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2011-12-21

In Exiting Iraq, U.S. Military Discards Trove of Found Documents on 2005 Haditha Massacre of Iraqis

Guests

Tim McGirk, Time magazine contributor and the managing editor of the Investigative Reporting Program at University of California, Berkeley. In 2006, he broke the story of the Haditha massacre in Iraq.

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As the U.S. military leaves Iraq, the New York Times has recovered hundreds of pages of documents detailing internal interrogations of U.S. marines over the 2005 Haditha massacre of Iraqi civilians. The documents, many marked "secret," were found among scores of other classified material at a junkyard outside Baghdad as an attendant used them as fuel to cook his dinner. The documents reveal testimony of marines describing killing civilians on a regular basis. "In some ways, this is one of the most grotesque episodes of the entire war in Iraq. And I’m afraid to say, this is part of our legacy," says Time magazine contributor Tim McGirk, who first broke the story of Haditha in 2006. It was November 19, 2005, when a U.S. military convoy of four vehicles driving through Haditha was hit by a roadside bomb, killing Lance Corporal Miguel Terrazas. The next night, marines burst into several homes in the neighborhood, killing 24 Iraqis, including a 76-year-old man and women and children who were still in their night clothes when they died. "Nobody is behind bars for this," McGirk notes. Charges from the episode were dropped against six of the accused marines, one was acquitted, and the final case is set to go to trial next year. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

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

NERMEEN SHAIKH: As the United States military leaves Iraq, the New York Times has recovered hundreds of pages of documents detailing internal interrogations of U.S. marines over the 2005 Haditha massacre of Iraqi civilians. The documents were found among scores of other classified material at a junkyard outside Baghdad, as an attendant used them as fuel to cook his dinner. The marines described killing civilians on a regular basis, with many snapping photos of the violence. One sergeant testified that he would order his men to shoot children in vehicles that failed to stop at military checkpoints. The documents, many marked "secret," form part of the military’s internal investigation into the massacre, which became a defining moment of the war.

AMY GOODMAN: It was November 19, 2005, when a military convoy of four vehicles was driving through Haditha. One of the U.S. vehicles was hit by a roadside bomb, killing 20-year-old Lance Corporal Miguel Terrazas from El Paso, Texas. The next night, marines burst into several homes in the neighborhood, killing 24 Iraqis, including a 76-year-old man, children between the ages of three and 15. Time magazine obtained a videotape shot in Haditha by an Iraqi journalism student a day after the attack that shows many of the victims, especially the women and children, still in their night clothes when they died. The scenes from inside the houses show the walls and ceilings pockmarked with shrapnel, bullet holes and blood.

In an interview filmed for ITN News by Iraqi journalist Ali Hamdani, a 10-year-old girl named Iman Walid described the massacre.

IMAN WALID: [translated] I heard explosions by the door. The Americans came into the room where my father was playing and shot him. They went to my grandmother and killed her, too. I heard an explosion. They threw a grenade under my grandfather’s bed.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we’re joined by Tim McGirk in Berkeley, California. In 2006, he broke the story of the Haditha massacre. He was with Time magazine. He is now managing editor of the Investigative Reporting Program at University of California, Berkeley, where he’s in the studios right now.

Tim, can you talk about the latest revelations, these documents found by the New York Times at a Baghdad junkyard being burned by an attendant to make his dinner?

TIM McGIRK: Well, Amy, I think it’s sort of ironic that, in some ways, we’re listening to the trial of Private Bradley Manning, who is accused of disgorging all of these classified documents on to WikiLeaks, but at the same time in Baghdad, as you were saying, classified secret documents, not only about Haditha, but about helicopter routes, radar, really top-secret stuff, was just being kind of consigned to the junkyard and burned to make some Iraqis’ lunch.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: How do you think it ended up there, though? Do you think that the U.S. intended to destroy these documents before they left, and then they just ended up dispensing with them?

TIM McGIRK: I think that’s probably what happened, that just in the hurry to leave, they did what they usually do: they turn things over to private contractors to clean up the mess. And in this case, it was just a question of them carting the documents off the base and putting them in a junkyard, and then giving instructions that these things have to be destroyed. And I think it was kind of as simple and as clumsy as that.

AMY GOODMAN: Tim, can you go back to 2005 and 2006, when you exposed the Haditha massacre? The significance of this moment?

TIM McGIRK: Well, I think the significance was that—and in many ways, this story was kind of a lightning rod for people’s opinion about the war on both sides of the political spectrum. And I think it was sort of the turning point to where we realized that there was something so wrong and so twisted about this war that it took ordinary, good Americans and saw that they were capable of doing terrible, terrible things.

