The last of the U.S. marines charged in the 2005 Haditha massacre of 24 Iraqi civilians, Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich, received no jail time after he pleaded guilty to dereliction of duty and avoiding charges of involuntary manslaughter. Under his sentencing, Wuterich now faces a maximum penalty of a demotion to the rank of private. The victims, including women and children, were killed when the marines burst into their homes and shot them dead in their nightclothes. Wuterich allegedly led the Haditha massacre and was the last defendant to face charges. Six other marines have had their charges dropped or dismissed, while another soldier was acquitted. "[Iraqi] outrage is perfectly understandable," says Tim McGirk, the Time magazine reporter who broke the story on the Haditha massacre. "Here is a case where so many Iraqis were killed, women and children, old men, and yet, what’s happened? Most of the charges have been dismissed, and Wuterich was basically given a slap on the wrist." [includes rush transcript]
JUAN GONZALEZ: Iraqis are voicing outrage over the sentencing of the last of the U.S. marines charged in the 2005 Haditha massacre of 24 Iraqi civilians. On Tuesday, Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich received no jail time. He pleaded guilty to dereliction of duty and avoiding charges of involuntary manslaughter. Under his sentencing, Wuterich now faces a maximum penalty of a demotion to the rank of private.
The Haditha killings marked one of the most notorious massacres by U.S. forces during the Iraq War. The victims, including women and children, were killed when the marines burst into their homes and shot them dead in their nightclothes. In Haditha, an Iraqi survivor of the attack condemned Wuterich’s lenient sentencing.
AWIS FAHMI: [translated] I was expecting that the American courts would sentence this person to life in prison. He should appear and confess in front of the whole world that he committed this crime, so that America could show itself as democratic and fair.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Wuterich allegedly led the Haditha massacre and was the last defendant to face charges. Six other marines have had their charges dropped or dismissed, while another soldier was acquitted.
AMY GOODMAN: It was November 19th, 2005, when a military convoy of four vehicles was driving through Haditha. One of the 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 and children between the ages of three and 15.
Time magazine obtained a videotape shot in Haditha by an Iraqi journalism student one day after the attack that shows many of the victims, especially the women and children, were still in their nightclothes when they died. The scenes from inside the houses show that the walls and ceilings are pockmarked with shrapnel, bullet holes and blood.
In an interview filmed exclusively for ITN News by Iraqi journalist Ali Hamdani, a 10-year-old girl name Iman Walid describes 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: Ten-year-old Iman Walid, describing the Haditha massacre.
JUAN GONZALEZ: In 2007, CBS 60 Minutes’ Scott Pelley spoke to Sergeant Frank Wuterich about Haditha. According to Wuterich, he only did what he was trained to do.
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.
JUAN GONZALEZ: That was Sergeant Frank Wuterich in 2007 on CBS’s 60 Minutes. It is the only interview he has ever given on Haditha.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, for more, we’re joined by Tim McGirk in Berkeley, California. In 2006, he broke the story of the Haditha massacre. He is Time magazine contributor, managing editor of the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley.
Tim McGirk, welcome to Democracy Now! Go back to 2005 and talk about also what happened this week, the final sentencing.
TIM McGIRK: Right. Well, I mean, what happened is that after we at Time magazine presented our evidence to the military, we didn’t publish anything right then. But the military then went on and launched a full and formal investigation into these charges. They interviewed eyewitnesses. They interviewed people up and down the chain of command for the Marines. They sent NCIS team criminal investigators to Haditha. But the fact is that there were huge obstacles. I mean, the NCIS team didn’t arrive in Haditha 'til months later. There wasn't much forensic evidence left. They were trying to reconstruct a crime scene in the middle of a war zone. And also, there was the understandable reluctance of the Iraqis to come and testify in person or even to exhume the bodies and send them back to the States for autopsy. Those things just aren’t done under Islamic tradition. So, those are huge obstacles, really.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And Tim McGirk, talk about how you originally uncovered the story. At first, there weren’t even reports up the chain of command that a major firing by the marines had occurred at that site?
TIM McGIRK: Right. What happened, Juan, is that we were—at Time magazine, we wanted to do a story about Iraqi civilian casualties. And I had been dealing with some Iraqi human rights groups in the past, and they proved reliable. And they came to our office. They showed me and my colleagues a video of just carnage, of terrible scenes that were described earlier. And on the basis of that, I checked up, and I did a Google search, really. And I said, "Well, what have the Marines said about this incident?" And the incident said, "Well, there was a roadside bomb. It killed Terrazas. It wounded another marine. And it also killed a good number of Iraqi civilians who were standing by."
And I noticed from the video that most of these people were in their pajamas, in their nightclothes, and that seemed a bit strange to me. And then, the shots also showed, as you described, you know, bullet pockmarks on the inside of a room and bloody floors and things. And I wondered, well, how is it that if this supposedly happened out in the street that there was so much carnage inside these houses?
