Haditha: Marine eyewitnesses come forward (Update: Audio and video of the attack?)

posted at 10:43 pm on May 29, 2006 by Allahpundit

There are two, according to the AP. They weren’t there during the incident but they took photos and helped carry out the bodies afterwards.

One of them, Lance Cpl. Ryan Briones, was interviewed by the LA Times:

Briones said he took pictures of at least 15 bodies before his camera batteries died. He said he then helped other Marines remove the bodies and place them in body bags. He said his worst moment, and one that haunts him to this day, was picking up the body of a young girl who was shot in the head.

“I held her out like this,” he said, demonstrating with his arms extended, “but her head was bobbing up and down and the insides fell on my legs.”

I take Briones at his word because he’s a Marine, but I admit that if he weren’t, I’d find some elements of his story suspicious. Regardless, he sounds shattered by what he saw — not only inside the houses but inside the bombed-out humvee where he found Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas’s body. Terrazas’s death is what allegedly inspired the rampage, you’ll recall.

The Times says three or four Marines are suspected of carrying out the killings with several more facing charges of having covered it up or done nothing while the shooting was going on.

The rest of today’s coverage follows two tracks. One is devoted to showing how tough the Marines have had it in Haditha. This AP story paints it as the equal of any snakepit in Iraq; Zarqawi is rumored to have lived there, and voter turnout for last year’s constitutional referendum was estimated at 150 out of a city of 90,000. So hard is it, in fact, that Knight-Ridder’s Iraq correspondent reported last August — three months before the alleged massacre — that some of the Marine officers stationed there worried that their men might crack. Editor & Publisher reprinted the article today. Quote:

Officers worry about the enemy while trying to make sure their men don’t crack under the pressure.

“I tell the guys not to lose their humanity over here, because it’s easy to do,” said Marine Capt. James Haunty, 27, of Columbus, Ohio. “I tell them not to turn into Col. Kurtz.”

Sitting with his men at a morning meeting in the town of Hit, Marine Maj. Nicholas Visconti said he was up late the night before, unable to sleep in the heat, when a call came from a patrol requesting permission to shoot an Iraqi man. The man, the patrol leader said, was out past curfew and appeared to be talking on a cell phone. Visconti intervened and told the patrol leader not to shoot…

With a worried look, Visconti, 35, of Brookfield, Conn., continued: “There’s killing bad guys and there’s murdering civilians. Let’s do the first and not the second. Murderers we’re not, OK?”

Read it all. It’s even more vivid than the AP story re: the snakepit.

The other track is Iraqi reaction to the killings. WaPo reports little outrage in Baghdad; the people there have too many massacres to keep count of. Time magazine goes back to Haditha and, surprisingly, finds some good news: the diligence of the military’s investigation has impressed the residents.

Belated as the investigation was, the residents of Hay al-Sinnani say they were gratified by its thoroughness. That there have been three separate enquiries suggests the U.S. military “want to get at the truth,” says Walid Abdel Khaliq, the doctor of the Haditha morgue where the victims’ bodies were taken.

They were especially impressed by the NCIS investigators. “They must have visited the houses 15 times,” says Khalid Raseef, a spokesman for the victims’ kin and uncle of Emaan and Abdel Rahman Waleed, the children who lost almost their entire immediate family in the massacre. The investigators “asked detailed questions, examined each bullet hole and burn mark, and took all sorts of measurements. In the end, they brought all the survivors to the homes and did a mock-up of the Marines’ movements. It was a very professional investigation.”

No charges have been filed yet, but this doesn’t bode well:

Two weeks ago, a Marine on foot patrol came up to Thabet’s home, stopped and smiled at Thabet’s two little daughters who were playing in the yard. He gave them some candy. Peering into the house, he saw Thabet’s sister making fresh Iraqi bread in the oven. “Can I have some?” he asked. Thabet says the rules of Arab hospitality obliged him to invite the soldier into the yard and share his bread. As they ate, the two men made small talk — the Marine spoke some broken Arabic, and Thabet has a little English. When Thabet gave him a business card, which says he works for Hamurabi Human Rights, which produced the incriminating videotape, the Marine grew apologetic. “He told me that the men who killed my neighbors were not typical Marines,” Thabet recalls. “Even among the Marines, they are known as the ‘Dirty Force.’ Then he said, ‘For myself, I don’t think killing 15 Iraqis is a fair response for the death of one Marine.’”

