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Ex-U.S. Marine: I Killed Civilians in Iraq

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Ex-Marine Staff Sergeant Jimmy Massey talks about his time in Iraq where he admitted the U.S. treatment of Iraqi civilians is fueling the Iraqi resistance. In a recent interview he said “I felt like we were committing genocide in Iraq.” [includes rush transcript]

The US Army is denying reports that the highest-ranking American officer in Iraq, Lieutenant-General Ricardo Sanchez, was present during some of the interrogations and prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib prison outside of Baghdad. This follows a report in The Washington Post over the weekend about an April 2nd military hearing on the prisoner torture allegations. According to The Post, a lawyer representing one of the accused soldiers said that the commander of the U.S. military police company at the centre of the abuse scandal, Donald Reese, told him that General Sanchez was aware of what was taking place.

Tonight President Bush will deliver a prime time address on Iraq aimed in part at controlling the damage from the situation at Abu Ghraib. Meanwhile, Conscientious Objector Sgt. Camillo Mejia was sentenced to a year in prison for desertion from the Army. His application for CO status mentioned prisoner abuse in Iraq long before the current scandal.

Now another US soldier who participated in the Iraq invasion and occupation has begun speaking out. Twelve year Marine veteran Jimmy Massey joins us on the line from North Carolina.

  • Marine Staff Segt. Jimmy Massey (Ret.), former Marine staff sergeant who was honorably discharged in December after serving 12 years, most recently in Iraq. He is speaking to us from his home in Waynesville, North Carolina in the Smokey Mountains.

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

AMY GOODMAN: Welcome to Democracy Now!.

STAFF SERGEANT JIMMY MASSEY: Good morning. How you are doing?

AMY GOODMAN: Very good. Can you talk about when you were in Iraq?

STAFF SERGEANT JIMMY MASSEY: Yeah. I was part of the initial invading force. I was part of first marine division categorized into RCP-7. The battalion that I was with was third battalion seventh marines, weapons company cap 1. I was basically in the main invasion all the way up into Baghdad, and then once Baghdad fell, my battalion headed south towards the city of Karbala.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about your experience there?

STAFF SERGEANT JIMMY MASSEY: Really, what led up to my disgust with the war was the civilian casualties that we were inflicting. We were given intelligence reports — the civilian casualties really started taking place after we left the town of Anu Mannia on the drive north towards Baghdad. We were getting intelligence reports from higher command saying that the Fedayeen and Republican Guards were trading in their uniforms for civilian clothes, and they were mounting terrorist attacks against U.S. soldiers and marines using guerrilla-style tactics, suicide bombings. They were using civilians as human shields. They were loading down stolen ambulances and police cars with explosives. So, as we progressed on towards Baghdad, our fears and anxieties were heightened, and also due to the lack of sleep, some of us had less than 48 hours of sleep getting into Baghdad. So, whenever we were placed into these situations where civilian vehicles were coming up to our checkpoints, and not heeding our warning shot, we were lighting them up. What I mean by lighting them up, we were discharging our weapons, 50 cals and M-16’s into the civilian vehicles. When we would do this, we were expecting secondary explosions, ammunition to be cooking off or actually have the occupants in the vehicle fire back at us. However, none of this ever happened. When we would go to search the vehicles, we would find no weapons, and nothing to link these individuals with — these individuals with terrorists acts. And this happened continuously through the fall of Baghdad. I would say my platoon alone killed 30-plus innocent civilians.

AMY GOODMAN: How would you realize what you had done? Can you give us a specific example?

STAFF SERGEANT JIMMY MASSEY: Sure. Sure. A car would roll up to our checkpoint. And prior while we were still in Kuwait, we had actually made up Arabic road signs to place out in front of our checkpoint area warning the Iraqis to slow down. That didn’t help. We would verbally tell them stop and we would fire a warning shot. When we would light the cars up, you know, we would go through and search the dead occupants as well as the vehicles, and we would find nothing that directly linked them to any type of terrorists. They were just average civilians that were trying to flee out of Iraq — or excuse me — out of Baghdad, out of the city limits because of the invading American force. They were scared. But with the intelligence reports that we were given, it was very hard for us to distinguish the good guys from the bad guys. We ultimately started looking at everybody in Iraq as a potential suicide bomber or terrorist from women to children to old men. We didn’t know who the enemy was.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Jimmy Massey former marine staff sergeant, honorably discharged in December after serving 12 years, most recently in Iraq. He was in charge of a platoon that consisted of machine gunners and missile men describing, quote, lighting up cars, opening fire on Iraqi cars. When you would go up to the cars and see who was dead inside, what would you do with the bodies?

