The 2008 Iraq Winter Soldier hearings took place in a news blackout. Last year, WikiLeaks showed us a U.S. Army video of Iraqi civilians (including children and two journalists) being gunned down by an attack helicopter, but there was little media attention.
Now, the New York Times has uncovered classified documents about the 2005 massacre of civilian noncombatants in Hadita, Iraq by U.S. Marines. Some 24 people were killed, including a 76-year-old man in a wheelchair, women and children, some just toddlers.
The 400 pages of interrogations, once closely guarded as secrets of war, were supposed to have been destroyed as the last American troops prepare to leave Iraq. Instead, they were discovered along with reams of other classified documents, including military maps showing helicopter routes and radar capabilities, by a reporter for The New York Times at a junkyard outside Baghdad. An attendant was burning them as fuel to cook a dinner of smoked carp.
The biggest “secret” of U.S. war crimes in Iraq, of course, is really not a secret to anyone who wants to know. At the height of combat against insurgents, atrocities against civilians took place nearly every day. For American commanders, reports of incidents in which innocent noncombatants were killed became routine– “just a cost of doing business,” in the words of one officer.
The same “secret” is hiding in plain sight in Afghanistan. Former commanding general Stanley McChrystal: “We’ve shot an amazing number of people and killed a number and, to my knowledge, none has proven to have been a real threat to the force.”
When the initial reports arrived saying more than 20 civilians had been killed in Haditha, the Marines receiving them said they were not surprised by the high civilian death toll.
Chief Warrant Officer K. R. Norwood, who received reports from the field on the day of the killings and briefed commanders on them, testified that 20 dead civilians was not unusual.
“I meant, it wasn’t remarkable, based off of the area I wouldn’t say remarkable, sir,” Mr. Norwood said. “And that is just my definition. Not that I think one life is not remarkable, it’s just —”
An investigator asked the officer: “I mean remarkable or noteworthy in terms of something that would have caught your attention where you would have immediately said, ‘Got to have more information on that. That is a lot of casualties.’ ”
“Not at the time, sir,” the officer testified.
General Johnson, the commander of American forces in Anbar Province, said he did not feel compelled to go back and examine the events because they were part of a continuing pattern of civilian deaths.
“It happened all the time, not necessarily in MNF-West all the time, but throughout the whole country,” General Johnson testified, using a military abbreviation for allied forces in western Iraq.
“So, you know, maybe — I guess maybe if I was sitting here at Quantico and heard that 15 civilians were killed I would have been surprised and shocked and gone — done more to look into it,” he testified, referring to Marine Corps Base Quantico in Virginia. “But at that point in time, I felt that was — had been, for whatever reason, part of that engagement and felt that it was just a cost of doing business on that particular engagement.”
Related One Utah post:
How Much Do We Want to See? (January 9, 2007)