on Monday, June 23, 2008 by McClatchy Newspapers
Victims’ Kin Outraged As Marines Go Free
by Leila Fadel
HADITHA, Iraq -
Khadija Hassan still shrouds her body in black, nearly three years after
the deaths of her four sons. They were killed on Nov. 19, 2005, along with
20 other people in the deadliest documented case of U.S. troops killing
civilians since the Vietnam War.
Eight Marines were
charged in the case, but in the intervening years, criminal charges have
been dismissed against six. A seventh Marine was acquitted. The residents of
Haditha, after being told they could depend on U.S. justice, feel betrayed.
“We put our hopes in
the law and in the courts and one after another they are found innocent,”
said Yousef Aid Ahmed, the lone surviving brother in the family. “This is
an organized crime.”
No one disputes that
Marines killed 24 men, women and children in this town in four separate
shootings that morning. Relatives said the attack was a massacre of
innocent civilians that followed a roadside bomb that killed one Marine and
injured two. Marines say they came under fire following the bomb.
prosecutors filed charges that ranged from murder to covering up a crime.
Three Marines were relieved of their duties then, and U.S. Rep. John
Murtha, a former Marine, famously called the incident “murder” on
One by one, the cases
fell apart. American and Iraqi witnesses provided conflicting accounts. The
investigation began months after the incident, and many Iraqis who could
have testified were unable to travel to the United States. Furthermore,
several Marines were granted immunity.
Last week, a judge
dismissed charges of dereliction of duty and failure to investigate filed
against the highest ranking officer implicated, Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani.
The Marine Corps plans to appeal.
The dismissals have
deepened the victims’ relatives’ grief. Many say they feel deceived after
having collaborated with U.S. investigators who came into their homes,
collected evidence, took testimony, and ultimately failed to hold the
“Right now I feel
hatred that will not fade,” said Ahmed. “It grows every day.” Charges
against two Marines who allegedly killed his brothers were dropped in
All charges of murder
in this case were dropped and at least seven Marines were given immunity to
allow them to testify against Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, the squad leader.
His charges now include voluntary manslaughter of at least nine people.
Wuterich has always
maintained that he made the right decision, believing his Marines were
While other Marines’
accounts have differed from his, Wuterich told the CBS News program 60
Minutes last year that he shot at five unarmed men outside a white car
because he believed they were a threat when they started to move away from
the car. At the first home they raided, where women and children were
inside, he said he told his men to “shoot first and ask questions later”,
because he believed the Marines were coming under “sporadic” fire from the
Wuterich said that he
didn’t consider killing 24 people a massacre and that he did what he did to
protect his Marines from what he perceived to be a threat.
“I remember there may
have been women in there, may have been children in there,” he told 60
Minutes. “My responsibility as a squad leader is to make sure that none of
the rest of my guys died … and at that point we were still on the assault,
so no, I don’t believe [I should have stopped the attack].”
This is how the
residents of Haditha recall that day: U.S. Marines were apparently bent on
revenge after a roadside bomb killed one of their own. They killed four
unarmed men and an unarmed taxi driver. Then they threw grenades and
entered two homes. In the Younes’ household, they killed eight people,
including two toddlers, a 5-year-old and a mother recovering from an
In an adjacent home,
they killed seven people, including a 4-year-old and two women, according
to death certificates and one of the children who survived. Across the
street, residents of two houses shared by a family were pulled out. The men
were separated from the women as the Marines asked them about weapons.
Family members said
they had one AK-47 in each house, which Iraqi law allows. The Marines
forced the women and children into one house at gunpoint, then took four brothers
to a back bedroom and executed them, the family said.
Yousef Aid Ahmed was
not at home when the killing occurred. He is now the sole breadwinner for
his mother and extended family.
His father became ill
after the shootings, and later, the family said, went blind from grief.
