Haditha: Reasonable Doubt
Posted by ssbg on June 10, 2006
Special from Hawaii Free Press
By Andrew Walden, 6/5/2006 “…the accused must be presumed to be innocent until his guilt is established by legal and competent evidence beyond reasonable doubt.” — Uniform Code of Military Justice, USC Title 10, Chapter 47, Subchapter VII, Article 51(c)(1) Eager to score points against President George W. Bush, US Representative John Murtha (D-PA) is calling the November 19 incident in Haditha “murder”. He claims there is a “cover up.” Over 40 news stories appeared Memorial Day weekend calling Haditha, “an atrocity” or “a massacre.” Murtha says, Haditha “is worse than abu-Ghraib.” Terrorist cheerleader and Cindy Sheehan associate Dahr Jamail is calling for the death penalty. The terror apologists of the Council on American Islamic Relations are calling for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to resign. Al-Qaeda terrorists from Zarqawi’s group, Ansar al-Sunnah are circulating leaflets in Haditha congratulating “those who participated in exposing the dirty deeds of the Americans.”
The liberal media is chiming in to make sure that Haditha is used to wear down support for our troops in Iraq—just as they did with abu-Ghraib. Peering through the media smokescreen few have noticed that all of the actual shooting eye-witnesses in the media’s kangaroo court are local Iraqis–witnesses who are under constant threat from terrorists and whose motivations may be suspect. All the US witnesses currently quoted in the media saw events before or after the alleged shootings—but not the shootings themselves.
Only now—two and a half months after the story broke in the March 19 issue of Time magazine– are the voices of soldiers who question the charges beginning to be heard. Marine Captain James Kimber commanded Lima Company of the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment. The troops involved in the incident were from Kilo Company. He tells interviewers that he first learned about the shootings in February when he heard that a Time magazine reporter was asking questions about civilian deaths. Notably, Kimber says he heard nothing about a civilian massacre during weekly meetings with the Haditha City Council and talks with local leaders. "It would have been huge, there would have been no question it would have filtered down to us," he said. "We reported no significant atmospheric change as a result of that day." Kimber who has been relieved of his command and is back in Camp Pendleton, CA says, “I believe I was a political casualty as a result of the Haditha incident.” Some media accounts indicate that some of the dead were relatives of a Haditha City Council member. The May 12, 2006 edition of Iraq Reconstruction Update carries a photo and short article about Marine officers holding weekly meetings with the Haditha City Council with no mention of the alleged shooting controversy.
According to the Associated Press, “Kimber, who was nominated for a Bronze Star for valor in Haditha, was relieved of command because his subordinates used profanity, removed sunglasses and criticized the performance of Iraqi security services during an interview with Britain's Sky News TV.” Kimber’s attorney is former Democrat congressional candidate Paul Hackett.
CNN reporter, Arwa Damon, writes:
“I know the Marines that were operating in western al Anbar, from Husayba all the way to Haditha. I went on countless operations in 2005 up and down the Euphrates River Valley. I was pinned on rooftops with them in Ubeydi for hours taking incoming fire, and I've seen them not fire a shot back because they did not have positive identification on a target. I saw their horror when they thought that they finally had identified their target, fired a tank round that went through a wall and into a house filled with civilians. They then rushed to help the wounded — remarkably no one was killed.
“I was with them in Husayba as they went house to house in an area where insurgents would booby-trap doors, or lie in wait behind closed doors with an AK-47, basically on suicide missions, just waiting for the Marines to come through and open fire. There were civilians in the city as well, and the Marines were always keenly aware of that fact. How they didn't fire at shadows, not knowing what was waiting in each house, I don't know. But they didn't….”
Martin Terrazas is the father of Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas, age 20 of El Paso, TX, who was the only US Marine killed in the incident. The elder Terrazas tells the Associated Press: “It is very hard for me, I don’t even listen to the news. The insurgents were hiding in there with the kids….” Miguel’s Uncle, Luis Terrazas says, “Jarheads don't just go out and kill because they get frustrated. Their training is exquisite. It just doesn't make sense."
