More testimony on the Haditha massacre and discussion of a soldiers duty to the dead
The New York Times has an excellent article today (May 31, 2007) describing testimony regarding eight American soldiers from 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines accused of unlawfully killing 24 Iraqi civilians in Haditha, Iraq on November 19, 2005. It isn’t entirely clear from the news articles but I surmise that these were Article 32 proceedings.
The article, 2 Marines Deny Suspecting Haditha War Crime, by Paul Von Zielbaur, details testimony by two First Lieutenants which was just made public. The recently released testimony is from First Lt. Alexander Martin and First Lt. Max D. Frank.
Lt. Martin testified that the killings in Haditha had made the civilian population more cooperative:
After 19 November, I had people coming up to me to tell me where the I.E.D.’s [land mines] were.
Lt. Frank testified about the activities of the detail which policed the scene. According to the Times report:
Lieutenant Frank told a Marine prosecutor that each of the eight bodies he found on the bed had “multiple holes” in it, and that one child’s head was missing. But Lieutenant Frank repeatedly said in his testimony that he had never considered the possibility that a war-crime violation had occurred, the legal threshold under Marine Corps regulations that compels an episode to be reported to a superior officer…
The marines had only four or five body bags at the base and used them to collect the largest of the dead civilians, said Lieutenant Frank. The children’s remains were placed in trash bags, he said. When the marines’ four-Humvee convoy carrying the bodies arrived at a local hospital morgue that evening, Iraqi workers reacted in horror and some vomited at the sight, he testified.
An investigation of the killings by U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Eldon Bargewell in 2006 found, “Statements made by the chain of command during interviews for this investigation, taken as a whole, suggest that 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. These comments had the potential to desensitize the Marines to concern for the Iraqi populace and portray them all as the enemy even if they are noncombatants… The lessons for staff procedures and reporting are basic, but the case study will illustrate how simple failures can lead to disastrous results,” according to the Washington Post.
An interesting and comprehensive article from the July 1996 Army Lawyer examined the question of what obligations US troops have toward the dead, whether or not collected on the field of battle. The publication is citable as Army pamphlet 27-50-284:
The Third Priority: The Battlefield Dead
Lieutenant Colonel H. Wayne Elliott,
Judge Advocate General’s Corps, United Stares Army (Retired)
…The general obligation to the wounded is that
they be promptly treated without regard to their nationality. This
article examines the narrower issue of the duty a belligerent owes
to those who are beyond treatment-the dead. What obligations
exist regarding the dead? Must they be buried? If so, under
what conditions? Are the dead to be protected? If so, from what?
What of the property of the dead? What criminal sanctions apply
to maltreatment of the dead and their property? …
Article 15 expands the duty set out in the 1929 Geneva Convention.
The obligation under the 1949 Geneva Convention applies
“at all times” and is imposed on all parties, not just the force
left in control of the battlefield. …
The official Red Cross Commentary to the Convention,
which provides explanation and interpretation of the
treaty, describes the obligation to search for and protect the wounded
and dead as a “bounden duty, which must be fulfilled as soon as
circumstances permit.” However, this seems to be a slight overstatement
as the actual obligation to the dead is different from
that to the wounded. The obligation regarding the dead is to search
for them and to “prevent their being despoiled.” The requirement
is to collect the wounded and sick, but only to search for the dead.
Again, however, the Red Cross Commentary expands the obligation:
The dead must also be looked for and brought
back behind the lines with as much care as the
wounded. It is not always certain that death
has taken place. It is, moreover, essential that
the dead bodies should be identified and given
a decent burial. When a man has been hit with
such violence that there is nothing left of him
but scattered remains, these must be carefully
In October 1967, General Westmoreland, United
States Commander in Vietnam, described the practice of cutting
ears and fingers off the dead as “subhuman” and “contrary to all
policy and below the minimum standards of human decency.”
In the primary army manual on the law of war during the Vietnam
War, which still applies today, the “maltreatment of dead bodies”
is described as an act “representative of violations of the law of
war (war crimes)”…
Where the corpse is actually mutilated, the accused, if charged
under the UCMJ, might be charged only with “conduct prejudicial
to good order and discipline” (Article 134, UCMJ) or with a
violation of any standing orders against such conduct (Article 92,
UCMJ). Either of these two charges seems less than appropriate
given the severity, and depravity, of the offense. Therefore, in the
opinion of this author, one who mutilates a corpse should be
charged, and again would be more appropriately charged, with a
direct violation of the law of war. The United States policy of
charging United States soldiers with violating the UCMJ rather
than the law of war simply stands in the way of appropriate punishment
where mutilation of a corpse is alleged.
War leads to death and destruction. Those who give their
lives in warfare deserve respect, even from their adversaries on
the battlefield. The law and human decency permit no less. The
inscription on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington
Cemetery provides the raison d’etre for protecting and honorably
treating the dead: “Here Rests in Honored Glory an American
Soldier, Known But to God.”
So we must pose the question: Would collecting the bodies and dismembered body parts of the children in garbage bags and delivering them in this condition to an Iraqi hospital constitute appropriate treatment of the dead under the laws of war? To say nothing of course of blowing the children and their mother to bits with grenades and M4’s or M16’s as they cowered in their bedroom in the first place.
Deaths & injuries in the massacre
House #1 — 7 killed, 2 injured (but survived), 2 escaped
1. Abdul Hamid Hassan Ali, 76 — grandfather, father and husband. Died with nine rounds in the chest and abdomen.
2. Khamisa Tuma Ali, 66 — wife of Abdul Hamid Hassan Ali
3. Rashid Abdul Hamid, 30.
4. Walid Abdul Hamid Hassan, 35.
5. Jahid Abdul Hamid Hassan, middle-aged man.
6. Asma Salman Rasif, 32.
7. Abdullah Walid, 4.
Injured: Iman, 8, and Abdul Rahman, 5.
Escaped: Daughter-in-law, Hibbah, escaped with 2-month-old Asia
House #2 — 8 killed, 1 survivor: Shot at close range and attacked with grenades
8. Younis Salim Khafif, 43 — husband of Aeda Yasin Ahmed, father.
9. Aeda Yasin Ahmed, 41 — wife of Younis Salim Khafif, killed trying to shield her youngest daughter Aisha.
10. Muhammad Younis Salim, 8 — son.
11. Noor Younis Salim, 14 — daughter.
12. Sabaa Younis Salim, 10 — daughter.
13. Zainab Younis Salim, 5 — daughter.
14. Aisha Younis Salim, 3 — daughter.
15. A 1-year-old girl staying with the family.
Survived: Safa Younis Salim, 13.
House #3 — 4 brothers killed
16. Jamal Ahmed, 41.
17. Marwan Ahmed, 28.
18. Qahtan Ahmed, 24.
19. Chasib Ahmed, 27.
Taxi — 5 killed: Passengers were students at the Technical Institute in Saqlawiyah
20. Ahmed Khidher, taxi driver.
21. Akram Hamid Flayeh.
22. Khalid Ayada al-Zawi.
23. Wajdi Ayada al-Zawi.
24. Mohammed Battal Mahmoud.
Copyright © 2007 Henry Edward Hardy
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