And then we got—we found out that there was that young girl that you—that came through on the interview. We brought her to Baghdad, because at the time it wasn’t deemed safe for us to travel to Haditha. It was in the middle of a war zone. We interviewed the girl, who was an actual survivor only because her mother threw her body in front of the girl and her younger brother when, as Wuterich explained, a grenade was rolled into the room. And then there was—there was shooting that happened in that room. So then we went back. We found out that the girl in the room, the survivor, that she had actually been shot with an American shell. We had those sort of details from the American hospital, military hospital that she was helicoptered to. So, that’s the sort of evidence that we presented to the military before we even started thinking about publishing.
AMY GOODMAN: Tim, what was your reaction to the verdict—and not just this verdict, but all of them? Who has been tried?
TIM McGIRK: I mean, honestly, Amy, I was dismayed. I sort of thought, here is a case where there were 24 unarmed Iraqi civilians, most of them in their homes, and they were killed. The fact is, is that there was never established that there was any gunfire coming from these houses where these people were cowering in fear. And I think what I also take away from this is that in Iraq and in Afghanistan—I’ve been reporting in both places—is that the military reacts very strongly and issues stiff sentences if there’s examples of criminal behavior, murder and the like. But if it’s a case of a combat situation, I think the military cuts the men a lot of slack and gives them the benefit of the doubt that these things happen in the chaos of the battlefield.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go to break, then come back to this discussion. We’re speaking with Tim McGirk, a Time magazine contributor, who broke the original story of the Haditha massacre. This week, the last of the U.S. soldiers involved with that killing was sentenced. He got no jail time. This is Democracy Now! Back in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan Gonzalez, as we cover the last of the sentencings of the U.S. soldiers involved in the Haditha massacre of 2005 that left 24 Iraqi civilians dead, many of them in their nightclothes, men, women and children. Leila Fadel is the Baghdad bureau chief for McClatchy Newspapers. We’re going 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.
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: That video posted by Leila Fadel, the Baghdad bureau chief for McClatchy Newspapers. Tim McGirk, our guest, he was with Time magazine breaking the story in 2005. The response of Iraqis, Tim?
TIM McGIRK: Well, I think their outrage is perfectly understandable, that here we are, we came to Iraq, we expressed an interest, at least, that we would get rid of the dictator, Saddam Hussein, and that we would establish democracy with full human rights. And here is a case where so many Iraqis were killed, women and children, old men, and yet, what’s happened? Most of the charges have been dismissed, and Wuterich was basically, you know, given a slap on the wrist.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And Tim, your reaction to the recent revelations that over 400 pages of investigative documents related to the Haditha massacre were found in a trash bin in Iraq?
TIM McGIRK: I know. That was a very surreal—surreal experience to have this thing coming back like this. I mean, I think in some ways it’s very symbolic, that we’ve got—that this is the legacy that we’ve been leaving behind in Iraq. It isn’t a democracy. It’s kind of the smoldering—the smoldering evidence of what was really a crime that happened in Haditha that’s been just disregarded.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And in terms of the impact of the Haditha massacre on the war in Iraq and on the American public’s willingness to support that war, as well as the Iraqi public’s view of the U.S. occupation and involvement in Iraq?
TIM McGIRK: Yeah, Juan, I think there are a couple of things to that. I think there were two turning points in the Iraqi war as far as American public opinion goes. There was Abu Ghraib and what happened inside the prison there, and there was Haditha. And I think those were two incidents that really, I think, turned the American public opinion against the war in Iraq and what we were doing there. People really began to question how we were going about prosecuting this war and whether or not this was the right way to win over the Iraqis. I think, for the Iraqis, it made them realize that there was a double standard, that we were talking about democracy and at the same time we were giving immunity to our troops, who weren’t observing the rules of engagement, who weren’t observing the fact that you have to have a positive ID before you open fire. And these were residences, you know, filled with families.
AMY GOODMAN: Loyola Law School Professor David Glazier recently told the Associated Press that Wuterich was being used as a scapegoat in Haditha.
DAVID GLAZIER: Now it looks like, you know, once again, the military is sort of treating the low-ranking individuals as scapegoats or arguing that they’re rogues and that there’s no accountability for anyone above them for their conduct. So, I think, to a lot of observers, the failure to hold anyone senior to these marines, to Sergeant Wuterich, accountable generated a lot of sympathy for him and will lead many people to believe that a harsh verdict in his particular situation would have been unjust.
AMY GOODMAN: That was David Glazier of Loyola. Tim McGirk, that possibility of other people being charged, going up the chain of command, is there any possibility?
TIM McGIRK: I think there is absolutely zero possibility of that happening. I mean, as far as the Marines and the Pentagon go, this is—this is a case that’s been shut after six years. And I think that’s the end of that, you know, as far as they’re concerned. There’s certainly no chance that anyone further up the chain of command is ever going to be brought to any kind of court over this thing.
AMY GOODMAN: Tim McGirk, we want to thank you very much for being with us, Time magazine contributor, managing editor of the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley, speaking to us from the University of California, Berkeley. In 2006, he broke the story of the slaughter of 24 Iraqi civilians by U.S. marines in the town of Haditha, Iraq.