buying into enemy propaganda. That aroused our suspicions even further, because it seemed to be excessively hostile on their part. And we dug even more. We spoke to witnesses. We spoke to survivors of this incident. And then we became quite convinced that these people were killed by the Marines. What is left to be seen is whether they were killed in the course of the Marine operation as collateral damage or by accident, or whether the Marines went on a rampage after one of their own had been killed and killed these people in revenge.

AMY GOODMAN: You are very graphic in the piece, "One Morning in Haditha." Describe what the survivors say happened when the U.S. military went into the nearby houses around where the roadside bomb had exploded.

APARISIM GHOSH: Well, the survivors claimed — let me back up a little bit. The Marines claim that they received small arms fire from nearby homes and that they responded to this fire, they shot back, and then they went into the homes to try and flush out the bad guys, the terrorists who were in there. It’s clear from the video that those homes don’t have any bullet marks outside, which would suggest that there was very little, if any, shooting by the Marines at the facades of these homes. But there are lots of signs of bullets inside.

The victims told us that the Marines came in and they killed everybody inside. In one house they threw a grenade into a kitchen. That set off a propane tank and nearly destroyed the kitchen and killed several people in that home. The scenes that were described by the survivors and the witnesses were incredibly bloody and very graphic. But they are, unfortunately, very commonplace in Iraq.

AMY GOODMAN: Inside, you talked to — you have the description of a nine-year-old girl.

APARISIM GHOSH: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Tell us about her and her family and what she says happened.

APARISIM GHOSH: Well, she was indoors with her family when the explosion took place. The explosion was loud enough to wake everybody up in the neighborhood.

AMY GOODMAN: The bomb that killed the Marine.

APARISIM GHOSH: The first explosion, yes. And she says when she heard gunshots — of course, she’s a child, she was frightened. When the Marines stormed towards their home, her grandfather slipped into the next room, as is, apparently, was his custom to pray, to reach out for the family Koran and pray to God that this crisis would pass. On this occasion, the Marines came into the home. They entered the room where the grandfather was, and other members of the family, and killed him.

AMY GOODMAN: And she was left alive.

APARISIM GHOSH: She survived, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: And her little brother.

APARISIM GHOSH: And her brother was injured by a piece of — either by a bullet or a piece of shrapnel, we’re not sure.

AMY GOODMAN: But her parents, her mother, her father, her grandparents —

APARISIM GHOSH: Her parents, her grandparents, I believe her uncle, were also killed.

AMY GOODMAN: And then, another house.

APARISIM GHOSH: Four houses in all, involving a total of — indoors, total of 19 people, and four people outside.

AMY GOODMAN: Aparisim Bobby Ghosh on Democracy Now!, March 23 of this year. On Saturday, the Marines released their first official statement about the Haditha killings. It read in part, quote, "All Marines are trained in the Law of Armed Conflict and our core values of honor, courage and commitment. We take allegations of wrong-doing by Marines very seriously and are committed to thoroughly investigating such allegations. We also pride ourselves on holding our Marines to the highest levels of accountability and standards. The Marines in Iraq are focused on their mission. They are working hard on doing the right thing in a complex and dangerous environment. It is important to remember that the vast majority of Marines today perform magnificently on and off the battlefield. Tens of thousands have served honorably and with courage in Iraq and Afghanistan." Again, those, the words of the U.S. military. We invited a representative of the Pentagon to be on the program. They declined our request.

We’re joined now in studio by John Sifton, an attorney and researcher at Human Rights Watch, where he focuses on Afghanistan, Iraq and military and counterterrorism issues. We’re joined been the telephone by Nancy Youssef. She’s the Baghdad Bureau Chief for Knight Ridder. And we’re joined on the phone from the Bay Area of California by independent journalist Dahr Jamail, who has written a piece for truthout.org called "Countless My Lai Massacres in Iraq." He spent more than eight months in Iraq. Nancy Youssef, what is the response in Iraq right now? I mean, this actually, the Haditha killings, took place in November. What is the response of Iraqis to the renewed interest in this?

