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U.S. devalues Iraqi lives: Not as important as American lives - U.S. commanders say

Posted By Ahmed Abdullah

On November 19, 2005, more than 24 unarmed Iraqi civilians were shot dead by U.S. occupation forces in the western Iraqi city of Haditha. The massacre, denounced by some U.S. politicians as worse than the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal, shattered the U.S. image abroad and triggered worldwide condemnation, but the findings of the army’s investigation into the killings were more shocking. 

Maj. Gen. Eldon A. Bargewell who investigated the horrific crime submitted his report in 2006, but it wasn’t made public until yesterday. In it, the general concluded that the U.S. Marines Corps in Iraq “fostered a climate that devalued the lives of innocent Iraqi civilians” to the point that American troops considered their deaths insignificant.

The report, obtained by the Washington Post, also found that U.S. commanders ignored “obvious” signs of “serious misconduct” in the killings, indicting the whole chain of command, from the general in charge to the marines who murdered the 24 men, women and children in Haditha. 

"All levels of command tended to view civilian casualties, even in significant numbers, as routine and as the natural and intended result of insurgent tactics," the Post quoted Gen Bargwell as saying. 

Moreover, the report said statements taken from those involved suggested the marines thought "Iraqi civilian lives are not as important as U.S. lives, their deaths are just the cost of doing business, and that the marines need to get 'the job done' no matter what it takes". 

The U.S. army initially claimed that some civilians died in a roadside bomb that killed one marine in Haditha, and that the rest of the victims were killed in an exchange of fire that followed the initial explosion. 

But witnesses said the Americans went on a rampage, asserting that there were no clashes between fighters and U.S. soldiers, and that the bullets were only fired from the marines to retaliate for the death of their comrade. 

A local journalist also took video footage showing men, women and children shot in their homes. Local residents also said some of the victims were shot dead in their car as they approached the scene. 

The U.S. army later confirmed that 24 Iraqi civilians had died, none of them killed by a roadside bomb. 

Gen Bargewell’s report doesn’t focus on the specifics of the killings, which are the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation, rather it tackles the command structure and investigation procedure. 

According to the report, the officers involved tried to protect themselves and their troops by deliberately ignoring reports of civilian deaths. The marines hadn’t identified targets properly, there was no interest in investigating reports of a massacre, and all the signs indicating that the incident was significant were ignored. 

A separate investigation into whether the marines tried to cover up the Haditha killings concluded that top military commanders failed to follow up on “red flags” that should’ve indicated inaccuracies in early accounts of the deaths. It also questioned why top military leaders in western Iraq failed to further investigate what happened in Haditha when they learned that civilians have been killed, confirming Gen Bargewell’s findings that U.S. troops considered the deaths of Iraqi civilians insignificant. 

Despite the shocking findings, the U.S. Marine Corps dropped all charges against one of eight marines accused in the Haditha massacre in exchange for his testimony. Three other marines remain charged with murder and four with dereliction of duty for failing to report and investigate the shootings. 

A military judge has yet to decide if there is enough evidence against the seven accused marines to convene a court martial. If found guilty, the three marines charged with murder could face life imprisonment. 

Detaining these marines will not bring the dead Iraqi civilians to life. But it might make foreign troops value the lives of civilians. It could also help in the investigations into many other cases in which U.S. occupation forces have been accused of unlawfully killing innocent Iraqis.

 

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