|Dispatches: March 21
Downplaying a Massacre
Several newspapers abroad, including the London Times, the Guardian, and the BBC, headline reports of a massacre by Marines of an Iraqi family on Nov. 19, and of the investigation re-launched by the U.S. military. (These investigative re-launches are becoming a habit: The Army is on its fourth investigation of the killing of Pat Tillman, the NFL hero gone Ranger, after the first three proved to be, not surprisingly, bogus). Curiously, American newspapers, when they’re reporting the story at all, are relying on an Associated Press report, and burying it on inside pages. Reuters just released its account this morning, reducing the number of civilians killed from 15 to 11. Time magazine broke the story on the 19 th with a thoroughly reported piece by Tim McGirk. The story: a roadside bomb kills a Marine. Marine’s buddies go on a rampage in retaliation. The Army, of course, calls the charge “highly unlikely.” Time: “But the details of what happened that morning in Haditha are more disturbing, disputed and horrific than the military initially reported. According to eyewitnesses and local officials interviewed over the past 10 weeks, the civilians who died in Haditha on Nov. 19 were killed not by a roadside bomb but by the Marines themselves, who went on a rampage in the village after the attack, killing 15 unarmed Iraqis in their homes, including seven women and three children. Human-rights activists say that if the accusations are true, the incident ranks as the worst case of deliberate killing of Iraqi civilians by U.S. service members since the war began.”
The piece lays out the usual denials against evidence that looks incontrovertible so far as the killing of civilians is concerned: several women, children and a grandmother were killed, and the bodies in one of the houses the Marines raided zipped up and taken to a Marines morgue: not only was retaliation swift, but so was the cover-up. Nothing says Iraqis can’t make up a story of retaliation. But civilian deaths can’t be made up, nor is the Marines’ own evidence of scurrying bodies away. As usual, the reporting includes such silly qualifiers as this: “What happened in Haditha is a reminder of the horrors faced by civilians caught in the middle of war—and what war can do to the people who fight it,” a transparent attempt to open a window on excuses, and to create a sense of aberration about a kind of incident that defines this sort of guerilla war, even by the U.S. military’s own accounts. The biggest qualifier for now of course is the minimal play the story is getting in the U.S. press, as opposed to the play given Bush’s continuing spamming of the war with his inventions of “progress” and satisfaction.