The media feeding frenzy around what has been referred to as “Iraq’s My Lai” has become frenetic. Focus on US Marines slaughtering at least 20 civilians in Haditha last November is reminiscent of the media spasm around the “scandal” of Abu Ghraib during April and May 2004.
Yet just like Abu Ghraib, while the media spotlight shines squarely on the Haditha massacre, countless atrocities continue daily, conveniently out of the awareness of the general public. Torture did not stop simply because the media finally decided, albeit in horribly belated fashion, to cover the story, and the daily slaughter of Iraqi civilians by US forces and US-backed Iraqi “security” forces has not stopped either.
Earlier this month, I received a news release from Iraq, which read, “On Saturday, May 13th, 2006, at 10:00 p.m., US Forces accompanied by the Iraqi National Guard attacked the houses of Iraqi people in the Al-Latifya district south of Baghdad by an intensive helicopter shelling. This led the families to flee to the Al-Mazar and water canals to protect themselves from the fierce shelling. Then seven helicopters landed to pursue the families who fled … and killed them. The number of victims amounted to more than 25 martyrs. US forces detained another six persons including two women named Israa Ahmed Hasan and Widad Ahmed Hasan, and a child named Huda Hitham Mohammed Hasan, whose father was killed during the shelling.”
The report from the Iraqi NGO called The Monitoring Net of Human Rights in Iraq (MHRI) continued, “The forces didn’t stop at this limit. They held an attack on May 15th, 2006, supported also by the Iraqi National Guards. They also attacked the families’ houses, and arrested a number of them while others fled. US snipers then used the homes to target more Iraqis. The reason for this crime was due to the downing of a helicopter in an area close to where the forces held their attack.”
The US military preferred to report the incident as an offensive where they killed 41 “insurgents,” a line effectively parroted by much of the media.
On that same day, MHRI also reported that in the Yarmouk district of Baghdad, US forces raided the home of Essam Fitian al-Rawi. Al-Rawi was killed along with his son Ahmed; then the soldiers reportedly removed the two bodies along with Al-Rawi’s nephew, who was detained.
Similarly, in the city of Samara on May 5, MHRI reported, “American soldiers entered the house of Mr. Zidan Khalif Al-Heed after an attack upon American soldiers was launched nearby the house. American soldiers entered this home and killed the family, including the father, mother and daughter who is in the 6th grade, along with their son, who was suffering from mental and physical disabilities.”
This same group, MHRI, also estimated that between 4,000 and 6,000 Iraqi civilians were killed during the November 2004 US assault on Fallujah. Numbers which make those from the Haditha massacre pale in comparison.
Instead of reporting incidents such as these, mainstream outlets are referring to the Haditha slaughter as one of a few cases that “present the most serious challenge to US handling of the Iraq war since the Abu Ghraib prison scandal.”
Marc Garlasco, of Human Rights Watch, told reporters recently, “What happened at Haditha appears to be outright murder. The Haditha massacre will go down as Iraq’s My Lai.”
Then there is the daily reality of sectarian and ethnic cleansing in Iraq, which is being carried out by US-backed Iraqi “security” forces. A recent example of this was provided by a representative of the Voice of Freedom Association for Human Rights, another Iraqi NGO which logs ongoing atrocities resulting from the US occupation.
“The representative … visited Fursan Village (Bani Zaid) with the Iraqi Red Crescent Al-Madayin Branch. The village of 60 houses, inhabited by Sunni families, was attacked on February 27, 2006, by groups of men wearing black clothes and driving cars from the Ministry of Interior. Most of the villagers escaped, but eight were caught and immediately executed. One of them was the Imam of the village mosque, Abu Aisha, and another was a 10-year-old boy, Adnan Madab. They were executed inside the room where they were hiding. Many animals (sheep, cows and dogs) were shot by the armed men also. The village mosque and most of the houses were destroyed and burnt.”
The representative had obtained the information when four men who had fled the scene of the massacre returned to provide the details. The other survivors had all left to seek refuge in Baghdad. “The survivors who returned to give the details guided the representative and the Red Crescent personnel to where the bodies had been buried. They [the bodies] were of men, women and one of the village babies.”
The director of MHRI, Muhamad T. Al-Deraji, said of this incident, “This situation is a simple part of a larger problem that is orchestrated by the government … the delay in protecting more villagers from this will only increase the number of tragedies.”
Arun Gupta, an investigative journalist and editor with the New York Indypendent newspaper of the New York Independent Media Center, has written extensively about US-backed militias and death squads in Iraq. He is also the former editor at the Guardian weekly in New York and writes frequently for Z Magazine and Left Turn.
“The fact is, while I think the militias have, to a degree, spiraled out of US control, it’s the US who trains, arms, funds, and supplies all the police and military forces, and gives them critical logistical support,” he told me this week. “For instance, there were reports at the beginning of the year that a US army unit caught a “death squad” operating inside the Iraqi Highway Patrol. There were the usual claims that the US has nothing to do with them. It’s all a big lie. The American reporters are lazy. If they did just a little digging, there is loads of material out there showing how the US set up the highway patrol, established a special training academy just for them, equipped them, armed them, built all their bases, etc. It’s all in government documents, so it’s irrefutable. But then they tell the media we have nothing to do with them and they don’t even fact check it. In any case, I think the story is significant only insofar as it shows how the US tries to cover up its involvement.”
Once again, like Abu Ghraib, a few US soldiers are being investigated about what occurred in Haditha. The “few bad apples” scenario is being repeated in order to obscure the fact that Iraqis are being slaughtered every single day. The “shoot first ask questions later” policy, which has been in effect from nearly the beginning in Iraq, creates trigger-happy American soldiers and US-backed Iraqi death squads who have no respect for the lives of the Iraqi people. Yet, rather than high-ranking members of the Bush administration who give the orders, including Bush himself, being tried for the war crimes they are most certainly guilty of, we have the ceremonial “public hanging” of a few lowly soldiers for their crimes committed on the ground.
In an interview with CNN on May 29th concerning the Haditha massacre, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Peter Pace commented, “It’s going to be a couple more weeks before those investigations are complete, and we should not prejudge the outcome. But we should, in fact, as leaders take on the responsibility to get out and talk to our troops and make sure that they understand that what 99.9 percent of them are doing, which is fighting with honor and courage, is exactly what we expect of them.”
This is the same Peter Pace who when asked how things were going in Iraq by Tim Russert on Meet the Press this past March 5th said, “I’d say they’re going well. I wouldn’t put a great big smiley face on it, but I would say they’re going very, very well from everything you look at …”
Things are not “going very, very well” in Iraq. There have been countless My Lai massacres, and we cannot blame 0.1% of the soldiers on the ground in Iraq for killing as many as a quarter of a million Iraqis, when it is the policies of the Bush administration that generated the failed occupation to begin with.
A must read article on this topic which addresses US and International Law concerning this atrocity is “The Haditha Massacre” by Marjorie Cohn posted here.
Marjorie Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, President-elect of the National Lawyers Guild, and the US representative to the executive committee of the American Association of Jurists. She writes a weekly column for t r u t h o u t.