Marine Second Lt. Ilario Pantano spoke out against Murtha’s rush to judgment in the Haditha case in a May 28 letter to the editor of the Washington Post. Wrote Pantano: “Members of the U.S. military serving in Iraq need more than Mr. Murtha's pseudo-sympathy. They need leaders to stand with them even in the hardest of times. Let the courts decide if these Marines are guilty. They haven't even been charged with a crime yet, so it is premature to presume their guilt — unless that presumption is tied to a political motive.” Pantano should know. He was falsely charged with two counts of murder in Iraq–only to see those charges collapse when he presented autopsy results in his defense at trial.
Who are the accusers? In the haze created by the media frenzy, it may seem that there are reports from eye witnesses to the actual shooting who are not Iraqi locals. This is not true.
One non-Iraqi account comes from Lance Cpl. James Crossan. Crossan was sitting next to Terrazas. Wounded in the IED explosion that killed Terrazas, Crossan was evacuated and did not see any of the action after the explosion– the events in question. After learning of the media accounts, Crossan tells local reporters, “I think they were just blinded by hate … and they just lost control," –but he has no first hand knowledge of the events after he was evacuated. This does not keep the media from splashing selectively quoted pieces of his speculation all over the airwaves anyway.
The only other non-Iraqi account comes from another of the Marines in Haditha that day, Lance Cpl. Roel Ryan Briones of Hanford, CA. In a May 29 Los Angeles Times article Briones describes his emotional trauma after participating in the removal of mangled bodies after the incident. Briones helped evacuate Lance Cpl. Crossan. Briones later returned to the scene as part of a crew dispatched to take the bodies to the morgue. He is also not a direct eyewitness to any of the killing. He claims to have photographed the aftermath of the incident but says he erased the photos from his digital camera. He believes the images had been first downloaded by superiors after the November 19 incident. Back home in Hanford, CA for 36 hours, Briones allegedly crashed a stolen pickup into a house. Briones is charged with auto theft, drunk-driving, resisting arrest and leaving the scene of an accident in the April 4 incident. He faces trial in mid-June. As of this writing, the military investigation is not complete and no charges related to Haditha have been brought against any US soldier. The actual eyewitnesses claiming to have seen the shooting as it happened are three Iraqis:
According to a May 27 Washington Post article, “only 13-year-old Safa Younis lived — saved, she said, by her mother's blood spilling onto her, making her look dead when she fell, limp, in a faint….Townspeople led a Washington Post reporter this week to the girl they identified as Safa. Wearing a ponytail and tracksuit, the girl said her mother died trying to gather the girls. The girl burst into tears after a few words. The older couple caring for her apologized and asked the reporter to leave.”
This account differs slightly from an ABC News report which shows a video of Safa Younis. She calmly says yes to leading questions from an off-camera interviewer describing Marines throwing a grenade into the bathroom of her home and killing the other seven members of her family. She responds with amazing composure for one who has witnessed the murder of her parents and siblings. She does not mention her mother’s blood spilling all over her. She says she is 12 years old. Is it staged testimony? This can only be discovered in an investigation or trial.
ITV news March 30 carries yet another interview—this time with a ten-year-old Iraqi girl named Iman Walid. Like Safa, Iman calmly describes the murder of seven members of her family by US Marines in Haditha on November 19. A third person, Aws Fahmi, claims to live next door to the house where the massacre allegedly occurred and also claims to be a friend of the men killed in the taxi. He claims to be an eyewitness.
Ali al-Mashhadani, an Iraqi journalist reporting on the Haditha incident was recently re-arrested by the Marines for suspected insurgent ties. He was held for 12 days. Al-Mashhadani had earlier been held for five months beginning August 8, 2005 and ending in January, 2006. According to Reuters, “Among Mashhadani's recent stories was reporting from the town of Haditha in March. Following Time magazine's revelation of accusations that U.S. Marines shot dead 24 civilians there in November, he filmed fresh interviews with local officials and residents that were widely used by international media.” According to the March 19 Time' article:
A day after the incident, a Haditha journalism student videotaped the scene at the local morgue and at the homes where the killings had occurred. The video was obtained by the Hammurabi Human Rights Group, which cooperates with the internationally respected Human Rights Watch, and has been shared with Time.