STAFF SERGEANT JIMMY MASSEY: We would take the bodies and search them to try to find any type of identification or anything like that. Generally, we found large quantities of cash, and that’s what led us to believe that the people were just fleeing out of Baghdad. They were trying to secure what valuables that they had. Some of them had their valuables in the car, but you know, there was basically nothing that we could do with the bodies other than toss them in the ditch and off the road. So, that’s what we would do, and then hopefully wait for the Iraqi medics, civilian medics to come in and take care of the bodies.

AMY GOODMAN: How many children would you estimate you killed?

STAFF SERGEANT JIMMY MASSEY: With unknown gunfire, the potential is unlimited, and what I mean by unknown gunfire, whenever you fire a machine gun especially a 50 caliber and any type of lightweight machine gun, you don’t know where the bullets are going to go. So bullets could indiscriminately hit a child. The architecture — some of these villages that we went into were very shady construction. Our weapons could easily punch through. The reason I say that or use that as an example. I had a young child die in my arms. The father came up to us at the checkpoint with a child, and began to say, the bombs — the bombs killed his child. I called the corpsman. The corpsman came over to assist the child and said the child probably had internal damage from the concussion, from the bombs. So, as his child died in my arms you know, I began to think, you know, wow, here’s an innocent child that was just sleeping or doing things that children do, and the — the response that I got from my command was, well, better them than us, and, you know, it’s — he’s just a casualty of war. Sorry. However, that father that was standing there as his child was dying in my arms, and, you know, the doc was resuscitating, doing CPR, this father was looking at me like, why did you do this? You know, and — you know, why does my son have to die? Almost just like a hatred look towards me. He knew I was obviously in command. Another incident it was on the outskirts of Baghdad near the Baghdad stadium, we had pulled into an area, and shortly after we had pulled in, it was on a major highway like a superhighway going in towards Baghdad. We had just lit up a vehicle, a red KIA, the Korean-made passenger vehicle, and we had just lit it up. They failed to stop at our checkpoint. Three of the men were fatally wounded that were in the vehicle and one — the driver, had survived without any damage. As we were pulling the bodies out of the vehicle, of course, we’re searching and we find nothing, and these were young — these were young men. They were in their mid 20’s. The one that was unscathed, he looked up at me and he goes, you know, why did you kill my brother? We didn’t do anything to you. We’re not terrorists. So, I have three dying men with bullet holes from our weapons, and this gentleman asking me why I killed his brother. That’s a tough pill to swallow, and that continuously happened the entire time that we were in Iraq. After we left the city of Anu Mannia, it just became utter chaos. It sickened me so that I had actually brought it up to my lieutenant, and I told him, I said, you know, sir, we’re not going to have to worry about the Iraq — you know, we’re basically committing genocide over here, mass extermination of thousands of Iraqis, and with the depleted uranium that we’re leaving around on the battlefield, we’re setting up genocide for future generations within Iraq. He didn’t like that. He immediately went to my commanding officer, Captain Schmitt and proceeded to tell him about how I felt about Iraq. Word spread pretty quickly and I knew that my Marine Corps career was over. I knew that the statement that I had just made was going to bring about the blackball pretty quickly. So, I was scurried out of Iraq quickly, and ordered to report back stateside to receive psychological therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder and major depression. When I got back stateside, that’s when things really became ugly. I felt like the staff sergeant that just received the prison sentence for a year. I had to hire a lawyer because they were trying to pin me with conscientious objector, and basically, they were doing everything in their power to threaten me and to intimidate me so that I would go U.A. Unfortunately, with the staff sergeant, he fell into their trap, and he went U.A.

AMY GOODMAN: What does U.A. mean?

STAFF SERGEANT JIMMY MASSEY: Unauthorized absence. That means that he left without authorization. That’s basically — you know, that’s what they charged him with. Then they later on pinned on the conscientious objector. However, the Marine Corps told me they were going to bring legal repercussions against me and I decided to hire a lawyer. The lawyer that I hired was actually — he was involved with the My Lai trials. I got really lucky, a man by the name of Gary Myers in Washington D.C. Their main concern was whether or not I was a conscientious objector. I told them that I believed in war and some wars in our history have been helpful for humanity and society as a whole, however, I do not believe in killing innocent civilians. So, I told them if they wanted to label me as a conscientious objector for disagreeing with, you know, killing innocent civilians, then I’ll see them in court.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Jimmy Massey former staff sergeant Marine, honorably discharged in December after serving 12 years. We’re speaking to him from his home in Waynesville, North Carolina, in the Smoky Mountains. We’ll come back to him if a minute.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we continue with Marine Staff Sergeant Jimmy Massey, honorably discharged in December, talking about his experiences in Iraq. You talk about opening fire on a group of protesters.