NANCY YOUSSEF: Surprisingly quiet. I think there is a feeling here that there are a lot of people being killed every day in this country, whether it be by U.S. forces or by militias or by gangs. And it hasn’t sort of gained a sort of energy or anger that you’re hearing in the U.S. On the contrary, it’s been quite quiet. The Parliament met the day before yesterday and did not even mention this case.

AMY GOODMAN: Dahr Jamail is an independent journalist based for more than eight months in Iraq. Your response to this latest news?

DAHR JAMAIL: Well, two responses really. First is that this type of situation, like Haditha, is happening on almost a daily basis on one level or another in Iraq, whether it’s civilian cars being shot up at U.S. checkpoints and families being killed or, on the other hand, to the level of, for example, the second siege of Fallujah, where between 4,000 and 6,000 people were killed, which I think qualifies as a massacre, as well. But even that number hasn’t gotten the attention that this Haditha story has.

And the other really aspect of that, I think is important to note on this, is the media coverage, again, surrounding what has happened around Haditha simply because Time magazine covered it, and thank heavens that they did, but this has gotten so much media coverage, and in comparison, so many of these types of incidents are happening every single week in Iraq. And I think that’s astounding and important for people to remember, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go to break. When we come back, I’ll ask John Sifton of Human Rights Watch about these military investigations that are taking place.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: As we continue to talk about the case of Haditha and other killings in Iraq, our guests are John Sifton. He is the researcher at Human Rights Watch here in New York. Nancy Youssef is Baghdad Bureau Chief for Knight Ridder, speaking us to from Baghdad. And Dahr Jamail, longtime independent journalist, spent eight months in Iraq and has done a piece for truthout on the number of killings that occur around Iraq. John Sifton, the U.S. military investigations of this, can you explain what they are, if they are reliable?

JOHN SIFTON: Well, after Time magazine published their account, the Navy Criminal Investigative Service did open an investigation, and it is on going. And in fact, what we know now —

AMY GOODMAN: But even that took some work.

JOHN SIFTON: Yeah. It took a lot of work for Time magazine to convince the Navy commanders to order that investigation. But once it took place, it actually did find a lot of disturbing things, and the new information we have is in large part due to that investigation. The second investigation, which is much more important in some respects, is the investigation into the possibility that officers lied about the incident when it occurred, tried to cover it up. The question isn’t "Did a lie take place?" because definitely the first accounts of the incident were erroneous and appear to be falsified. The question is how high up the chain of command those lies went.

AMY GOODMAN: And again, the first reports being that there was a roadside bomb that killed a Marine and killed all these people. That’s what they originally said.

JOHN SIFTON: Yeah. The initial Marine communique on November 20 was entirely false. It was an account about an I.E.D. killing 15 civilians. And the hospital staff later told Time, you know, these were gunshots. There were a lot of holes in that report. It essentially fell apart under the scrutiny of Time magazine’s reporting. And that’s what started the investigation in March. The problem now is the second investigation, I don’t think a lot of people realize how serious that is, because as your earlier commentator said, there’s a lot of incidents in Iraq every day, so we shouldn’t be just focused on Haditha. We should be focused on the credibility of the Marines and also the possibility that all kinds of incidents take place which don’t get reported and don’t get investigated.

AMY GOODMAN: And the second investigation, who is conducting it?

JOHN SIFTON: Well, it’s not within the Marines. You know, there are different parts of the military. There is the Army Criminal Investigative Division, there’s the Navy Criminal Investigative Service. So this has been taken outside of the Marines, which is a good thing. I mean, the thing is sometimes these criminal investigators can do a very good job, if they are allowed to. And that’s the question facing the military: are they going to let this investigation really run an independent course? There’s a lot of problems with the military justice system in Iraq and Afghanistan, and I think it’s time for Congress to start considering whether it needs reform. It’s just not independent enough.

AMY GOODMAN: And this Lance Corporal Roel Ryan Briones, who told the Los Angeles Times he was not involved with killings but took photographs and helped remove the dead bodies and said, "They range from little babies to adult males and females."

