The media feeding frenzy around what has been
referred to as "Iraq's My Lai" has become frenetic. Focus on U.S. Marines slaughtering
at least 20 civilians in Haditha last November is reminiscent of the media spasm
around the "scandal" of Abu Ghraib during April and May 2004.
Yet just like Abu Ghraib, while the media spotlight shines squarely on the
Haditha massacre, countless atrocities continue daily, conveniently out of the
awareness of the general public. Torture did not stop simply because the media
finally decided, albeit in horribly belated fashion, to cover the story, and
the daily slaughter of Iraqi civilians by U.S. forces and U.S.-backed Iraqi
"security" forces had not stopped either.
Earlier this month, I received a news release from Iraq, which read,
"On Saturday, May 13th, 2006, at 10:00 p.m., U.S. Forces accompanied by
the Iraqi National Guard attacked the houses of Iraqi people in the al-Latifya
district south of Baghdad by an intensive helicopter shelling. This led the
families to flee to the al-Mazar and water canals to protect themselves from
the fierce shelling. Then seven helicopters landed to pursue the families who
fled … and killed them. The number of victims amounted to more than 25 martyrs.
U.S. forces detained another six persons, including two women named Israa Ahmed
Hasan and Widad Ahmed Hasan, and a child named Huda Hitham Mohammed Hasan, whose
father was killed during the shelling."
The report from the Iraqi NGO called the Monitoring Net of Human Rights in
Iraq (MHRI) continued,
"The forces didn't stop at this limit. They held an attack on May 15th,
2006, supported also by the Iraqi National Guards. They also attacked the families'
houses, and arrested a number of them while others fled. U.S. snipers then used
the homes to target more Iraqis. The reason for this crime was due to the downing
of a helicopter in an area close to where the forces held their attack."
The U.S. military preferred to report the incident as an offensive where they
killed 41 "insurgents," a line effectively parroted by much of the media.
On that same day, MHRI also reported that in the Yarmouk district of Baghdad,
U.S. forces raided the home of Essam Fitian al-Rawi. Al-Rawi was killed along
with his son Ahmed; then the soldiers reportedly removed the two bodies, along
with al-Rawi's nephew, who was detained.
Similarly, in the city of Samara on May 5, MHRI reported,
"American soldiers entered the house of Mr. Zidan Khalif al-Heed after an
attack upon American soldiers was launched nearby the house. American soldiers
entered this home and killed the family, including the father, mother and daughter
who is in the 6th grade, along with their son, who was suffering from mental
and physical disabilities."
This same group, MHRI, also estimated that between 4,000 and 6,000 Iraqi civilians
were killed during the November 2004 U.S. assault on Fallujah, numbers that
make those from the Haditha massacre pale in comparison.
Instead of reporting incidents such as these, mainstream outlets are referring
to the Haditha slaughter as one of a few cases that "present the most serious
challenge to U.S. handling of the Iraq war since the Abu Ghraib prison scandal."
Marc Garlasco, of Human Rights Watch, told reporters recently, "What happened
at Haditha appears to be outright murder. The Haditha massacre will go down
as Iraq's My Lai."
Then there is the daily reality of sectarian and ethnic cleansing in Iraq,
which is being carried out by U.S.-backed Iraqi "security" forces. A recent
example of this was provided by a representative of the Voice of Freedom Association
for Human Rights, another Iraqi NGO that logs ongoing atrocities resulting from
the U.S. occupation.
"The representative … visited Fursan Village (Bani Zaid) with the Iraqi
Red Crescent al-Madayin Branch. The village of 60 houses, inhabited by Sunni
families, was attacked on February 27, 2006, by groups of men wearing black
clothes and driving cars from the Ministry of Interior. Most of the villagers
escaped, but eight were caught and immediately executed. One of them was the
Imam of the village mosque, Abu Aisha, and another was a 10-year-old boy, Adnan
Madab. They were executed inside the room where they were hiding. Many animals
(sheep, cows, and dogs) were shot by the armed men also. The village mosque
and most of the houses were destroyed and burnt."
The representative had obtained the information when four men who had fled
the scene of the massacre returned to provide the details. The other survivors
had all left to seek refuge in Baghdad. "The survivors who returned to give
the details guided the representative and the Red Crescent personnel to where
the bodies had been buried. They [the bodies] were of men, women and one of
the village babies."
The director of MHRI, Muhammad T. al-Deraji, said of this incident, "This situation
is a simple part of a larger problem that is orchestrated by the government
… the delay in protecting more villagers from this will only increase the number
Arun Gupta, an investigative journalist and editor with the New York Indypendent
newspaper of the New York Independent Media Center, has written extensively
about U.S.-backed militias and death squads in Iraq. He is also the former editor
at the Guardian weekly in New York and writes frequently for Z Magazine
and Left Turn.
"The fact is, while I think the militias have, to a degree, spiraled out of
U.S. control, it's the U.S. who trains, arms, funds, and supplies all the police
and military forces, and gives them critical logistical support," he told me
this week. "For instance, there were reports at the beginning of the year that
a U.S. Army unit caught a 'death squad' operating inside the Iraqi Highway Patrol.
There were the usual claims that the U.S. has nothing to do with them. It's
all a big lie. The American reporters are lazy. If they did just a little digging,
there is loads of material out there showing how the U.S. set up the highway
patrol, established a special training academy just for them, equipped them,
armed them, built all their bases, etc. It's all in government documents, so
it's irrefutable. But then they tell the media we have nothing to do with them
and they don't even fact check it. In any case, I think the story is significant
only insofar as it shows how the U.S. tries to cover up its involvement."
Once again, like Abu Ghraib, a few U.S. soldiers are being investigated about
what occurred in Haditha. The "few bad apples" scenario is being repeated in
order to obscure the fact that Iraqis are being slaughtered every single day.
The "shoot first, ask questions later" policy, which has been in effect from
nearly the beginning in Iraq, creates trigger-happy American soldiers and U.S.-backed
Iraqi death squads who have no respect for the lives of the Iraqi people. Yet,
rather than high-ranking members of the Bush administration who give the orders,
including Bush himself, being tried for the war crimes they are most certainly
guilty of, we have the ceremonial "public hanging" of a few lowly soldiers for
their crimes committed on the ground.
In an interview with CNN on May 29 concerning the Haditha massacre, Chairman
of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Peter Pace commented, "It's going to be a
couple more weeks before those investigations are complete, and we should not
prejudge the outcome. But we should, in fact, as leaders take on the responsibility
to get out and talk to our troops and make sure that they understand that what
99.9 percent of them are doing, which is fighting with honor and courage, is
exactly what we expect of them."
This is the same Peter Pace who when asked how things were going in Iraq by
Tim Russert on Meet the Press this past March 5 said, "I'd say they're
going well. I wouldn't put a great big smiley face on it, but I would say they're
going very, very well from everything you look at…."
Things are not "going very, very well" in Iraq. There have been countless My
Lai massacres, and we cannot blame 0.1 percent of the soldiers on the ground
in Iraq for killing as many as a quarter of a million Iraqis, when the policies
of the Bush administration generated the failed occupation to begin with.