May 31, 2006
On May 27,
President George W. Bush delivered a speech at the graduation ceremonies
of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York. He spoke about
the military actions that U.S. forces are currently conducting in
the Middle East and elsewhere. Drawing an analogy between the Cold
War and "the long war with Islamic radicalism" that, he promised
the cadets, "will be the focus of much of your military careers,"
the president used the occasion to review the actions he and his
subordinates have taken during the past five years and to vow that
"we will not rest until the promise of liberty reaches every people
and every nation."
As the president
was speaking, newspapers around the world were reporting on an investigation
of the massacre of at least two dozen Iraqi civilians by U.S. Marines
in Haditha on November 19, 2005. The killings had been falsely reported
initially by the men involved, and, as the Washington Post
reported, only "after Time magazine presented military officials
in Baghdad this year with the findings of its own investigation,
based on accounts of survivors and on a videotape shot by an Iraqi
journalism student at Haditha's hospital and inside victims' houses"
did the U.S. military launch its own investigation, which is still
speech employed, as such speeches usually do, an abstract, high-flown
rhetoric intended to stir the listeners' patriotic juices and to
place U.S. actions in the purest possible light. The reports of
the massacre at Haditha, however, shine a different light on the
war. To illustrate the differences between the two views of the
war, presented to the public on the same day, I have compiled a
few verbatim quotations, as follows. Inasmuch as these passages
speak for themselves, I make no attempt to state my own views until
I come to the final paragraphs of this article.
In this new war, we have set a clear doctrine. After the attacks
of September the 11th, I told a joint session of Congress: America
makes no distinction between the terrorists and the countries that
harbor them. If you harbor a terrorist, you are just as guilty as
the terrorists and you're an anemy of the United States of America.
(Applause.) In the months that followed, I also made clear the principles
that will guide us in this new war: America will not wait to be
attacked again. We will confront threats before they fully materialize.
We will stay on the offensive against the terrorists, fighting them
abroad so we do not have to face them here at home. (Applause.)
Times: Photographs taken by American military intelligence
have provided crucial evidence that up to 24 Iraqis were massacred
by marines in Haditha, an insurgent stronghold on the banks of the
Euphrates. One portrays an Iraqi mother and young child, kneeling
on the floor, as if in prayer. They have been shot dead at close
range. The pictures show other victims, shot execution-style in
the head and chest in their homes. An American government official
said they revealed that the marines involved had "suffered a total
breakdown in morality and leadership."
[H]istory has once again called America to great responsibilities,
and we're answering history's call with confidence.
Times: Up to a dozen marines may face criminal charges including
murder, which carries the death penalty, dereliction of duty and
filing a false report. Three marine commanders were suspended last
In this new war, we have helped transform old adversaries into democratic
Post: The remains of the 24 lie today in a cemetery called
Martyrs' Graveyard. Stray dogs scrounge in the deserted homes. "Democracy
assassinated the family that was here," graffiti on one of the houses
Decades of excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the
Middle East did nothing to make us safe. (Applause.) So long as
the Middle East remains a place where freedom does not flourish,
it will remain a place where terrorists foment resentment and threaten
Post: The insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq said it sent
copies of the journalism student's videotape to mosques in Syria,
Jordan and Saudi Arabia, using the killings of the women and children
to recruit fighters.
So we are pursuing a forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East.
I believe the desire for liberty is universal – and by standing
with democratic reformers across a troubled region, we will extend
freedom to millions who have not known it – and lay the foundation
of peace for generations to come. (Applause.)
Times: It is clear the marines lied by blaming the deaths
of 15 civilians [as described in their report] on the roadside bomb
and alleging that a further eight Iraqis were insurgents who died
in a gun battle. Asked last week how many Iraqis were killed by
the roadside bomb, a Pentagon official said: "Zero." The marines
never came under hostile fire, a spokesman added. Investigators
have established that the killings unfolded over three to five hours.
"This was not a burst of fire, but a sustained operation," a Pentagon
We have seen jubilant Iraqis dancing in the streets, holding up
ink-stained fingers, celebrating their freedom.
