Haditha Massacre Coverage

After softpeddling the story yesterday, the big papers are now using the M-word to describe the atrocities committed by a platoon of Marines in Haditha last November.

WaPo fronts a piece by Ellen Knickmeyer entitled, “In Haditha, Memories of a Massacre.” It’s anecdotal but chilling.

Witnesses to the slaying of 24 Iraqi civilians by U.S. Marines in the western town of Haditha say the Americans shot men, women and children at close range in retaliation for the death of a Marine lance corporal in a roadside bombing.

Aws Fahmi, a Haditha resident who said he watched and listened from his home as Marines went from house to house killing members of three families, recalled hearing his neighbor across the street, Younis Salim Khafif, plead in English for his life and the lives of his family members. “I heard Younis speaking to the Americans, saying: ‘I am a friend. I am good,’ ” Fahmi said. “But they killed him, and his wife and daughters.”

The 24 Iraqi civilians killed on Nov. 19 included children and the women who were trying to shield them, witnesses told a Washington Post special correspondent in Haditha this week and U.S. investigators said in Washington. The girls killed inside Khafif’s house were ages 14, 10, 5, 3 and 1, according to death certificates.

Dozens of papers, including the Guardian, are running a Press Association account under the headline “Concerns over Iraq massacre claims.” The lede:

Claims that US Marines massacred Iraqi civilians threaten to undermine public support for keeping British troops in the country, the UK’s most senior military officer said.

The Chief of Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, said that reports of the unprovoked killing of up to two dozen unarmed Iraqis would be “appalling” if proved accurate.

TIME’s Matthew Cooper:

On Thursday night, at his joint press conference with Tony Blair, President Bush said that the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib was the greatest mistake the U.S. has made in the war of Iraq: “I think the biggest mistake that’s happened so far, at least from our country’s involvement, is Abu Ghraib. We’ve been paying for that for a long period of time.” The emerging Haditha scandal may come to eclipse that.


The possibility of a U.S. massacre of Iraqi civilians could have major ramifications. It could further diminish support for the United States through the Arab and Muslim world, where America is already held in notoriously low regard. And the massacre could accelerate American opinion against the war. During the Vietnam War, the My Lai massacre of what may have been as many as hundreds of South Vietnamese civilians helped turn the tide against the war. In that case, initial Pentagon reports similarly dismissed the possibility of a civilian massacre.

Although the numbers of dead in Haditha come nowhere near My Lai, in an era of instant communications, the impact for the United States could be far worse. And given that the revelations of the possible massacre comes as Saddam Hussein is standing trial for ordering the massacre of Shi’ites when he was leader of Iraq, the timing couldn’t be much worse.

Quite right. As AllahPundit‘s roundup at Hot Air shows, there seems to be a bipartisan consensus on that much.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. DC Loser says:

    There will be lots of naval gazing about the causes of this, lots of it rehashes of My Lai. Is it because of a bunch of 18-25 year old kids stressed out by their situation? Or is it a failure of command? Or is it a failure of not enough forces in the field causing the breakdown of morale and discipline? Whatever the answers, this is definitely a turning point.

  2. lily says:

    The chilling aspect of this story is that it happened over a period of several hours, so some of the killing wasn’t in the heat of the moment.

    It is an example ( I hope! I assume!) of aberrant behavior, but the aberrant behavior is what people notice, not the routine stuff.

    Murtha linked it to stress over extended tours and inadequate troops. I don’t know if this particular incident is related to those factors or not. There is another pattern which, while less publicized , is probably worse in terms of the success of our involvement in Iraq: the lack of routine positive contact between Americans and Iraqis. In Assassin’s Gate the writer describes the extraordinary, noble efforts of American service people to rebuild basic services in neighborhoods and the way that kind of interaction with Iraqis forged the kind of links which could have contributed to the successful development of a pro-American government in that country. Unfortunately he also describes how those efforts where underfunded and unsupported by the Bush administration and how lack of troops, money, and support eventually undercut those sorts of efforts. As time when on and the troops got more stressed and more isolated, the routine, ordinary interactions between troops and Iraqis became more fear based and hostile. The policy now is to pull troops back to bases, leaving the Iraqis to literally fight things out themselves. This policy, it seems to me, will guarantee that further encounters between Americans and Iraqis will be hostile and fearful and quite likely more trgedies will occur.. It is a de facto admission of failure. We can’t help in a situation where our peple and theirs can’t interact cooperatively.