This video is the source of all the images being spread across the international media purporting to show the aftermath of the Haditha incident. The “internationally respected” Human Rights Watch (HRW) has been accused of anti-Israel bias and is funded by numerous left-wing foundations including George Soros’ Open Society Institute. HRW accuses US forces of “torture” in Iraq and Afghanistan which, in one report, it defines as, “interrogation techniques including hooding, stripping detainees naked, subjecting them to extremes of heat, cold, noise and light, and depriving them of sleep….” HRW advocates putting US soldiers under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court–a foreign-controlled judiciary.
A key point in dispute is whether the 24 who died in Haditha November 19 were gunned down, as Murtha says, “in cold blood” or were 15 civilians killed by the IED and nine hostiles then killed in a firefight as the Marines claim. The families refuse to allow an exhumation which could possibly answer this key question. According to the June 2 Washington Post, those exhumations may occur soon. The Post continues: “The delay already has presented many hurdles for investigators, who have had to rely on dated information, witnesses and suspects who had months to tailor their stories, and a lack of fairly routine forensic evidence that should have been collected at the time the civilians were killed….”
Without an exhumation all allegations that 15 of the dead were killed by gunfire rather than an IED explosion rely on the death certificates issued by the local Iraqi doctors at the Haditha hospital morgue where the bodies were taken by Briones and other Marines dispatched after the incident. These doctors live under constant threat from terrorist insurgents.
There may be evidence one way or the other from aerial battlefield surveillance and Marine radio traffic. This evidence is not yet available to the media.
There is a possibility that Iraqi eyewitness sources’ credibility may fall apart in the event of a trial. It has happened before in similar cases. The reasons are deep rooted in tribal culture.
A British case which speaks directly to the credibility of tribal witnesses and to the Islamic tribal tradition of “blood money” collapsed November 3, 2005. On trial were seven British soldiers charged with murder stemming from a May, 2003 incident in Ferkah, Iraq. All charges were dismissed after it became clear that the key witnesses were lying in order to gain “blood money”. The BBC describes the collapse of the trial as follows:
“…it has become clear to everyone involved as the trial has progressed that the main Iraqi witnesses had colluded to exaggerate and lie about the incident.”
Three women had admitted lying about being assaulted by British soldiers and one witness had told the court that Mr. Abdullah's family encouraged others to tell lies, Judge Blackett said.
Witnesses some distance from the scene “could not possibly have seen what they said they saw”, he added.
And Iraqi court witnesses had used the case to seek “compensation to what were patently exaggerated claims”, he said.
One witness at the court martial, Samira Rishek, a Marsh-Arab who had claimed to have been brutally beaten by the soldiers while she was pregnant, admitted to the court it was a “wicked lie".
The court heard that Mrs. Rishek, along with other witnesses, was paid $100 a day to give evidence at the trial and that she only agreed to give evidence after being told she would be paid.
BBC correspondent Paul Adams said there was an "underlying sense" that some of the witnesses were "out to try and get something for themselves".
A number of questions were going to be asked about why the trial had been mounted, he added.
Roger Brice, solicitor for defendant Pte Samuel May told BBC News there had never been a case to answer.
"What the judge has done today is stop the case when the prosecution have concluded… there was never a case for any of the defendants to answer.
“He summed up the fact that the evidence as it came out in these last two months has been one of acknowledged lies."
Why all the lies for a paltry $100 per day? It makes sense for a tribal person who believes that the blood money system is the way of the world. A February 2, 2004 BBC article explains the workings of the blood money system in a case involving only Iraqis:
On the side of a road in a ramshackle tent tribal elders have gathered for a court case, but it is not an ordinary law court, it's a tribal court. The case defies logic – one brother has killed another, but the tribe they belonged to is blaming a rival tribe for the killing.
Their argument is that if there had not been a feud with the other tribe, the killing would not have taken place; they are now demanding $20,000 in blood money….
At the tribal court, the discussion is heated, but not about guilt or innocence. Through a complex network of tribal support, both sides know where they stand, now it is just a matter of agreeing the money.
Eventually the price is knocked down to $4,000 and a woman, her value to be determined in later negotiations.
For many Iraqis it's a system that works, and in a violent region recompense appears much more practical than locking someone away.