Me neither. Stay tuned.

Update: Denial at Camp Pendleton — or something worse?

Jerry Alexander, the owner of G.I. Joe’s and a Navy man who served with the Marines for a dozen years, had much the same perspective, saying, “If I saw my buddy laying there dead, there is no such thing as too much retaliation.”…

“In the heat of combat, you cannot hesitate; he who hesitates is lost,” he said. “I would not prosecute these young men because they were just doing their jobs.”

Some of the people whom the Times spoke with speculate that the rogue Marines’ C.O. must have known about, or perhaps even ordered, the attack.

Update: WaPo says this morning that investigators have recordings of radio transmissions made during the attack, and may even have video via a drone that was circling over the city. One lawyer says he’s heard the audio and that it corroborates the Marines’ account of having come under small-arms fire after the bomb went off. Meanwhile:

Two of the lawyers said the message traffic will show officers in higher headquarters knew early on that a large number of civilians had been killed and that they did not raise alarms.

“The chain of command knew about it,” said one, and “the number of deaths was reported” by the commander of the company involved, Capt. Lucas M. McConnell of Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion of the 1st Regiment of the 1st Marine Division.

The use of drones shows that senior commanders were interested in what was going on in the city that day, but that doesn’t necessarily point to the massacre: as the Post explains, a lot was happening in Haditha on November 19th.

Update: The latest news on Haditha is here.

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I am getting my anti emetic ready.

I can hardly wait until a senate committee, each dressed in their $1,500 suits and $300 shoes, grills the Marines’ commanders while displaying their typicial unctous, nose in the air, “superior to all other forms of life” attitude.

Nothing can justify the murder of civilians by a United States soldier. But, from the descriptions I have heard of the conditions in Haditha, this comes darn close.

I doubt that the average Iraqi will get too badly upset over this. They all know of Haditha, and many might have relatives there. They know it is virutally a prison without bars, presided over by what amounts to a rogue gang of outlaws.

Labamigo on May 29, 2006 at 11:04 PM

Even if the Marines in question were guilty, lets see how much the MSM portrays the sorrow, diligence, and honor of the rest of the military in the face of this. Not only will the good Marines have to swallow thier pride in the face of the Iraqis, they have to do so in thier homeland as well.

Our MSM ought to be talking about how difficult it is to stay sane and react justly when the enemy hides in Mosques, and utilizes children as warriors. We are rebuilding this country — going the second mile in 3 years, as fast as New Orleans. And doing it for the safety of the world and our homeland. But they have a different agenda. Our soldiers are still in harms way trying to make sure that even our own warriors are held to our country’s standards.

But our Media, and democratic congress have already tried and convicted them. Murtha is more concerned about his own reputation than this country. He voted to send our sons and daughers over there. What father would presume his son guilty first, ridicule him in public, and not try to understand the difficult situation they are in?

Even if he knows the facts are right, he should be directing the MSM to show restraint. Our congress should be investigating the obvious treasonous intend of our media against the war that they themsleves declared on 9/11 when the country was for the war. They value thier votes above the good of this country.

CountryDoc on May 29, 2006 at 11:17 PM

Hmm i wait for the MSM..