  3. Bithead says:

    I find interesting the idea that so much of what we’re basing our judgments on is from a leaked information, some of which is from pentagon sources, some of which is not. The timing of these leaks seems to spacious at best in that they certainly appear to be orchestrated.

    As for Murtha, I agree with Rusty Shackelford’s take; Murtha is the boy who cries ‘wolf’. He’s lied too often before, interestingly enough, on occasions where the topic under discussion resulted from one of those well-Orchestrated leaks. Someone who comes up with information that makes our troops look bad that often, and is proven that wrong that often, is probably making such comments because he wants to believe that our troops are that bad, that often, and stands to gain by our believing it, too.

    Unlike so many… an alarming number… I’m willing to wait for the investigation, before passing judgement. band if that judgment be innocent , it will be interesting and educational to see who it is that doesn’t accept that ruling.

  4. DC Loser says:

    It’s hilarious that Murtha is the liar here. Murtha got the story because he has many friends in high places in the Corps. What he said a few weeks ago is looking more and more like the straight scoop. Funny how Murtha was portrayed a stand up guy when he was behind the war. Switching gears, it’s interesting that all those involved are safely out of Iraq. Iraq is a sovereign nation and it would prove very embarrassing if their government would demand custody of those involved in the murder of civilians. I can see Al-Sadr and his bunch making lots of ugly noises about that.

  5. Bithead says:

    Nobody specifically said he was the liar HERE; Rather, that he has a history of it.
    Do you comprehend the difference, here?

  6. DC Loser says:

    Please elaborate on said history. But it would appear you’re grasping at straws and splitting lots of hairs.

  7. DC Loser says:

    From aforementioned Mr. Shackleford:

    UPDATE: Let me clarify something: When I began writing this post, I only knew of Murtha’s conveying the allegations. That’s what started the post. After writing the post, I’ve learned that there is strong evidence against at least two Marines.

    I still do not want to believe the allegations are true. But that’s just me, I want to believe the best things about my country. But, those allegations may turn out to be true. Even so, my point remains valid: there were those on the Left who have been screaming about this from the beginning, from the very day it happened–they wanted it to be true. They have been beating on the “war crimes” drum for a long time now. They may be right, in this instance, but with such a track record, can you blame me for being dismissive?

    In any event, I personally volunteer to pull the trigger at the execution of any Marine who intentionally killed women and children.

    So those speak of uncomfortable truths are nonetheless guilty of crying wolf? Seems like one wants to have it both ways.

  8. Bithead says:

    The clear implication is that Murtha doesn’t WANT to think the best of his country. As I have said;
    Someone who comes up with information that makes our troops look bad that often, and is proven that wrong that often, is probably making such comments because he wants to believe that our troops are that bad, that often, and stands to gain by our believing it, too.

    Loser, he tried to get us to take the coward’s way out… to cut and run… which is the most certain way to lose a war… which is clearly what Murtha wants.


    Simple; A Democrat isn’t in the WH.

    And do you really take the presumption of innocence to be ‘splitting hairs’? Or is it only when a Democrat is charged with a crime, such as Bubba Clinton?

    Or, Willie Jefferson?

  9. DC Loser says:

    COL Murtha (Ret.) is a decorated veteran, former Marine, with 37 years active duty service. I think he’s speaking from his heart when he says the war was a mistake. I don’t think any rational person out there can say he hates this country and the USMC. FWIW, I think he’s more qualified to be a judge of the situation than you are, if only you’d take your political blinder off for a second. But that’d be asking too much, I know.

  10. Bithead says:

    COL Murtha (Ret.) is a decorated veteran, former Marine, with 37 years active duty service. I think he�s speaking from his heart when he says the war was a mistake.

    Perhaps. I doubt it. But you may note that I don’t give that much credit, in the end… any more than I gave Kerry.

    The reason? Even assuming they’re that stupid to actually beleive the tripe they come up with… they’re still demonstrably wrong.

