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.