AMY GOODMAN: Can you describe it?

STAFF SERGEANT JIMMY MASSEY: Sure, we had just rolled up — it was probably about 20 miles north of the Saddam International Airport. We had rolled up into this military compound area, and to try to give you — it’s a little bit important that you understand the architecture. This military compound was heavily fortified with about 13-foot-tall concrete fences going all the way around the compound. This particular road that we went into, these walls were on the left and right, and the road itself was about 1,000 meters long. So, it made a very difficult — it was a prime area for an ambush. When we pulled up, there was already an Abrams tank that was parked into one of the entrances at the military compound. At the end of the street about 200 meters a way from the tank there was a group of demonstrators. They were holding a peaceful demonstration. They were holding up signs that looked like a Muslim cleric as well as Saddam Hussein. The intelligence that we had received was these demonstrators — there was about four of them and there was ten in the background. They were standing next to a highway overpass. The intelligence that we had gotten, these people were probably members of the Iraqi military that had slipped back into the community, and they were going to be waging all of these terrorist attacks against us. We rolled up, and about two minutes later, we had heard a stray gunfire. My men were already on the edge, you know, with anxiety, and the lack of sleep, and with the constant reports that we were given. When the gunshot was fired, my marines opened up on the demonstrators. I turned around just in time because I was walking the lines inspecting my marines to make sure that they had food and water and they were in the right position in case of an ambush. I turned around to the front of the convoy, and I saw the — I saw my marines opening up. I swung my rifle around. I didn’t know what was going on, and I started discharging my weapon as well into the demonstrators. After that, the lieutenant decided to go on a reconnaissance up onto the overpass area. We — as we were driving towards the demonstrator, I didn’t see any weapons. It just horrified me at the thought that we just opened up on a group of peaceful demonstrators, however, we heard gunshots coming from that direction towards us. So, as we rolled up onto the highway overpass, I looked down and below the highway it looked like the Iraqis had set up some sort of makeshift military compound, but it had been abandoned. I saw some R.P.G.'s lining up against the wall underneath this highway, and it was about — they were about 200 meters away from the Iraqi demonstrators. This really disturbed me, because the demonstrators if they wanted to fire on us, they had the ability. They had the ability before we even got there to destroy this tank, because the way that we were jammed into this area, it was almost impossible for us to turn around quickly. Nearly — or double almost impossible for this tank to fire or use its main battle gun. It left this tank defenseless. These Iraqis had a clear shot of the tank before we even got there, but they didn't. I just quickly- put two and two together and said, oh, my God–we just opened up on a group of peaceful demonstrators.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to former marine staff sergeant Jimmy Massey, what about the use of cluster bombs?

STAFF SERGEANT JIMMY MASSEY: I had a staff sergeant at the very beginning of the war. He was our supply staff sergeant. He lost his leg because of cluster bombs. Cluster bombs were everywhere, and I believe that he was the first marine to be awarded the Purple Heart in “Operation Iraq.” because it happened in Safwan, the town of Safwan, the first city as your heading into Iraq from Kuwait. They were everywhere. The long-term casualties of these cluster bombs with children and — you know, older people working in the fields is going to go on for years.

AMY GOODMAN: Where were they from?

STAFF SERGEANT JIMMY MASSEY: From Marine Artillery and from air.

AMY GOODMAN: In the case of the protests, when you realized that you had open fire on defenseless civilians, what was the he reaction of your troops? How many people felt the way you did?

STAFF SERGEANT JIMMY MASSEY: The reaction of the troops was they were joyous. You know it’s not their job to play politics. That’s the job of the staff sergeant and the lieutenant, to make determinations on whether or not we were in the right or we were in the wrong. I didn’t tell my troops. My job was to keep them motivated so they go home alive, and in one piece, and left with some sort of sanity after the war. However, I did have several of my younger troops come up to me in private and say, you know, staff sergeant, can I talk you to? And then they would go on to tell me, you know, that some of the incidents were affecting them. So, I told them, I said, listen double dog, we’re here to do a job and provide democracy for the Iraqis, and you questioning and you playing politician is not helping them. So, I want you to get back out there on the gun line and do your job as a marine, and let the politicians do their job. But deep down, it was seriously affecting me, because it was so evident. Marines are trained from day one that you go in — when you go in to boot camp you learn what the Geneva Convention is, what the rules of the Geneva Convention are, what the rules of engagement. However, Iraq violated every rule of engagement that I have ever been taught–violated every rule of the Geneva Convention that I have been taught. If you have young marines coming up you to and asking you, staff sergeant, what’s going on? You know, we have got a problem.