  11. Alan Kellogg says:

    On Murtha: It is impossible for any one to be wrong all the time, no matter how hard they try.

    On Habitha: Let us hope the investigation is done well and done diligently. That it discovers the perpetrators and the motivations for their actions. Furthermore, that the appropriate punishment is meted out, up to and including the death penalty if that be warranted.

    Yes, things like this happen during war. That does not mean we should not seek to find and punish those involved. The fact you cannot stop mistakes from being made is no reason to not correct mistakes when you can. Here we have an opportunity to correct an error, let us take full advantage of it.

    From what I’ve heard I suspect the unit in question was led by a bigot and egotist who inculcated his bigotry into his men. While the unit’s personnel were, in a word, so full of themselves and their innate superiority over mere sand niggers they saw justification in slaughtering them all and letting God sort them out.

    I suspect the U. S. Marine Corp is going to be taking a hard look at their junior officers and making a radical change in officer training and psychological evaluations. Expect a lot more than just those immediately culpable to get burned by this incident.

  12. anjin-san says:

    I note that Bithead has not provided one shread of evidence to back up his claim that Murtha is a liar.

    It would be fun to see Bit call this decorated combat vet a liar to his face and proceed to get bitch-slapped.

  13. McGehee says:

    Again we are treated to Anjin’s fantasies of witnessing acts of violence against people with whom he disagrees.

  14. anjin-san says:


    Maybe I am just fed up with smear attacks on combat vets, as well as real acts of violence against innocents in Iraq. Oh yes, and the people who cheer them on while hiding behind a computer.

  15. Bithead says:

    On Murtha: It is impossible for any one to be wrong all the time, no matter how hard they try.


    But similarly, it’s a fool that continuously bets on a horse with no wins to his record, in the hopes of pulling out the longshot.

  16. Bithead says:

    It would be fun to see Bit call this decorated combat vet a liar to his face and proceed to get bitch-slapped.

    I’d call the idiot a liar to his face, every single time.

    Tell us, Anji… how many times have we seen Murtha beatiung the ‘war crimes’ drum, falsely?

  17. anjin-san says:


    Still wating for proof Murtha is a liar… waiting… waiting…

  18. McGehee says:

    …and the people who cheer them on while hiding behind a computer.

    Bithead has a blog from which he can be contacted. I use my real name. The only person hiding behind a computer in this conversation is you.

  19. Andrew Milner says:

    Is that sound of the fan being impacted? No wonder you guys are in denial. You just have no firm place to stand. The government lie through their teeth, the media disseminate the lies and propaganda. The police are most definitely not your friend. When you finally wake up to these obvious truths, you’ll wonder why it took so long for that coffee smell to penetrate your collective consciousness. Nice neutral Buddhist country anyone?
    P.S. Thanks for the spell check facility.

  20. Bithead says:


    So, he hasn’t been claiming war crimes repeatedly, and been proven wrong on all but one count, so far?

    (And by the way, the most recent edition, the jurys not back yet on?)

  21. Bithead says:

    “I am absolutely convinced that we are making no progress at all.”

    That’s dishonest John Murtha, on MEET THE PRESS, as regards Iraq.

    No progress at all? Iraq has voted repeatedly, has produced a constitution, Sunnis are being drawn into the political process. They ahve a permanant government. The Iraqi Army has many batallions that have already taken the lead role in security operations.

    So, here Anjisan, you have a choice. Murtha is either an idiot, or a liar. Which will you have?

  22. Bithead says:

    A few more points from Murtha�s MEET THE PRESS interview.
    Remember now, this was at the beginning of March.

    He claimed Iraq has a sixty percent unemployment rate.
    Of course it’s another lie, it�s closer to 18%-20%. Murtha claimed only 30% of people are getting fresh water. That’s a lie on it’s face, else we’d have a lot more dead Iraqis. And had the good Senator bothered to check the facts as supplied by USAID, he’d have found USAID restored water treatment to 4 million urban Iraqis and sewage treatment to 4.4 million.

    Now, Anji, repeat after me:
    “Thank you sir, may I have another?”

    I can keep this up all night, if you’d like… and these are examples from only one… count ’em… ONE interview.

    Face it, Anji; Murtha’s a demonstrated liar several times over.