War Crimes in Iraq: Haditha and Abu Ghraib

Senior news analyst Daniel Schorr comments on the action of some U.S. Troops at Haditha, where 24 civilians were killed, and Abu Ghraib, where the only officer charged was reprimanded last week.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

Michael Gordon has witnessed and written about the valor of America's troops in Iraq. But two very dark episodes have sullied the reputation of the U.S. Military there.

NPR's senior news analyst Daniel Schorr offers these reflections.

DANIEL SCHORR: Haditha, Abu Ghraib, the very words make one wince. They are the titles of two shameful episodes in the history of American war making.

In the Iraqi town of Haditha in 2005, four marine infantrymen killed 24 Iraqi civilians including women and children in a rampage through their homes. The Marines were apparently avenging the killing of a comrade.

There were many expressions of outrage in this country right up to the Pentagon. Secretary Donald Rumsfeld promised a thorough investigation and punishment, but only now is the Haditha investigation nearing its close.

A hearing is currently under way at Marine headquarters in Camp Pendleton, California to determine whether Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich, the alleged ringleader of the marauding Marines should face a court marshal. This from an editorial in the New York Times: One court marshal after another asks, what is war? In other words, is war a defense against war crimes?

And there is still the matter of Abu Ghraib. Three years ago, CBS' "60 Minutes" and the New Yorker's Seymour Hersh exposed the abuse, sexual assault and torture of terrorist suspects under American control at Abu Ghraib prison and elsewhere.

Then too, Rumsfeld was quick to promise a crackdown that would spare no one. But Lieutenant Colonel Steven Jordan was the only officer charged and he was merely reprimanded. It is interesting to note that the court marshal convicted Colonel Jordan not for what happened at Abu Ghraib, but for disobeying an order to keep quiet about it.

This is not the first time or the last, I'm afraid, that disclosing a crime is deemed greater than the crime itself. Someday, Americans will look back at this decade, at Haditha and Abu Ghraib and they'll ask, was that us?

This is Daniel Schorr.

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