The logic in the British case and possibly in Haditha is simple: If the coalition did not have a fight with the insurgents, the deaths would not have occurred. The deaths cause a loss in the resources of the tribe. The tribe cannot file a claim with Zarqawi–he might chop their heads off–therefore it is the coalition that owes blood money. In the eyes of tribal people such as Haditha residents, this debt is owed regardless of who actually killed the 24 people in Haditha or the circumstances of those deaths. The payment of blood money is not an admission of guilt; it is a balancing of tribal obligations.
What tribal Iraqis would understand as blood money has in fact already been paid by US military representatives in Haditha. According to the May 31 New York Times payments totaling $38,000 were made “within weeks of the shootings” to the families of 15 of the 24 dead. The Times continues:
In an interview Tuesday, Maj. Dana Hyatt, the officer who made the payments, said he was told by superiors to compensate the relatives of 15 victims, but was told that rest of those killed had been deemed to have committed hostile acts, leaving their families ineligible for compensation.
After the initial payments were made, however, those families demanded similar payments, insisting their relatives had not attacked the marines, Major Hyatt said….
The list of 15 victims deemed to be noncombatants was put together by intelligence personnel attached to the battalion, Major Hyatt said. Those victims were related to a Haditha city council member, he said. The American military sometimes pays compensation to relatives of civilian victims.
The relatives of each victim were paid a total of $2,500, the maximum allowed under Marine rules, along with $250 payments for two children who were wounded. Major Hyatt said he also compensated the families for damage to two houses.
"I didn't say we had made a mistake," Major Hyatt said, describing what he had told the city council member who was representing the victims. "I said I'm being told I can make payments for these 15 because they were deemed not to be involved in combat."
The description of compensation “within weeks” of November 19 places the payments in December. Time magazine says it was early January when they gave US military spokesman Col. Barry Johnson, a copy of a video of the Haditha aftermath. That would place the release of the video to Time just after the payment of compensation to the families of the 15 Haditha residents killed. Could the release of the video have been motivated by demands for blood money for the families of the other nine? The online encyclopedia Wikipedia describes blood money traditions throughout the Islamic world:
In Islamic and Arab traditions, blood money is the money paid by the killer or his family or clan to the family or the clan of the victim. It is unlawful for a believer to kill a believer except if it happens by accident. And he who kills a believer accidentally must free one Muslim slave and pay ‘Diyat’ to the heirs of the victim except if they forgive him. The tradition finds repeated endorsement in Islamic tradition; several instances are recorded in the Hadith, which are the acts of the Prophet Mohammad.
The Blood – Money tradition has found its way into legislation in several Islamic countries, including Saudi Arabia, Iran and Pakistan. Some of these countries also define, by lawful legislation, a hierarchy of (cash) rates for the lives of people….
Are lies being told to obtain blood money payments? Some insight comes in this response to the collapse of the British trial by Stephan Holland, a Baghdad-based US contractor.
I’ve been in Iraq for about 18 months now performing construction management. It is simply not possible for me to exaggerate the massive amounts of lies we wade through every single day. There is no way – absolutely none – to determine facts from bulls*** ….
It is not even considered lying to them; it is more akin to being clever – like keeping your cards close to your chest. And they don’t just lie to westerners. They believe that appearances–saving face–are of paramount importance. They lie to each other all the time about anything in order to leverage others on a deal or manipulate an outcome of some sort or cover up some major or minor embarrassment. It’s just how they do things, period.
I’m not trying to disparage them here. I get along great with a lot of them. But even among those that I like, if something happens (on the job) I’ll get 50 wildly different stories, every time. There’s no comparison to it in any other part of the world where I’ve worked. The lying is ubiquitous and constant.
The British Ministry of Defense spent the equivalent of about $18 million on the investigation and the trial which collapsed in November, 2005—29 months after the initial incident. The Haditha charges could also collapse, but not until the media and politicians have enjoyed months of free reign to slander US combat troops’ conduct in Iraq. This could be very demoralizing to US troops who may feel their combat operations will be dissected under a microscope by investigators who do not share their risk. If the British case is a model then the investigation will be followed by a trial which could drag out until early 2008. Investigators must to dig out the truth so the sacrifices made by our troops in Iraq are not swept away in a sea of lies.
© 2006 Hawaii Reporter, Inc.