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Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Tomgram: The Real Meaning of Haditha

[Note to Tomdispatch readers: Make sure to check out the "sidebar" -- "Talking about Haditha Talking Points," including "Post-Haditha Math" and "Prejudgment at Haditha" -- at the bottom of this dispatch.]

Collateral Damage

The "Incident" at Haditha
By Tom Engelhardt

First news stories about the My Lai massacre (picked up from an army publicity release), March 1968: The New York Times labeled the operation a significant success: "American troops caught a North Vietnamese force in a pincer movement on the central coastal plain yesterday, killing 128 enemy soldiers in day-long fighting." United Press International called it an "impressive victory," and added a bit of patriotic color: "The Vietcong broke and ran for their hide-out tunnels. Six-and-a-half hours later, ‘Pink Village' had become ‘Red, White and Blue Village.'"

The New York Times, November 21, 2005: "The Marine Corps said Sunday that 15 Iraqi civilians and a Marine were killed Saturday when a roadside bomb exploded in Haditha, 140 miles northwest of Baghdad. The bombing on Saturday in Haditha, on the Euphrates in the Sunni-dominated province of Anbar, was aimed at a convoy of American Marines and Iraqi Army soldiers, said Capt. Jeffrey S. Pool, a Marine spokesman. After the explosion, gunmen opened fire on the convoy. At least eight insurgents were killed in the firefight, the captain said."

Knight Ridder, March 21, 2006: "Questions about the incident [at Ishaqi] focus on diverging U.S. military and Iraqi police accounts of the raid, which happened around 2:30 a.m. on March 15 on a house about 60 miles north of Baghdad. Both sides and neighbors agree that U.S. troops were involved in a firefight with a suspected member of al-Qaida in Iraq. But the U.S. account gave the death toll as four and said the house collapsed from the heavy fire it took during the fighting. The al-Qaida suspect was found alive in the rubble and arrested, the U.S report on the incident said. Iraqi police, however, contend that U.S. troops gathered 11 people in the house into a single room and executed them, before destroying the house as they left the area."

Charlie Company, which had suffered 28 casualties in its first months in the area without ever seeing the Vietnamese enemy, was bent on revenge when, on March 16, 1968, it entered the sub-hamlet of My Lai 4, known to the soldiers as "Pinkville," on the Battambang Peninsula in Quangnai Province. Looking for the reputed "headquarters" of the 48th Vietcong Battalion, they found only women, children, infants, and old men, none resistant, many finishing breakfast. Almost all were slaughtered, upwards of 500 human beings.

At Haditha, we know that, in the phrase of the soldier who first reported the My Lai massacre, "something rather dark and bloody" –- and, it seems, criminal -- happened. It started with Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, a "feral" unit, living in a "Lord of the Flies" encampment (as described by British journalist Oliver Poole who paid it a frightening visit), on its third tour of duty in Iraq. It had already been in some of the darkest, bloodiest, most feral fighting of the counterinsurgency war -- the destruction of much of the city of Fallujah in November 2004. After watching a company member die from a roadside bomb that November day a year later, some of the unit's soldiers evidently massacred 24 Iraqi civilians who happened to be living nearby in the town of 90,000 in the heartland of the Sunni insurgency. A My Lai-style cover-up followed.

Click here to read more of this dispatch.

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