When the Marines came into the house they just started shooting, going from room to room, killing all where they found them. When they were done, they went on to the next house in the Iraqi village of Haditha, which they attacked with hand grenades, methodically executing everyone inside. When they were done, they had killed 24 people, including two babies, a 5-year-old, a mother who had recently had an appendectomy, and an elderly couple. An Iraqi child testified:
"I couldn’t see their faces very well only their guns sticking in to the doorway. I watched them shoot my grandfather, first in the chest and then in the head. Then they killed my granny."
“I know it was a bad thing what I’ve done, but I done it because I was angry TJ was dead and I pissed on one Iraqi’s head."
Americans have such a sense of drama. When they commit war crimes, they revel in it and rationalize it in the name of necessity. That’s what happened after Haditha, where the defense lawyers for the Haditha executioners stoutly maintained, along with their clients, that the defendants’ actions were defensive in nature, because they believed they were under fire and in danger. Company commander Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich to this day avers that he did the right thing, and that he would do it again.
The Haditha massacre occurred on Nov. 19, 2005. A few months later, after an outcry in the Iraqi and American media, murder charges were brought by the U.S. military against eight Marines. Today, all but Wuterich have either had their cases dismissed, mostly on technicalities, or, in one case, found not guilty. Wuterich’s trial date has been postponed. Yousef Aid Ahmed, the sole surviving brother of what used to be a large family, told the McClatchy News Service:
“We put our hopes in the law and in the courts, and one after another they are found innocent. This is an organized crime.”
Well, yes, it is organized crime: or, at least, that’s what they call it when the Mafia does it. However, when our government engages in such activities overseas, it’s called U.S. foreign policy. In spite of the "legal" façade being erected over the brutal reality of their execution, there is no justice for those who were murdered in Haditha, only imperial "justice," which is a rationale for murder. The two Marines who murdered Ahmed’s brothers were let off the hook in August 2007.
This is why they hate us, not only in Iraq but throughout the region. Listen to young Ahmed: “Right now I feel hatred that will not fade. It grows every day.”
There are thousands of young Ahmeds out there, all of whom hate our guts and will fight to the death against John McCain’s 100-year occupation. A thousand surges will not suffice to stem the endless tide of willing martyrs who will rise up to take the place of those who have fallen. Born in an act of hatred against the occupiers and fueled by a desire for vengeance, these myrmidons will spring up from the blood-soaked soil of Iraq in numbers sufficient to finally force us to reconsider our course. Perhaps then even McCain will realize that Iraq is not South Korea, nor is it postwar West Germany. Tens of thousands of Ahmeds will defeat us, in the end if we aren’t defeated by bankruptcy first.
“There is nothing that I can possibly say to make up or make well the deaths of those women and children," said Sgt. Wuterich, and while he is "absolutely sorry it happened that day,” he nonetheless insisted:
“What I did that day, the decision that I made, I would make those decisions again today. Those are decisions that I made in a combat situation, and I believe I had to make those decisions.”
As an occupier, Wuterich’s logic the logic of a paranoid killer makes perfect sense. After all, he is surrounded by a native population he must assume has hostile intent. When an IED killed one of his Marines, Wuterich and company shot everyone in the vicinity including five unarmed men who were getting out of a taxi. Wuterich claims that the Iraqis disobeyed orders to stop and raise their hands over their heads, but others on the scene testify that they were complying and were shot anyway. Yet, whatever happened, Wuterich’s working assumption that the five harbored hostile intent toward him and his men was and is undoubtedly correct. Because that’s what imperialism is all about: occupying countries where you’re hated by the locals, who are constantly trying to kill you. So naturally you get nervous and trigger-happy, and mistakes are made. That’s the sort of war we’re fighting and have to fight as long as we’re in Iraq.
The decision to attack the two houses was made because sniper fire was supposedly coming from them, and while the evidence for this is slim to nonexistent, again the logic of occupation requires an immediate response to any and all threats, both real and imagined. As Wuterich puts it:
“You can’t hesitate to make a decision. Hesitation equals being killed, either yourself or your men. That’s what we do. That’s how our training goes.”
When we thrust our soldiers into the role of occupiers, we are giving them a choice: commit war crimes, or die. Become a monster, or a corpse.
Our foreign policy of global interventionism has been working up to this point since the end of World War II. We were suddenly "blessed" by the acquisition of a whole host of far-flung overseas atolls and military redoubts, an empire of bases that enabled U.S. military might to reach any point on the globe. In the post-9/11 world, we are seemingly intent on consolidating this rather ethereal imperium, with no real borders, into something more solid and substantial, i.e., colonies such as post-"liberation" Iraq.
What we are discovering, however, is that conquering these new territories is much easier than holding on to them. An empire, we’re finding, is a costly conceit, far more so than we ever imagined. On the other hand, the benefits, such as they are, accrue only to a well-connected few. And we’re paying a moral price as well as one that can be calculated in terms of casualty counts and dollars and cents. Before we continue along the course of empire, we ought to wonder how many more Hadithas we want on our record and whether we want to condemn the U.S. military to such a tragic fate.