JOHN SIFTON: Well, if these allegations are true, then this is clearly a war crime. I mean, we’re not talking about a firefight or an ambiguous situation where we might wonder if the Marines made a justifiable mistake. This appears, from the allegations made by witnesses, to be murder and a war crime.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to another story of killings that took place right about the same time, the exposing of the killings, as the Haditha massacre. A few days after that story broke, the military launched another investigation into the killing of Iraqi civilians by U.S. troops. In March, Knight Ridder news agency obtained an Iraqi police report accusing U.S. forces of murdering eleven civilians by rounding them up in a room of a house near the city of Balad and shooting them. The U.S. military stated only four civilians were killed in the raid and that they came under fire while trying to capture an al-Qaeda suspect. The reporter who broke the story for Knight Ridder, Matthew Schofield, was interviewed by Democracy Now! in March. Here is an excerpt of that interview.

MATTHEW SCHOFIELD: There are two accounts. There’s a U.S. military account, and then there’s an Iraqi police account of what happened.

As you know, the U.S. military account is that after showing up and getting into a shootout to get into this house, the house collapsed during the shootout. People were killed either in the shootout or by the collapsing house. They left. They found four bodies and left. They found this suspect. They arrested him. And that’s pretty much that story.

The other story is that the house was standing when the U.S. troops went in. They were herded into one room — eleven people herded into one room, executed. U.S. troops then blew up the house and left.

We were talking with the police officer who was first on the scene earlier today. He explained the scene of arriving. He said they waited until U.S. troops had left the area and it was safe to go in. When they arrived at the house, it was in rubble. I don’t know if you’ve seen the photos of the remains of the house, but there was very little standing. He said they expected to find bodies under the rubble. Instead, what they found was in one room of the house, in one corner of one room, there was a single man who had been shot in the head. Directly across the room from him against the other wall were ten people, ranging from his 75-year-old mother-in-law to a six-month-old child, also several three-year-olds — a couple three-year-olds, a couple five-year-olds, and four other — three other women.

Lined up, they were covered, and they had all been shot. According to the doctor we talked to today, they had all been shot in the head, in the chest. A number of — you know, generally, some of them were shot several times. The doctor said it’s very difficult to determine exactly what kind of caliber gun they were shot with. He said the entry wounds were generally small and round, the exit wounds were generally very large. But they were lined up along one wall. There was a blanket over the top of them, and they were under the rubble, so when the police arrived, and residents came to help them start digging in, they came across the blankets.

They came across the blankets. They picked the blankets up. They say, at that point, that the hands were handcuffed in front of the Iraqis. They had been handcuffed and shot. And the Iraqi assumption is that they were shot in front of the man across the room. They came to be facing each other. There is nothing to corroborate that. The U.S. is now investigating this matter, along with the Haditha matter. That’s kind of where we stand right now.

AMY GOODMAN: Nancy Youssef, can you respond to your colleague at Knight Ridder, Matthew Schofield’s report of what happened in Balad?

NANCY YOUSSEF: The name of the town is Ishaqi, and we have inquired about that report, and frankly the people in that town are fearful to talk about it and have told us to go to the Americans and that their findings are that Americans’ version of things is correct and that they’re very hesitant now to talk about that case. And so, we’re very aggressively trying to find out why that is and what the status of the U.S. investigation is.

AMY GOODMAN: John Sifton of Human Rights Watch, we’re reading now in the papers — this is months after the expose of a massacre in Haditha, and this was in Balad, the latest story that we’ve seen — that when reporters, news organizations like the New York Times will send someone in, say they’re an Iraqis historian, but they won’t identify them for fear of them being attacked. Can you talk about the significance of the second report that was exposed at the same time as the first?

JOHN SIFTON: Well, there have been a lot of reports. It’s difficult to keep track of them, especially when a lot of things are going on all over the world. And that’s why the institutional issues are so important. I mean, we can talk about the Haditha incident or the Balad incident and about what evidence is out there, but at the end of the day what concerns us as a human rights group is whether the military has the capacity to self-report about abuses and investigate them properly. And it’s looking like it simply doesn’t. The question is whether the military needs to reform itself, whether Congress needs to consider reforms to the criminal justice system. Otherwise, the only way you’re ever going to hear about these things is when we’re lucky enough to have good reporters go in and interview. They can’t be everywhere at once. They can’t be all over Iraq in every village and every town.