Post: Aws Fahmi, a Haditha resident who said he watched
and listened from his home as Marines went from house to house killing
members of three families, recalled hearing his neighbor across
the street, Younis Salim Khafif, plead in English for his life and
the lives of his family members. "I heard Younis speaking to the
Americans, saying: 'I am a friend. I am good,'" Fahmi said. "But
they killed him, and his wife and daughters."
America will fight the terrorists on every battlefront, and we will
not rest until this threat to our country has been removed. (Applause.)
Post: It was the home of 76-year-old Abdul Hamid Hassan
Ali. . . . [He] had used a wheelchair since diabetes forced a leg
amputation years ago. . . . In the house with Ali and his 66-year-old
wife, Khamisa Tuma Ali, were three of the middle-aged male members
of their family, at least one daughter-in-law and four children – 4-year-old
Abdullah, 8-year-old Iman, 5-year-old Abdul Rahman and 2-month-old
Asia. Marines entered shooting, witnesses recalled. Most of the
shots – in Ali's house and two others – were fired at such
close range that they went through the bodies of the family members
and plowed into walls or the floor, physicians at Haditha's hospital
said. A daughter-in-law, identified as Hibbah, escaped with Asia,
survivors and neighbors said. Iman and Abdul Rahman were shot but
survived. Four-year-old Abdullah, Ali and the rest died. Ali took
nine rounds in the chest and abdomen, leaving his intestines spilling
out of the exit wounds in his back, according to his death certificate.
Our strategy to protect America is based on a clear premise: The
security of our nation depends on the advance of liberty in other
Post: After Haditha leaders complained, the Marines paid
compensation put variously by townspeople at $1,500 or $2,500 for
each of the 15 men, women and children killed in the first two houses.
They refused to pay for the nine other men killed, insisting that
they were insurgents. Officials familiar with the investigation
said it is now believed that the nine were innocent victims. By
some accounts, a 25th person, the father of the four brothers killed
together, was also killed.
[O]ur enemies are dismissive of free peoples, claiming the men and
women who live in liberty are weak and lack the resolve to defend
our way of life... [O]ur enemies believe that the innocent can be
murdered to serve a political vision.
Post: In Haditha, families of those killed keep an ear cocked
to a foreign station, Radio Monte Carlo, waiting for any news of
a trial of the Marines. "They are waiting for the sentence – although
they are convinced that the sentence will be like one for someone
who killed a dog in the United States," said Waleed Mohammed, a
lawyer preparing a file for Iraqi courts and the United Nations,
if the U.S. trial disappoints. "Because Iraqis have become like
dogs in the eyes of Americans."
for the preceding statements are: "President
Delivers Commencement Address at the United States Military Academy
at West Point";
Sarah Baxter, Hala Jaber, and Ali Rifat, "Revealed:
how US marines massacred 24," The Sunday Times, May 28,
2006; and Ellen Knickmeyer, "In
Haditha, Memories of a Massacre: Iraqi Townspeople Describe Slaying
of 24 Civilians by Marines in Nov. 19 Incident," Washington
Post, May 27, 2006.
merest child knows how the investigation and the prosecution of
those charged with these killings will proceed, sparing all senior
officers and punishing only the grunts who pulled the triggers,
and how the massacre at Haditha on November 19, 2005, will be represented
by every U.S. official and by the American media in general – as
a uniquely wicked but wholly aberrant occurrence. In its essence,
however, it was neither unique nor aberrant. Anyone who has bothered
to follow the reports of the war, especially in the foreign press,
knows that wanton murders have occurred repeatedly, often from the
air, owing in part to the use of high-explosive bombs and rockets
in densely populated areas, but often at checkpoints and in connection
with patrols, especially after roadside bombs have exploded near
U.S. forces or other hostile action has triggered their indiscriminate
attacks on the people at hand. Of the countless reported episodes
of this kind, some are discussed in detail in my book Resurgence
of the Warfare State: The Crisis since 9/11 (Oakland, Calif.:
The Independent Institute, 2005), Part VII, "Slaughtering the Innocent,"
a more fundamental sense, however, every person the U.S. forces
have killed in Iraq is the victim of a murder, because the U.S.
forces had no just grounds for invading and occupying the country
in the first place – this war is a textbook case of unprovoked
aggression – and the Iraqis and their friends have a just right
of self-defense against these violent foreign invaders.