Did U.S. marines kill unarmed Iraqis in Haditha?
CBC News Online | Updated Dec. 21, 2006
At 7:15 am on Nov. 19, 2005, a roadside bomb exploded under a Humvee carrying U.S. marines from Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines, in Haditha, Iraq. The device killed a marine and wounded two others. In the ensuing five hours, two dozen Iraqis — including women, children and an 89-year-old wheelchair-bound amputee —were killed.
Now, after 13 months and a lengthy investigation, four marines have been charged with murder in the killings of the Iraqi civilians. Four other marines face lesser offences.
Those facing murder charges include squad leader Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich, who faces 13 counts of murder in the deaths of Haditha civilians.
- Sunni Arab region in Anbar province, described by some as "lawless" and lacking in capable government.
- A city of 90,000 people located on the Euphrates River about 225 kilometres northwest of Baghdad.
- An insurgent-stronghold infamous for its hostility towards coalition troops.
- Along with the nearby towns of Parwana and Haqlaniyah, Haditha was used by insurgents as a gateway for smuggling arms and fighters from Syria to Baghdad.
- The Nov. 19, 2005 massacre took place on Hay al-Sinnani Road, in a sub-division of Haditha called Al-Subhani.
Wuterich faces 12 charges or murdering individuals and one charge of murdering six individuals by ordering his troops to "shoot first and ask questions later" while assaulting a house in the western Iraqi town.
Also charged with "unpremeditated" murder, the military equivalent of second-degree murder: Cpl. Justin Sharratt, 22, of Carbondale, Pa.; Cpl. Stephen Tatum, 25, of Edmund, Okla.; and Sgt. Sanick Dela Cruz, 24, of Chicago.
The alleged rampage in Haditha was one of the more high-profile incidents involving U.S. soldiers that the Iraqi government had demanded action on. It is not the first incident in Iraq in which U.S. military personnel have been charged with murder.
In July, four U.S. soldiers were charged with the rape and murder of a young Iraqi woman and the murder of three members of her family. A fifth was charged with failing to report the incident.
In 2004, three soldiers were charged in the drowning death of an Iraqi man forced to jump off a high bridge over the Tigris river.
In Haditha, the victims were in or around four houses near the scene of the explosion, and most were unarmed. Nineteen of the victims were shot in their homes; some were still in their nightclothes. The other five were driving by in a taxi. They were made to get out of the car and then shot. Eyewitnesses said U.S. marines killed them.
||Haditha resident, journalism student and human rights worker who recorded the aftermath of the massacre on video.
|Dr. Walid Abdel Khaliq
||Doctor of the Haditha morgue where the victims' bodies were taken.
||The eyewitness who survived the massacre. She was nine-years-old at the time of the incident.
||Eyewitness who ran out of the first house where the killings occurred, with her five-month-old niece, Asia.
|Lance-Cpl. Roel Ryan Briones and Lance-Cpl. Andrew Wright
||U.S. marines sent to Haditha after the slayings to help with the removal of the bodies. They were ordered to take photographs of the corpses.
The day after the incident, the U.S. Marine Corp reported that a bomb planted by insurgents killed U.S. marine Lance-Cpl. Miguel (T.J.) Terazzas and 15 Iraqi civilians. They also said after the blast the insurgents opened fire on their convoy and in the resulting firefight eight insurgents were killed and one was wounded.
No one questioned the official account of the events in Haditha until Time magazine received a tip from the Hammurabi Human Rights Group about a video taken in the town.
An Iraqi journalism student, Taher Thabet, took footage of the aftermath of the morning events. The video showed the bodies of the victims, the local morgue where the bodies were taken and the homes in which the killings took place. The video recording inside the houses showed the damage from bullet holes, shrapnel and sprays of blood. No bullet holes were seen on the outsides of the homes and the wounds on the victims suggested they died from gunshot wounds, not shrapnel from an explosion as the U.S. marine report had said.
Time magazine presented the eyewitness accounts and a copy of the videotape to military officials in January 2006. The U.S. military then opened its own investigation and conceded that the civilians were killed by the marines and not in the initial explosion from the roadside bomb as first reported. They also said that there were no insurgents in two of the houses where the killings took place.
However, they maintained that the deaths of the civilians were as a result of "collateral damage" and not revenge-motivated retaliation. They classified 15 of the deceased Iraqis as civilians, the other nine as insurgents and they paid relatives of the civilian victims $2,500 each.
In the ensuing months, photos taken by two marines at Haditha came to light. They provided graphic evidence of Iraqis shot at close range in the head and in the chest.
The U.S. Naval Criminal Investigative Service launched two investigations. The first was to determine whether the marines of Kilo Company "broke the laws of war by deliberately targeting civilians" and the second to ascertain whether or not there was an attempt to cover up the incident.
Forensic evidence from the scene of the killings led investigators to conclude that the marines had not come under combat-level hostile fire that day. The victims previously referred to as insurgents were reclassified as civilians. The battalion commander and two company commanders of the marines in Haditha at that time were relieved of duty.
|Where they died
||How they died
|In a Humvee
||Lance-Cpl. Miguel Terazzas (U.S. Marine).
|In the first house
||Abdul Hamid Hassan Ali, 89 (amputee).
|Abdul Hamid Hassan Ali's wife.||Shot|
|Waleed Adbul Hameed, 48, (worker in a local religious affairs office; Hameed was one of Ali's sons and he was also the father of Emaan Waleed, 9, and Adul Rahman, 7, both eyewitnesses).||Shot|
|Waleed Adbul Hameed's wife (mother of Emaan Waleed and Adul Rahman).||Shot|
|Abdul Hamid Hassan Ali's other son and his wife, Asma.||Shot|
|Abdul Hamid Hassan Ali's third son, 39, (husband of Hibba Abdullah, eyewitness to the massacre).||Shot|
|In the second house
||Younis Salim Nusaif, 45, (customs official).
|Aida Yassin 42, (wife of Younis Salim Nusaif; at home recovering from an operation).||Shot|
|Aida Yassin's sister.||Shot|
|Five of the children of Younis Salim Nusaif and Aida Yassin*, four girls and one boy, ages from 4- to 15-years –old. (*One of their six children, 12-year-old Safa Younis Salim, survived by pretending to be dead).||Shot|
|In the third house
||Four brothers, 20- to 38-years-old.
|On the street near the houses where the killings took place
||Four university students and their taxi driver.