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
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
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
"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
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.