Brah on May 30, 2006 at 12:21 AM

Not to excuse any alleged wrongdoing by the accused Marines, but where is the MSM coverage of the almost daily killing of civilians by the jihadists? Our soldiers should hold themselves to a higher standard of behavior, but there is an obvious double standard here. An innocent life taken by a jihadist is not worth any less than one allegedly taken by our forces. If the media coverage was truly “humanitarian” it would not be tunnel-visioned in to this one incident.

speed647 on May 30, 2006 at 2:25 AM

Here is the 11 April Marine Corps Time article:

Allow me to repost:
The big My Lai type Haditha murders by US marines will NOT create huge new anti-war sentiment. To a large extent, the anti-war folk have been claiming from the beginning that such atrocities were inevitable, and unacceptable. The pro-war folk have, for the most part, agreed that some amount is inevitable, and must be accepted if the alternative is worse.

Similar to Abu Ghraib — where a General was fired and demoted, and many of the actual perpertrators went to prison.

I suspect that the Haditha story is true enough that murder occurred, and a couple Marines will be found guilty. But the Left calling for Rumsfeld to resign or Bush to be impeached … it’s all so childishly predictable.

It’s a war. Shit happens. Imperfect human beings fight, kill, die — and even kill innocents. Thru bombings or murders, the innocents are still dead. It’s not US policy; it IS US policy to stop it and investigate it and punish soldiers who are guilty (never enough punishment according to Leftists who hate the imperfect troops that are considered either idiots or brainwashed or nutjobs anyway).

One thing I can say about the unfair Perfection standard the Left uses, is that it has helped the USA soldiers to get closer to that standard. There’s been historically low incidents of wanton soldier murders

I know, Leftists say there shouldn’t be ANY! It’s UNACCEPTABLE. Yeah; and 200 000 killed in Darfur is unacceptable too, starting 2 years ago when Bush called it genocide, but Amnesty didn’t. And the UN didn’t. And as for the unacceptable killing being stopped then, it didn’t.

But it really is unacceptable, and needs to be punished. What is appropriate, assuming guilt?

TomGrey on May 30, 2006 at 5:26 AM

“I take Briones at his word because he’s a Marine, …” So, Marines might commit cold-blooded murder but they never lie, right? Isn’t there anyone left but me who wants to wait for a trial before hanging anyone?

bdfaith on May 30, 2006 at 6:43 AM

We need a serious discussion of the killing of innocents. It seems there is no Iraq Civilians Killed / Murdered website keeping track.
With names, preferably.

TomGrey on May 30, 2006 at 6:46 AM

Certainly we need to wait for a trial before physically hanging anybody, but it’s likely somewhat true according to Marine Corps Times .com

The real issue is: how many of these US soldiers wrong killings are needed before the pro-war folk think it’s so many that the US should leave? Even if the US leaving means bloodshed?

Similarly, G. Clooney needs to be asked if he supports action to liberate Darfur, if that includes hundreds of civilians being killed. As collateral damage, as temporary insanity revenge killings.

TomGrey on May 30, 2006 at 6:54 AM

Seems more is coming to light about this as time goes by. I have to say it isn’t looking too good for these Marines.

Heck, even I can be wrong sometimes. LOL

If ths actually happened, does the Marine with the camera actually have pictures of this attrocity? If he does the trial will likely be short and the offending men i prison before they know what hit them.

Still and all, I will never take the word of a main stream mediot over a soldier without a LOT of proof.

Duty, Honor, Country
(in THAT order)

Rowane on May 30, 2006 at 7:26 AM

The innocent civilians should not have been shot.
Do we really know that they were all innocent?
These marines are being made examples of for the msm.
They see things everyday that would drive anyone crazy.
We shouldn’t parade the accused for all the world to see.
If they are guilty sentence them for their crimes and move on.
Respect those that defend our liberties.

Kramer on May 30, 2006 at 10:38 AM

Remember the Iraqis terrorists used kids and women infront of them or putting them in cars loaded with bombs?

I give the Marines much more leeway not because they are right, but because they cannot afford to be wrong. Their life was at stake, not mine.


easy87us on May 30, 2006 at 10:49 AM

First, these are as of yet allegations, though the inside military dope is that there will be murder charges brought.