This wasn’t necessarily a battle situation, but in some ways, it was, because the IED had gone off that morning as they were on patrol. One man was killed, as you said. Another marine was wounded. They were under the command of a staff sergeant, Frank Wuterich. It was his first tour of duty, so he really didn’t understand the dangers that lay out there. And I think, out of fear, out of anger, terrible things happened there.

And I think when the revelations of Haditha came about, that this helped to influence American public opinion against the war. And it certainly turned Iraqis against Americans even more when they saw that these terrible things had happened.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: In 2007, CBS’s 60 Minutes, Scott Pelley spoke to Sergeant Frank Wuterich about Haditha. Wuterich is alleged to have participated on November 19th, 2005, in the Haditha killings. According to Wuterich, he only did what he was trained to do. Let’s just go to that clip.

SCOTT PELLEY: You hear noises behind a closed door?

SGT. FRANK WUTERICH: Correct.

SCOTT PELLEY: What happened then?

SGT. FRANK WUTERICH: Kicked in the door, threw the grenade in. Grenade goes off. The first man enters a room and engages the—engages the people in the room.

SCOTT PELLEY: You didn’t fire any rounds in the house?

SGT. FRANK WUTERICH: No, I did not.

SCOTT PELLEY: Frank, help me—help me understand. You’re in a residence. How do you crack a door open and roll a grenade into a room?

SGT. FRANK WUTERICH: At that point, you know, you can’t—you can’t hesitate to make a decision. Hesitation, you know, equals being killed—you know, either yourself or your men.

SCOTT PELLEY: But when you roll a grenade into a room through a crack in the door, that’s not positive identification. That’s taking a chance on anything that can be behind that door.

SGT. FRANK WUTERICH: Well, that’s—you know, that’s—that’s what we do. That’s how our training goes.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: That’s Scott Pelley speaking to Sergeant Frank Wuterich on CBS’s 60 Minutes. Tim, can you respond to that and also say something about the one, apparently, marine who will stand prosecution next year? And what happened? How did all the others—how were the others all exonerated?

TIM McGIRK: Well, the one marine who’s due to stand trial on the 4th of January is the marine who was just interviewed. That’s Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich. And there were eight other marines who were—sorry, seven other marines who were also brought up on charges. Six were acquitted, and then one went free. So Wuterich is really the only one left who’s due to face charges from that.

I would just kind of question some of Wuterich’s testimony of what happened in that room, where he said he rolled in a grenade without looking. The thing is that we have evidence, not only from the bullet holes that pockmarked the inside of the room, but also from that young girl who was interviewed earlier, Iman Walid, who was in the room. And she wasn’t the only one in the room. She was there with her mother, her aunts, her grandparents, all of whom were killed except for her and her small brother. And those who weren’t killed by grenades were then killed or wounded by gunshots. So it wasn’t just a question of rolling a grenade into a room.

AMY GOODMAN: In 2008, Democracy Now! spoke with the journalist Leila Fadel, who traveled to Haditha to interview the survivors of the massacre. Leila Fadel was the bureau chief for McClatchy Newspapers in Baghdad. I want to turn to this short video posted on the McClatchy website based on her reporting.

LEILA FADEL: Yousef Aid Ahmed has memorized the places where his four brothers’ bodies laid after they were killed by U.S. marines, he said. The family recounts that November day in 2005 and says it was a massacre of the brothers, along with 20 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 paint job 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.

AMY GOODMAN: That report from Leila Fadel, who traveled to Haditha to interview survivors of the massacre. She was the Baghdad bureau chief for McClatchy. She’s now at the Washington Post. Tim McGirk, final comment on what took place then, who is behind bars, and today, who is free—this going to the issue of Haditha and also going to the issue of Bradley Manning.

TIM McGIRK: Well, the answer is, is that nobody is behind bars for this. We have Wuterich, who’s standing trial, and he’s still—he’s still in the military. He’s still collecting his paycheck. There were also four officers who were brought up for dereliction of duty. They all got off. One of them, who was the battalion commander, got a slap on the wrist, said that he didn’t do enough to really investigate what had happened at Haditha. But he got away otherwise pretty much free of all responsibility for this. So I think there are going to be lasting and lingering effects between—between the Iraqis and the Americans. And I think that it’s symbolic that, as we were leaving Iraq, the troops were rumbling out, that these documents were discovered in the junkyard, and that, in some ways, this is one of the most grotesque episodes of the entire war in Iraq. And I’m afraid to say, this is part of our legacy.

AMY GOODMAN: Tim McGirk, we want to thank you very much for being with us, Time magazine contributor and managing editor of the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley, University of California, where he’s speaking to us from. In 2006, he broke the story of the slaughter of Iraqi civilians by U.S. marines in the town of Haditha. It had occurred in November of 2005.

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