Haditha Incident Will Add to Calls for Withdrawal
DANIEL SCHORR reporting:
At the West Point commencement on Saturday, President Bush said that each loss is heartbreaking.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
NPR senior news analyst Daniel Schorr.
SCHORR: In that context, Mr. Bush was talking about the 34 academy graduates killed in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last four years, not to the dozens of Iraqi civilians apparently killed in their homes by U.S. Marines last November 19.
The massacre was first reported by Time magazine in March and since then the grisly details have begun to emerge, mainly from survivors. It seems clear now that in Haditha, north of Baghdad, a Marine Lance Corporal was killed by a roadside bomb. And his enraged buddies swept through three nearby houses shooting point blank at residents, men, women, children, old, young. It didn't seem to matter.
Only when he came home to Hanford, California, did Lance Corporal Roel Briones tell the Los Angeles Times of feeling tormented. He didn't take part in the killings, he said, but he did take pictures of the carnage and he helped to carry bodies out of their homes.
At his joint news conference with British Prime Minister Tony Blair last Thursday, President Bush listed as America's biggest mistake the Abu Ghraib scandal, in which prisoners were photographed while being tormented. We've been paying for that for a long time, he said. The president didn't mention the Haditha massacre, which has been under investigation for months.
Although on a much smaller scale, Haditha brings back My Lai, 1968, the massacre of hundreds of Vietnamese villagers which came to symbolize American disregard for human life. In this case, the victims were citizens of a country whose sovereignty the United States has hailed. It is not likely, though, that any Marines will be turned over to the Iraqi justice ministry for trial.
There will undoubtedly be Congressional hearings. Senator John Warner, Chairman of the Armed Services Committee, says he plans to look into whether the military chain of command acted properly and legally, that is to say, whether there was a cover up. And undoubtedly Haditha will add to the pressures for withdrawal from Iraq from Americans, many of whom are already dubious about the assertion that their mission is liberation.
This is Daniel Schorr.