Second, if this turns out to be true, it is a slap in the face to all the great troops who perform unbelievable work (in the face of often poor leadership) under the strain of combat without taking the lives of innocents–in this case including a 3 year old–to whitewash it. The military is like any other organization, always a couple bad apples.

The left shouldn’t grab this as anti-war fodder, the right shouldn’t make excuses for crimes.

honora on May 30, 2006 at 12:13 PM

If whoever was leading the patrol was aware of it and didn’t “raise the alarm” as the article says, then it isn’t so much an issue of a coverup higher up the chain, it is about the chain not being informed.

I don’t know what might have prompted a reaction that happened in Haditha and I am certainly never going to condone murder, but under the circumstances, I can see how this could be much different than a My Lai and I resent people attempting to make that connection. In the case of My Lai, not a shot was fired at the soldiers who murdered over 500 people. At Haditha we have a group who were targeted by a bomb and were apparently taking small arms fire. I can’t pretend to know what might have set someone off but I could imagine something as small as a civilian celebrating the bomb explosion might be enough.

Put let’s keep this in perspective. 15 people killed by a breakdown during a bombing/firefight is completely different than over 500 killed without a shot fired in anger. Given the size of the unit at Haditha, the firepower at it’s disposal and the size of Haditha itself, that 15 were killed leads me to believe that this was not the full blown rampage that My Lai was. Had it been, the toll would have been much, much higher.

crosspatch on May 30, 2006 at 12:28 PM

You know these types of incidents is one of the main reasons the Geneva Convention was created – to protect innocent civilians.

One of the main purposes for the GC to require combatants to be clearly identifiable (i.e. in uniform, etc…) is to protect the civilians from being inadvertantly targetted. When the ‘insurgants’ hide behind the civilian population, use women and children as human shields these types of things are more prone to occur.

Note also that when we allow the insurgants to hide behind women and children with no price (they are still treated as being protected by the GC instead of as illegal combatants including being shot in the field) we encourage it. Why should they abide by the rules when breaking them gives them an advantage with no cost?

What do you think would happen if a U.S. commander actually ordered an illegal combatant to be ‘shot’ in the field? The MSM would go apeshit in condeming them. Yet the ‘insurgents’ deliberately target and kill/execute innocent people all the time and the MSM is mum about it.

I would like to know: 1) If the innocent people were killed by the marines or by the insurgents – this needs to be answered. 2) Where they being used as ‘human shields’ (including firing from a civilian crowd or from a civilian home/building) at the time? 3) Where the people firing at the marines not identified as soldiers (in uniform or wearing some clearly identifiable badge)? 4) Did they then hide among the civilians?

If the marines did kill the civilians ‘in cold blood’ then they should be punished to the fullest extent of the law. However if the ‘insurgents’ do not abide by the GC then they should not enjoy its protections.

We need to declare that illegal combatants would be treated as such – and follow up on it. If the insurgents are using human shields we should videotape it and publish it worldwide. Nothing says cowardice more then a video of a man hiding behind women and children.

Unfortunately people like Muthra are already using this (and endangering our troops) for their own political gain.

CrazyFool on May 30, 2006 at 2:56 PM

Good points, crosspatch.

Hopefully this doesn’t sound too callous, but if this is the only incident of this type we’ve had to deal with in 3 years than we’ve shown more restraint than in any other prior conflict. We should perform due diligence, investigate the action and prosecute as seems fit. One of the most astute comments I’ve seen is that every place has a few bad apples; regardless of what process is in place, its inevitable that a few should find their way in. Whether this is a case of that or something more complex remains to be seen.

I think it is VERY poor, however, for people like Murtha to condemn the whole lot. We don’t know what someone under fire has seen; some soldiers may have been looking for an excuse to vent anger and should be punished for their lack of discipline and concern for collateral damage, while others may have simply seen a moving target- later identified as a child- as the source of small arms fire.