AMY GOODMAN: On Memorial Day, the Chair of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Peter Pace, says charges will be brought against U.S. Marines if an investigation into the alleged killing of unarmed Iraqi civilians uncovers wrongdoing. Major General Pace also said he still doesn’t know why it’s taken nearly three months for the Pentagon to find out about the November 19th incident in the town of Haditha, in which up to 24 civilians were killed.

JOHN SIFTON: It’s not as though the military can’t investigate when it wants to. I mean, when things happen like in Italy when a fighter jet hit a gondola, ski gondola, and knocked it down, a very quick investigation, court-martial happened. Canadian soldiers in a friendly fire incident in Afghanistan, very quick investigation and court-martial. It’s just a question of will, political will. And often the military is lacking in this regard. So that’s why we’re proposing for the military to have an independent prosecutor’s office, as opposed to this current system which is entirely at the whim of commanders.

AMY GOODMAN: Dahr Jamail, I’m reading a report from Reuters, and it says, "A U.S. Defense official said Friday, Marines could face criminal charges, possibly including murder, in what would be the worst case of abuse by American soldiers in Iraq since the 2003 invasion." Following up on the theme of your piece in truthout, can you respond to that?

DAHR JAMAIL: Well, it’s very clear, actually, that willful killing, like everything that we’ve been talking about this morning, is considered a war crime under even the U.S. War Crimes Act. And people who commit these crimes, particularly when the victim dies, it’s punishable not just by life in prison, but the death penalty. And this, of course, goes for the people who committed the act, the people who helped cover it up, on up the chain of command logically to the people who set up this whole situation to begin with, including the Commander-in-Chief and the Secretary of Defense and other people in the administration. And I think that that’s what we need to keep in mind, that we’re talking about war crimes and atrocities on the level of the My Lai Massacre and I think even comparable to things that were done during, you know, that we had the Nuremberg trials for. And this is what people need to be held responsible for, and again, as it was mentioned earlier, not just the people who committed the act, but the people who set up the entire — all of the conditions that made all of these things possible.

AMY GOODMAN: You mentioned, Dahr, Fallujah before. And I would say most people in the United States have perhaps heard of it as a city. But why do you think it needs to be investigated to the extent that we’re beginning to see with Haditha right now?

DAHR JAMAIL: Well, it needs to be investigated because there is irrefutable evidence that war crimes have been committed there. I saw with my own eyes during the April 2004 siege, where I sat in a clinic and watched men and women and young kids brought in, all saying they had been shot by snipers, when Marines pushed into the city, couldn’t take the city, so they set up snipers on rooftops and just started a turkey shoot, which was exactly how it was described by one of the soldiers I ran into when I was leaving that city.

Watching a ten-year-old boy die in front of my face, because he was shot by Marines, other war crimes reported heavily. And that was just from the April siege when 736 people were killed, and then the November siege where between 4,000 and 6,000 people were killed. Indiscriminate bombings, snipers, war crimes being committed on the ground by hand, by U.S. Marines, as well, during that siege. And all of these are, of course, gross breeches of the Geneva Conventions. They are war crimes. And there is photographic evidence. There is video evidence. Doctors there to this day will talk to you about what happened. And there is absolutely no reason why all of these shouldn’t be investigated, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: John Sifton is a person who has been researching these human rights issues for a long time. What does it take to break through? It obviously isn’t the case itself, a massacre or murders. As you said, this is happening regularly. What does it take?

JOHN SIFTON: Well, in this case, we saw that Time magazine ran a story, there was an investigation, but then pretty much everybody forgot about it. And luckily, Representatives John Murtha brought it up a week or so ago, and that rekindled interest in the story, and so now some new facts are coming out. But, again, we can’t rely on press reports and pressure from the press, although it helps, to get accountability. Ultimately there are institutional problems in the military that need to be addressed. But otherwise we’re just going to see case after case getting covered up or forgotten.

AMY GOODMAN: Nancy Youssef, you’re in Baghdad. The response of Iraqi politicians who could pick this up now?

NANCY YOUSSEF: Well, it’s actually been quite silent. There was an initial sort of outpouring from Sunni politicians after Times report and our report, but now there is not. There is this effort to say that we’re a coalition government, that we represent everyone. One Iraqi politician told me, "I don’t want to talk about it, because I’m afraid I’ll be viewed as sectarian. There are so many incidents of injustice, and if I only talk about one and I’m neglecting the others, then I could be labeled as sectarian."