Ailing, he lingered in a small bedroom where his sons were killed. One was
gunned down to the left of the bed, a second to the right. The third man’s
body wound up inside a closet and the fourth was propped against the
wardrobe. Despite a fresh coat of paint, the ceiling still bears grey spots
where the men’s blood spattered. They were all shot in the head.
The relatives seldom
go into this room.
The Marines told a
different story. Lt. Col. Paul J. Ware, an investigating officer with the
Navy Marine Corps Trial Judiciary gave this account: Lance Cpl. Justin
Sharratt, a Marine who acknowledged killing three of the brothers, told
investigators that the four brothers were holed up in a back bedroom where
the Marines later found two AK-47s. Ware wrote in the report that the
evidence made the Iraqi’s story implausible and their accounts were
The report didn’t say
whether there was any evidence that the AK-47s were fired. The report also
implied that the family may have made up their story for the $10,000 in
compensation for the deaths of civilians and that their credibility should
be questioned because they were women and a teenager.
“Witness accounts are
not credible,” the report said about the case of one Marine accused of killing
three of the brothers. “Although $10,000 does not appear to be a large
amount of money…such a sum of money was equal to 4 times the average annual
salary of a typical resident of Haditha. Prior to making these claims, no
payments were made to the Ahmed family.”
Relatives said they
accepted the money after authorities told them it would help the case. Now
they wish they’d never taken the cash.
“Right now I feel
hatred that will not fade,” said Yousef Aid Ahmed. “It grows every day.”
“I have no brothers
and sisters,” Khaled Jamal said. “Now I have no father and my uncles are
gone. Put yourself in my shoes.” Once a stellar student, Khaled is now
The sense of betrayal
has made family members reluctant to keep telling the story.
At the house where
Safa Younes now lives with her uncle, her uncle refused to allow her to
talk about that day.
Safa, now age 14, is
the sole survivor of the Younes family household. She passed out in fear
when the shootings began and awoke under the dead bodies of her family
members, she and her uncle Yaseen recounted to McClatchy in a 2006
interview four months after the slaying.
She heard the moaning
of her brother Mohammed and tried to get him to stand up to go to her
uncle’s home. Bleeding profusely, he couldn’t move. She cradled him in her
arms until he died. Then, covered in her brother’s blood, she ran to her
uncle’s home, her uncle and Safa recounted to McClatchy in 2006.
This week he refused
to allow Safa to speak of the tragedy again.
“It’s enough. We spoke
to many journalists and human rights groups,” Safa’s uncle said. “It
brought us nothing. I lost her whole family; I don’t want to lose her too.”
Iman Waleed lost
everyone in her family save her little brother. The 12-year-old tells the
story quickly and matter-of-factly now. She’s told it at least 20 times to
journalists, investigators and human rights groups.
“The Americans came in
and they entered through the kitchen door. My father was in the room
reading the Quran and they shot him,” she says in a monotone voice, her
green eyes looking at the floor.
Then, she continued,
they threw a bomb and killed her grandfather, and then they killed her
grandmother. Her uncles were next, she said. The first died instantly and
the second was shot more than once. Finally the Marines came to the living
room where Iman cowered with her mother and two young brothers. They shot
her mother and her three-year-old brother that was cradled in her arms. She
and her brother Abdul Rahman, nine at the time, were wounded but survived.
Her brother still does
not speak of that day. According to Iman, he’s afraid to talk about it. He
plays with his cousin of the same age in the house where they live with an
uncle and pretends that it never happened.
For Iman it is the
memory of the family that she lost that is hardest to talk about.
Everything is “normal,” now she says. Her life continues.
“I miss every one of
them,” she said. “I wish I could forget it … I think about it less now.”
The legal rationales
behind the dismissal of many charges against the Marines don’t matter to
the Iraqi families. They told the world there was a massacre, they said,
and still no one listened.
“What should we do?”
Abdul Razak said. “They are all found innocent. What more do they
need?…They shouldn’t have been found innocent.”