I DO hope that the military will do the right thing (it sounds so far as if they are being thorough), and resist the urge to make everyone a scapegoat rather than risk Congressional and media ire. If 2 people really are responsible for the atrocity and the remainder are not, then that is what they should find.

linlithgow on May 30, 2006 at 3:36 PM

The Left desperately wants the Marines to be convicted while everone else wants to see the Marines cleared.The implications in the Arab world (where 24 murders are less than the daily average massacred in Iraqi car bombings) will be far less severe than in the MSM and Congress where the terrorits’ true allies the ‘NY Times’, Christ (The King) Mathews, Ted Kennedy, Nancy Pelosi, Murtha and all the other Usual Suspects will pound on Haditha wearily for month after dreary month.

The House will take time off from wrapping legal blankets around its own felons to pass a ‘Haditha Resolution’ condemning the USMC.

Michael Moore will premiere his new ‘documentary’ movie ‘Haditha’ which will implicate Chm JCS Peter Pace.

Christ (The King) Mathews will claim, supported by ‘hard evidence’ from ‘reliable sources’ such as Dan Rather, Ranger veteran Jesse MacBeth and Professor Ward Churchill that Vice President Dick Cheney gave the personal order for the massacre and that President Bush ordered the coverup.

Jesse Jackson will scream that the Haditha “victims” were “targeted” because they were non-Caucasians.

The newly elected Democratic Senate will call for a Special Counsel to investigate the “documents” produced by Christ (The King) Mathews.

MaiDee on May 30, 2006 at 7:10 PM

I wonder how long it will take Oliver Stone to throw out a movie on this? Money in the bank for him and more “fame”.

Redblock on May 30, 2006 at 9:32 PM

MaiDee, you left out that Dennis Hastert is sure to call for the FBI to obtain and execute search warrrants for the living quarters and offices of the chain of command, including SECDEF and the Commander in Chief (POTUS)!!

Are we sure Moutha (aka Murtha) was a war hero? Maybe he was called a “baby killer” when he returned from Nam, and he wants to make sure this generation of soldiers gets tagged the same way. Of course liberals never have been ones to let the facts get in the way of their opinion.

The real basis for the rush to judegment is to lay the blame for all that goes wrong at the feet of our President. Regardless of the hundreds of thousands of things that have gone right, the drive by media need their fix of perceived foul-ups in order to keep themselves from suffering positive news panic attacks…and this is the type slop the liberal and moderates in congress feed upon.

Our military investigators will get it right…and that is more confidence than I can place in our current crop of congressional leaders.

Acts20:24 on May 30, 2006 at 11:12 PM

Well it was only a matter of time. Iraq wasn’t a bad decision, poorly managed. If we fail, it’s the media’s fault. How convenient to be in a no lose position: we win, the President is vindicated and everyone who questioned the war is an asshole. We lose, it’s the media’s fault.

I need to figure out how I can get an all purpose scapegoat in my work life. Things go awry on my watch, somehow I am held accountable…..

honora on May 31, 2006 at 10:50 AM

It is always people that have never served in combat that are the first to condemn the actions of those that have. As one that has served in combat with the finest soldiers a Platoon Sergeant could ever hope for, I learned one thing. Listen to the soldier. Let them all explain, one at a time what happened. That is the only way the truth will ever be known. A leader learns that his soldiers will do what is right if the leader expects it and serves as an example. Have faith that the soldier will do the right thing and he will. I pray that these young Marines will all be vindicated in the end. Unfortunately, simply becuase they have been accused of committing an atrocity, many will still doubt their innocence forever. Those of you that have never served in combat, or have never lost a soldier will never understand the pain that one endures for the rest of their life. Please stop the debate. Let the truth be discovered and told. Those that insist on finding these young marines guilty before the truth is known should be sent to experience what they have. I pray for all the troops that are serving in harms way. I regret that retired from military service and cannot be with them now. I feel their pain, I have the same nightmares. I have lost friends and comrades. I suffer for every loss of life as if they were all my soldiers and sons. I am proud of them all. I am proud to call them my brothers in arms.

immigration inspectr on May 31, 2006 at 5:54 PM