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2006-06-07

Time Magazine: Military Investigators Place Officer in Charge During Haditha Massacre in 2 of the Houses Where Killings Took Place

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We speak with one the Time Magazine reporters who broke the story of an alleged massacre of 24 unarmed Iraqis by U.S. marines in Haditha last November. He reveals that military investigators have place the officer in charge of the unit that day–Sgt. Frank Wuterich–in at least two of the houses where the killings took place and that there may also be surveillance tape taken by a military drone that was operating in the area. [includes rush transcript]

'The Marines know how to get psyched up for a big fight. In November 2004, before the Battle of Fallujah, the Third Battalion, First Marines, better known as the "3/1" or "Thundering Third," held a chariot race. Horses had been confiscated from suspected insurgents, and charioteers were urged to go all-out. The men of Kilo Company-honored to be first into the city on the day of the battle-wore togas and cardboard helmets, and hoisted a shield emblazoned with a large K. As speakers blasted a heavy-metal song, "Cum On Feel the Noize," the warriors of Kilo Company carried a homemade mace, and a ball-and-chain studded with M-16 bullets. A company captain intoned a line from a scene in the movie "Gladiator," in which the Romans prepare to slaughter the barbarians: "What you do here echoes in eternity."'–That’s the lead paragraph from an article in this week’s issue of Newsweek magazine.

The article goes on to say that Kilo Company arrived in Haditha in the fall of 2005.

In November, 24 unarmed Iraqis were allegedly massacred by U.S. marines in Haditha. The Senate Armed Services committee is planning to hold hearings soon into the incident and an attempted cover-up.

In a letter to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the Republican chair of the committee — John Warner — wrote that delaying the results of the investigation will mean that "a mixture of information, misinformation and unconfirmed facts will continue to spiral in the public domain."

Warner said the first witness called would likely be Major General Eldon Bargewell–the Army general who is conducting one of two investigations into the incident. Congressional aides told the Associated Press Bargewell’s report could be completed within the week but that the military’s separate criminal investigation is not expected to be finished anytime soon. Meanwhile, Republican Senator Susan Collins said Rumsfeld should be brought to account. She said the Armed Services Committee must "ask hard questions such as, "When did Secretary Rumsfeld learn of the allegations?" and "What action did he take?""

The killings took place on November 19th after a roadside bomb struck a Humvee in Western town of Haditha, killing one Marine. The next day, the Marines said in a statement that 15 Iraqi civilians died in the initial blast and that eight others were killed when Marines returned insurgent fire. 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.

Over the past week, more details have emerged about what took place in Haditha and a military probe has uncovered evidence that implicates both Marines and commanders in a cover-up of the killings.

  • Aparisim Ghosh, chief international correspondent for Time magazine and one of the reporters who broke the Haditha story.

Transcript

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

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we go to London to Aparisim Ghosh, chief international correspondent for Time magazine, one of the reporters who broke the story. We welcome you to Democracy Now!

APARISM GHOSH: Hi. Thank you for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. When we had you in Democracy Now!’s studios, you first described this story to us several months ago. Now, can you talk about the latest you know about the cover-up?

APARISM GHOSH: Well there is, as you pointed out, an investigation specifically into that aspect of this very sorry story, and we are hoping there will be a report out soon. What I can’t say definitively is that the Marines first report of the incident was a total fabrication. And when we called that bluff, when we informed them that we had information otherwise, they were very hostile towards us. They accused us of buying into enemy propaganda. Already, at that early stage, it would appear that there was an effort to, at the very least, deflect our attention. It’s hard to know until this investigation comes up who exactly was involved. How far up it went. And who will be implicated. Let me just say this: it would not surprise me if it went quite high, indeed.

AMY GOODMAN: What happened when Time started bringing these allegations to the military? And then what happened when you showed them the videotape?

APARISM GHOSH: Well when we first — as I said, we first approached the Marines when we saw the videotape and we had spoken to some of the survivors and eyewitnesses, and we basically said that the original report you put out doesn’t seem — this doesn’t seem to add up. And that’s when they accused us of buying into Al Qaeda propaganda. When we got no real response from the Marines, we took the videotape and some of our investigations to a higher authority, the highest public affairs officer in Baghdad, and he took a look at it. He seemed to agree with us that this is something that deserved closer attention, and he brought it to the attention of his superiors. That is when investigations began. There had been three separate investigations into the incident. The first was by an Army Colonel early on. And then there had been two others. We’re waiting for the investigation reports on those.

AMY GOODMAN: General Bargewell will report Marine commanders knew within a few days of the Haditha incident that the military account wasn’t true?

APARISM GHOSH: I would not be surprised if that was the case. It was very clear, from the evidence that we saw on the video, that these people could not have been killed by the roadside bomb. There was extensive damage inside their homes, which would not have happened with the roadside bomb. There was very little structural damage outside their homes. It was clear that these people had been shot dead, with bullets, rather than killed by shrapnel from a bomb. So it was quite obvious to us that the original report, at the very least, was not, in fact, true.

AMY GOODMAN: In your report in Time, you say in addition to the videotape that you showed the military and photos taken on the day of the attack, there may be surveillance tape from the military drone in the area?

APARISM GHOSH: That is what we’re hearing. It’s hard to know just how much you can get from one of these drones. I have previously seen pictures from drones that are incredibly detailed and would help an investigation. But I’ve also seen pictures that are quite hard and murky to make out. That is for the investigators, I hope for the sake of clarity that they do get very clear pictures.

AMY GOODMAN: You also report that Army investigators visited the scene of the massacre at least 15 times.

APARISM GHOSH: That is correct. We spoke to the spokesman of the victims, their families. And he told us — and this is worth mentioning — that they were very impressed with the thoroughness of the investigation. He said the investigators had visited the site at least 15 times, they had asked lots of very detailed questions, they had done mock-ups using models, and the survivors and residents of that street were quite impressed with the thoroughness of the investigation.

AMY GOODMAN: And the Sergeant, Frank Wuterich, the officer in charge of the unit that day, investigators have placed him at least at two of the house where the Marines killed the Iraqis, he hasn’t been relieved of his duties?

APARISM GHOSH: That is the information we have at the moment, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Marine officials reporting they receive an average of one complaint a day from Iraqis about U.S. missions, so-called, gone wrong.

APARISM GHOSH: Yes. That’s not surprising. We ourselves in our office receive lots of these. It has to be said that the vast majority of these are sort of hard to believe. And some of them are just plainly lies. So we have quite a high — we have very sensitive antennae for this sort of thing. I’m sure the military think does as well.

AMY GOODMAN: Aparisim Ghosh, I want to thank you very much for being with us, chief international correspondent for Time magazine, has spent the last three and a half years in Iraq reporting to us today from London.

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