I wanted to go back to a point earlier about the investigation. I think one thing to keep in mind is that it is very hard now to get Iraqis to talk to military investigators. The people in Haditha told us they don’t want to talk to the investigators. They don’t want soldiers in their house. They don’t want to — [inaudible] they’re not sure there’s any real resolution to it. And I think that’s one of the reasons it’s so hard to get these sort of investigations completed. The people tell us they don’t want to participate. They don’t see the benefit in it.

AMY GOODMAN: They see the same people, for example, in Haditha, who came into their homes, the U.S. military, as the ones who are now coming to ask them about it? Are they afraid of being identified as, for example, eyewitnesses that could be used against the military?

NANCY YOUSSEF: Well, I’ll tell you, it’s like — when we went to Haditha, we talked to the uncle of one of the families in which everybody was killed but a 13-year-old girl, and he started to tell his story. And in the middle of his story, he paused and looked up at us and said, "Please don’t let me say anything that will get me killed by the Americans. My family can’t take it anymore." And I think that says it all. I mean, there is a fear to talk about it. There is a fear to challenge the soldiers, particularly after what they’ve — if you were directly involved — what they’ve gone through.

AMY GOODMAN: Nancy Youssef is Knight Ridder Bureau Chief in Baghdad. Can you tell us the story that this man told you?

NANCY YOUSSEF: Sure. As was mentioned, there were several houses involved that the Marines entered, and this man is the uncle of one of the men, and his house is next door. And basically what happened was the Marines went in and, according to his niece who’s thirteen and who survived, her father went to the door to try to open it, and they heard the commotion, and they shot her father. And the father had separated — had put the women and children in a separate bedroom. Her mother was recovering from surgery. She was lying in a hospital. Her sisters were surrounding their mother in the arms of their mother, and she said the Marines came in. They shouted something in English. They didn’t know how to respond. The shooting started. She fainted. And when she woke up, her family was dead. Everybody was dead.

And all she heard was her three-year-old brother moaning in pain. He was the only one still alive. And she said to him, "Mohammed, get up. Let’s go to uncle’s house." And he said, "I can’t." And so, she took him and she held him in her arms, and he was bleeding profusely. And she said she held him until he died.

And she called over to her uncle’s house next door. Her uncle heard all the commotion inside; of course, didn’t know exactly what was happening. They kept trying to get to the house to help his family, and he was stopped by soldiers, he said. And this went on for several hours. And he never knew what happened until his niece showed up at the door and said, "Mohammed, my three-year-old brother, and the family are dead." And he took his niece, and his wife and him, they cleaned her up. They took her and they fled, and they have never been back to their house.

AMY GOODMAN: Nancy Youssef, speaking to us from Baghdad, the Bureau Chief for Knight Ridder, went into Haditha to investigate the story. John Sifton, is Human Rights Watch coming out with a report on this?

JOHN SIFTON: Well, we’re still working on it, but Nancy pointed out the difficulties in doing this research. Our new approach, which we’ve been doing over the last year because of the security problems in Iraq, is to interview veterans themselves. And surprisingly, U.S. troops are very engaged to talk about what they’ve seen in Iraq. A lot of people don’t commit abuses. They witness abuses, though, and they want to talk about them. And we’ve been using that testimony to piece together facts about what’s going on. I mean, don’t get the wrong idea. There are people out there who see these things and are horrified and report them up the chain of command. And then nothing happens.

AMY GOODMAN: And then, of course, there are the eyewitnesses, the victims.

JOHN SIFTON: Yes. I mean, you have witness testimony on the victims’ side, but also, you know, other Marines, other soldiers who see what’s going on and are horrified and want to talk about it. And some of them talk to us. Some of them talk to military investigators. And when — we piece together things that way, too. It’s extraordinarily difficult, but it is feasible.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you for being with us, John Sifton of Human Rights Watch; also Nancy Youssef, Baghdad Bureau Chief in Iraq right now, of Knight Ridder; and Dahr Jamail, independent journalist based in Baghdad, one of the only independent unembedded journalists in Iraq at the time. He publishes his reports at the blog, dahrjamailiraq.com.

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