“This one is ugly”

Rep. Murtha reports a massacre of Iraqi civilians by U.S. Marines last November in Anbar Province. The Marine Corps isn’t denying it.

You can say that again.

MS-NBC reports:

A Pentagon probe into the death of Iraqi civilians last November in the Iraqi city of Haditha will show that U.S. Marines “killed innocent civilians in cold blood,” a U.S. lawmaker said Wednesday.

From the beginning, Iraqis in the town of Haditha said U.S. Marines deliberately killed 15 unarmed Iraqi civilians, including seven women and three children.

One young Iraqi girl said the Marines killed six members of her family, including her parents. “The Americans came into the room where my father was praying,” she said, “and shot him.”

On Wednesday, Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., said the accounts are true.

Military officials told NBC News that the Marine Corps’ own evidence appears to show Murtha is right.

[snip]

On Nov. 20, U.S. Marines spokesman Capt. Jeffrey Pool issued a statement saying that on the previous day a roadside bomb had killed 15 civilians and a Marine. In a later gunbattle, U.S. and Iraqi troops killed eight insurgents, he said.

U.S. military officials later confirmed that the version of events was wrong.

Murtha, a vocal opponent of the war in Iraq, said at a news conference Wednesday that sources within the military have told him that an internal investigation will show that “there was no firefight, there was no IED (improvised explosive device) that killed these innocent people. Our troops overreacted because of the pressure on them, and they killed innocent civilians in cold blood.”

Military officials say Marine Corps photos taken immediately after the incident show many of the victims were shot at close range, in the head and chest, execution-style. One photo shows a mother and young child bent over on the floor as if in prayer, shot dead, said the officials, who spoke to NBC News on condition of anonymity because the investigation hasn’t been completed.

One military official says it appears the civilians were deliberately killed by the Marines, who were outraged at the death of their fellow Marine.

“This one is ugly,” one official told NBC News.

Three Marine officers — commanders in Haditha — have been relieved of duty, and at least 12 Marines in all are under investigation for what would be the worst single incident involving the deliberate killing of civilians by U.S. military in Iraq.

The Marine Corps issued a statement in response to Murtha’s remarks:

“There is an ongoing investigation; therefore, any comment at this time would be inappropriate and could undermine the investigatory and possible legal process. As soon as the facts are known and decisions on future actions are made, we will make that information available to the public to the fullest extent allowable.”

Note that last official quote: it’s a virtual confirmation.

Note also that Murtha’s call for more or less immediate withdrawal from Iraq doesn’t seem to have dried up his information sources inside the military. That suggests that he’s speaking for at least a significant chunk of senior-officer opinion.

The good news: It looks as if heads are going to roll, and at least some way up the chain of command. That’s a strong contrast with Abu Ghraib.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

15 thoughts on ““This one is ugly””

  1. The reason for the contrast with Abu Ghraib is that the torture and murders there are official Bush policy, whereas murdering non-detainees is not. Note that I didn't say that murdering innocent people is not, as most detainees in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo are innocent.

  2. "That suggests that he's speaking for at least a significant chunk of senior-officer opinion."
    When I was in the Army we hated Clinton, now people I know who are still in Wish Clinton was back. The hostility towards Bush in the Military is growing at an alarming rate.

  3. Credit where credit is due: the military seems to be handling this in the appropriate fashion.

  4. and Murtha does *not* appear to be handling this correctly.
    First of all, there is the question of morale impact on the troops, especially if the overall charge of killing of innocents turns out to be incorrect. Second, there is his over-the-top description of killings he says were done out of outrage as "in cold blood." People who act out of rage can never be said to be acting "in cold blood" which is generally defined as "a state of mind marked by premeditation and deliberateness." Isn't Murtha supposed to be on *our* side?

  5. It's ugly, and the reaction is ugly: the right-wing bloggers have unanimously reacted with a slime-and-defend effort at Murtha. (Russ is more civil than most of them, but the gist is similar.) People who can't summon any moral outrage at the crime itself are full of self-righteous fury at those who can. That much, at least, is exactly the same as Abu Ghraib.

  6. "supposed to be on 'our' side?"
    it is ever more obvious that a small group of "crazies" has hijacked our nation's enlightened principles and is now raising hell. i'm on the side of the principles, and justice, not the side of terrorists who are momentarily (I pray) holding US government jobs–who've commandeered our forces for their evil intentions…. I'm on Murtha's side, supporting his leadership of our troops…

  7. Murtha IS on our side. He's on the side of a proud, honorable, and decent America. If that's not your side too, you've got some hard thinking to do.

  8. What's sad is how pro-Marine folks will tend to react against media coverage and criticism, whereas (if the facts are true as reported) their rage ought to be directed against the killers. "How dare you soil our good name," etc.
    Hell, they should be volunteering for the firing squads (ha; when is the last time America executed a soldier for murdering foreign civilians?).

  9. Russ writes: "First of all, there is the question of morale impact on the troops, especially if the overall charge of killing of innocents turns out to be incorrect."
    The constant calls for people not to criticize the government or the military because of "troop morale" are beyond bizarre. Are the Marines a bunch of whiny little babies who are going to curl up and stop fighting if they don't like what some politician says about them? I don't think so, and I sure hope not.

  10. Russ also writes: "Second, there is his over-the-top description of killings he says were done out of outrage as 'in cold blood.'"
    First, being "outraged" about something doesn't prevent one from acting "in cold blood." I'm outraged over lots of things going on in this country, but if I decided to go kill people because of it, that would be pretty damn coldblooded of me.
    Second, what an odd notion to quibble over the legal accuracy of a few words in Jack Murtha's description, when the apparent crime is that U.S. Marines SHOT CHILDREN for revenge. Perspective, please.

  11. Ummm … Murtha said the "cold blood" part, but it's some unnamed "military official" who said the Marines were outraged.
    No inconsistency to explain away.

  12. “supposed to be on ‘our’ side?”
    it is ever more obvious that a small group of “crazies” has hijacked our nation’s enlightened principles and is now raising hell. i’m on the side of the principles, and justice, not the side of terrorists who are momentarily (I pray) holding US government jobs–who’ve commandeered our forces for their evil intentions…. I’m on Murtha’s side, supporting his leadership of our troops…

  13. That they can't comment during the investigation confirms that the parties being investigated are guilty?
    Are you sure that's a principle you would like to generalize?

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