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2008-06-26

Haditha Massacre Victims’ Kin Outraged as US Marines Go Free

Guests

Leila Fadel, Baghdad bureau chief for McClatchy Newspapers. Earlier this year she won a George Polk Award for outstanding foreign reporting.

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A US military judge last week dismissed charges against another marine connected to the massacre of twenty-four unarmed Iraqi civilians in the town of Haditha. Of the eight marines originally charged in the case, only one still faces prosecution. Criminal charges have been dismissed against six of the marines, and a seventh marine was acquitted. We speak with McClatchy’s Baghdad bureau chief, Leila Fadel, who recently traveled to Haditha to interview survivors of the massacre. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

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

JUAN GONZALEZ: We turn now to Iraq. Last week, a US military judge dismissed charges against another marine connected to the massacre of twenty-four unarmed Iraqi civilians in the town of Haditha. Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Chessani had been accused of failing to investigate the November 2005 killings. Of the eight marines originally charged in the Haditha massacre, only one still faces prosecution. Criminal charges have been dismissed against six of the marines, and a seventh marine was acquitted.

AMY GOODMAN: The journalist Leila Fadel recently traveled to Haditha to interview survivors of the massacre. Leila Fadel is the Baghdad bureau chief for McClatchy Newspapers. In a moment, she’ll join us, but first we want to turn to this short video posted on the McClatchy website, based on Leila Fadel’s reporting.

LEILA FADEL: Yousef Aid Ahmed has memorized the places where his four brothers’ bodies laid after they were killed by US marines, he said. The family recounts that November day in 2005 and says it was a massacre of the brothers, along with twenty other people, following a roadside bomb in Haditha. Marines raided the house and shot the unarmed men in their heads in this back bedroom, the family said. Now they are angry that no one is being held accountable. Charges against six of the eight marines accused in the case were dismissed, and one marine was found not guilty on all charges.

WIDOW: [translated] I’m angry at those who sent them innocent. They were not supposed to sent innocent.

LEILA FADEL: The reminders of their deaths are everywhere: the white plaster that filled in the bullet holes in the wall, the dried blood that are now just faded gray spots under a new paintjob on the ceiling, and the closet where one brother was shot inside and the other’s corpse leaned up against the wardrobe.

Relatives did the Muslim pilgrimage on their behalf after they were killed, and their mother, Khadija Hassan, framed the certificates and put them on a wall. Now Ahmed supports his family alone, with no help from his brothers.

KHADIJA HASSAN: [translated] What is are our life now? This is our life. If only they had stayed alive. I don’t want anything else. If only they had stayed alive. God spared this boy to support us.

LEILA FADEL: In two other homes, women, children and men were killed. Some no longer want to talk to journalists, angry that they told their stories many times, and it brought them nothing.

WIDOW: [translated] Like me, my fire, no one knows the fire inside me. A young boy lost his father. Children who open their eyes, there will come an occasion when they will open their eyes with no father to oversee them. What does this mean? What is the fault? What did we do?

AMY GOODMAN: Leila Fadel joins us now on the phone from Beirut. She’s the Baghdad bureau chief for McClatchy Newspapers. Earlier this year, she won the George Polk Award for outstanding foreign reporting.

Leila, welcome to Democracy Now! Describe your trip back to Haditha and the people you spoke with.

LEILA FADEL: Thank you. Well, we took a drive back to Haditha last week, trying to get a reaction to the dismissals and the one acquittal regarding this case of twenty-four people being killed on November 19th, 2005. And the ultimate feeling that I came away with, people felt betrayed. They felt betrayed that journalists told them that if they told their stories, somebody would be held accountable. They felt betrayed investigators told them that US justice, that they could depend on that, and nobody is being held accountable. Many of them said, you know, "How many bodies do there have to be for somebody to be punished for this?"

JUAN GONZALEZ: And how were these acquittals dealt with in the Iraqi press? To what degree of coverage did they receive?

LEILA FADEL: I’m sorry, could you repeat the question?

JUAN GONZALEZ: What degree of coverage did this receive in the Iraqi press?

LEILA FADEL: You know, there really hasn’t been much coverage. There’s been a lot of silence on this issue. When this first happened in — when it was discovered in 2006, the Prime Minister came out and said, "Somebody needs to be punished for this. There must be an investigation." But as these dismissals and acquittals have happened, there really has been a lot of silence in the Iraqi press. When I went back to Haditha, the way they sort of found out about the situation was the prosecutors who flew to the United States for the cases and came back told them about the dismissals and the — in the one case, the acquittal of Grayson.