AMY GOODMAN: What are you doing right now? How are you living with yourself? How are you dealing with what happened in Iraq with you and what you and your soldiers did in Iraq?

STAFF SERGEANT JIMMY MASSEY: I’ll be honest with you, there isn’t a waking moment of the day that I don’t think about it and think about what we have done over there. A lot of people ask me, you know why you are speaking out? Why are you — you know, are you just trying to do this for money fame, fortune. What are you doing? I have been called a traitor, a disloyal s.o.b. You name it. The reason that I’m doing this is to heal myself. To possibly heal other marines that are not in the position for them to come out and say something from fear of retaliation from the marine corps. I’m doing this not only to heal myself about to help other marines that feel the same way that I do.

AMY GOODMAN: Are others talking to you now here?

STAFF SERGEANT JIMMY MASSEY: No. Let me explain you to — I was also a recruiter for three years in the Marine Corps. Whenever you sign up for the military, army, navy, air force, marines, coast guard, have a four-year commitment. At the end of that four-year commitment, you still have another four-year commitment in what’s called an I.R.R., Individual Ready Reserve. That means in the time of national emergency or crisis, the president of the United States can call these members back to active duty. So, these marines that have been discharged, you know, after the fall of Iraq, they’re living back in their civilian community but they’re still fearful to come out and say anything because the Marine Corps can call them back to active duty. And then they’re worried about what happened to the staff sergeant. The staff sergeant is being used as a patsy. He’s being used as: see, this is what will happen to you to if you speak out. However, I spent 12 years in. There’s nothing that they can do to me as far as calling me back to active duty. So, I feel it’s my responsibility to let the civilian public know. You know, the boards that we put into those — the bullets that we put into the civilians were paid for by the U.S. Tax dollar. I believe that the U.S. Taxpayers have a rate to know what’s going on over there. When we pulled into that military compound, they had makeshift morgues. They had tractor-trailer beds full of bodies. It was so bad — this is because of the bombing that we did — some of them had Iraqi flags on them, representing that they were a soldier, but 80% of them didn’t. We would find tractor-trailers literally full of stocked bodies. It was so bad that the plasma from the body and the skin was decomposing and literally oozing out of the crevices of the tractor-trailer bed. We asked — we asked some of the Iraqis that — the locals that were basically homeless and they were living in the compound, we asked them, like, what is this? How come, you know, the bodies are in there, and he told us it was from the bombing, and when they lost the power, they didn’t have any other place to put them. So, they put them in there to bury them later on.

AMY GOODMAN: Jimmy Massey, I want to thank you very much for being with us, former marine Staff Sergeant, honorably discharged in December after serving 12 years, speaking to us from his home in Waynesville, North Carolina, in the smoky mountains. Any last thoughts?

STAFF SERGEANT JIMMY MASSEY: Yeah. I’d just like to say to the Marines, you did a great job. You did what your country asked you to do. Unfortunately, the rules of engagement and the Geneva Convention weren’t used. But it’s up to you to look within your heart and do the right thing. You know who you are. Don’t be scared. Come out. The American public, they need to know. You’re not the only one. There are other people out there that can help you to heal. There are other people out there that can help you to get on with your life. Don’t feel ashamed. Don’t feel embarrassed. Did you a great job, however, you know, the Command — they didn’t give you the right tools for you to carry on with your mission. Just do the right thing, marines.

AMY GOODMAN: Who do you hold most responsible for this?

STAFF SERGEANT JIMMY MASSEY: The president of the United States. He’s the win that authorized it. He’s the one that said there were weapons of mass destruction. He’s the one that gave the case to us for going to war. We went to war backing him, however, the intelligence reports that we were getting hindered our ability to make Iraq a free democracy. You know, it’s hard to tell a middle aged or middle — you know, young man in his 20’s — say 20 to 28 years old that just watched his brother die by the hands of Americans. It’s hard to tell him, you know, what, hey, we’re sorry. All right. He’s just a casualty of war. Now, this young man has taken revenge or is acting in revenge against the United States in Fallujah, in Karbala. He’s picking up that R.P.G. because he’s mad. He’s mad at the Americans. We were supposed to go in there and set up a democracy. All we did was cause chaos and have a genocidal mindset. So, they’re mad. They have every right to be mad. I know if somebody killed my brother, you know, indiscriminately and laughed about it and said, well, sorry, wrong place, wrong time, I would be mad, too.

AMY GOODMAN: Jimmy Massey, thank you for being with us, former Marine staff sergeant, speaking to us from North Carolina.


AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!.

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