She dropped her head.
“I’m one of a million
… I am nobody.” she said. “Why did they choose us from everyone? Why did
they separate us and kill us. … Why did they come and kill our young men
and leave us alive?”
Marines Related To The Haditha Investigation
Lt. Col. Jeffrey R.
Violation of a lawful
order and willful dereliction of duty were both dismissed on June 17, 2008.
The Marine Corps plans to appeal the recent decision.
Sgt. Sanick P. Dela Cruz
The charges of
unpremeditated murder for five people and making a false official statement
were dismissed April 2, 2007. He was granted immunity after the charges
1st Lt. Andrew A.
Grayson was found not
guilty of all charges after being accused of obstructing justice in the
Haditha case on June 3, 2008. On Dec. 27, 2007 the charge of dereliction
for failing to investigate a suspected violation of the law of war was
Capt. Lucas M.
The charge of
unpremeditated murder in the killings of three brothers and dereliction for
failing to “ensure” a “thorough investigation was initiated,” were
dismissed on Sept. 12, 2007. He was granted immunity and ordered to
cooperate with “all parties” looking into the 24 killings in Haditha.
Capt. Randy W. Stone
Charges that include
failing to ensure an investigation and accurately report a suspected
violation of the law of war were dismissed.
Lance Corporal Stephen
Charges of Involuntary
manslaughter of two people, unpremeditated murder of two others, negligent
homicide of four people, aggravated assault and reckless endangerment were
dismissed on March 28, 2008. Tatum was given testimonial immunity in the
Staff Sgt. Frank D Wuterich
Wuterich for unpremeditated murder of 17 people were dismissed on Dec. 27,
2007 and another was withdrawn on Aug. 29, 2007. Now he is charged with
voluntary manslaughter for killing or ordering the killing of at least nine
people. He is also charged with reckless endangerment, aggravated assault,
obstructing justice and dereliction. The charges were referred to the
general court-martial on Dec. 31, 2007. He has yet to go to trial.
world-class liar, then and now
This lieutenant Colonel James Yonts of
the U.S. Army, graduate of the U.S. Army War College, Carlisle, Pa., has
been in the forefront of creating news as the Pentagon wants it – strategic
communication. Yonts has been serving at Central Command in Tampa and later
as U.S. military spokesman in Afghanistan, spending great effort to cover
up the civilian deaths caused by U.S. military actions. On March 30, 2006,
he affirmed the absence of any civilians in the village of Qala-e-Gaz,
Helmand Province, which was being severely bombed by U.S (and British
Harrier) aircraft. Reports from the field indicate some 20-30 civilians had
been killed in the “torrent of air strikes.” On August 12, 2005, the New
York Times reported the results of a raid by a U.S. warplane on the
remote village of Mara Kale in southern Afghanistan. According to survivors
in a Kandahar hospital, four people died in the attack. Muhammad Yar told
the newspaper that his mother had been killed and his house destroyed in
the raid. US military spokesman Colonel James Yonts responded by declaring
that he doubted that there were any civilian casualties as the area was
uninhabited. Four years ago, Col. Yonts had created news for the
Pentagon when commenting on another series of U.S. air strikes, carried
out between 7 – 10 P.M. just outside Tarin Kot, Uruzgan Province. He said,
“we verified the target and on the night of the 21st, we dropped
some precision-guided munitions on the target and destroyed that target.
All the munitions were accounted for – on the target.” In the real world,
the U.S. air strikes killed 21 civilians fleeing on a tractor including 17
children and 3 women (for a detailed account see entry in the Afghan
Victim Memorial Project, under “Abdul Ghani, 22/23”). On the day of
that murderous attack, Willian Arkin a former military intelligence officer
and defense establishment pundit, penned an article for the Washington
Post glorifying the new-found military prowess reassuring the American
public that precision-guided munitions would prevent most civilian
casualties (“Civilian Casualties and the Air War”).