AMY GOODMAN: You begin your article for McClatchy Newspapers with Khadija Hassan. Can you talk about her?

LEILA FADEL: Khadija Hassan is the mother of four — well, she was the mother of six boys. One was killed during the Iran-Iraq War. Four were killed on November 19th, 2005. And one remains alive. He’s the one that supports the entire family. She still wears black out of grief. She wants to know why her sons were killed.

You know, this family says that the marines hauled them out, divided them — women, men — and took the four men into a back bedroom and executed them. The story the marines tell is very different. They say that these men were already in the back bedroom with two AK-47s. Of course, this is a two-household — this is two houses that are pretty much attached, and that’s a legal amount of AK-47s in Iraq. And so, the story — each story is very different. But the way this family tells it is that these men were their breadwinners. They were engineers, border guards, traffic police. And she wants to know why her sons were killed and why no one is being held accountable.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And what impact do you think the fact that these court-martials were held in the United States as opposed to in Iraq, in terms of the ability of the prosecutors to get all the witnesses they needed present?

LEILA FADEL: Right. Well, one of the biggest problems with these cases was the investigation started months after the actual incident occurred. It wasn’t until the — I believe it was February of 2006 that TIME magazine broke the story, and then other journalists followed, including us. And so, the investigation didn’t start for five months after. Iraqis were unable to travel to the United States. Khadija Hassan and her family said that father of these four boys are extremely ill, became extremely ill, and ultimately died, and they couldn’t go to the United States and testify. None of the children went to the United States to testify. Ultimately now, nobody is being charged with murder.

AMY GOODMAN: And Leila Fadel, you write in your piece about Sergeant Frank Wuterich. He was on 60 Minutes. He was the squad leader. His charges now include voluntary manslaughter of at least nine people. He has always maintained he made the right decision, saying his marines were under threat. Can you talk about the significance of what he had to say, both in the killing of the young man coming out of the car and telling his men, as they went into the car, to shoot first and ask questions later?

LEILA FADEL: You know, ultimately, the way I look at it is there were twenty-three death certificates. Twenty-four people died. Among them were toddlers. Among them were women. And Sergeant Wuterich has said that this is what his training told him to do, was to go into the houses, throw grenades, and apparently shoot children and women. And that — it did happen. No one disputes that these women and children were killed. And that’s what’s angering the people of Haditha, that somehow, even with all these bodies, no one is being held accountable. And from what I understand, the case against Sergeant Wuterich is not particularly strong, and they’ve given eight — I think they gave seven marines immunity in order to have testimony against this sergeant. And so, he says, "I did the right thing." But toddlers died there, three-year-olds died, and women died.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And also, the deaths did not occur in one incident; they occurred in several incidents in several houses over a period of time, didn’t they? Could you elaborate on that?

LEILA FADEL: I’m sorry, I missed the first half of the question.

JUAN GONZALEZ: That the deaths did not occur in one incident, that they occurred in several incidents in several houses over a period of time, could you elaborate on that?

LEILA FADEL: Right, there were four separate shootings [inaudible] —

AMY GOODMAN: Leila, we’re losing you. We’re losing you.

LEILA FADEL: Can you hear me now?

AMY GOODMAN: Yes.

LEILA FADEL: OK. It started — there were four separate incidents, as I said before. And the first incident was a white sedan that was on the same road as the roadside bomb that ultimately killed [inaudible] marine and injured two. They opened fire on these men. There were five of them, four of them apparently college students. According to the Marine reports, or the investigating officer reports, nothing was found in the car, and these men were unarmed. They then said they heard shooting. And they went to the first house, which is the house of a family, and killed — I think the first house they killed eight people, and one little girl survived. In the second house, they killed seven people, and two children survived. And then the last house, which is Khadija Hassan’s house, which is across the street from the two families, was where the four Ahmed brothers were killed. And that all happened on November 19, 2005, that morning, when the twenty-four people were shot.

AMY GOODMAN: Leila Fadel, we want to thank you for being with us and for your reporting on Haditha. She is the Baghdad bureau chief for McClatchy Newspapers, just recently won a George Polk Award for her coverage.

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