Revolution #91, June 10, 2007

Defending a War Crime: A War Criminal in His Own Words

The Marine who led the Haditha massacre, Staff Sgt Frank Wuterich, was interviewed on the CBS show 60 Minutes in March of this year. What he said in his own words, in defense of his actions, is very chilling and revealing about the nature of the U.S. military.

Witnesses--including an Iraqi soldier working with the Americans--have said that immediately after a roadside bomb killed a Marine, U.S. soldiers ordered five men from a taxi and killed them on the spot. Wuterich said that when he spotted a car 100 yards away from the blast, he assumed that the five "military-age" Iraqi men inside were possibly insurgents, a potential and legitimate threat. "Iraqis know the drill," said Wuterich. "Get down, hands up, and completely cooperate." These men tried to run, said Wuterich, "so I shot at them." In the back. Wuterich acknowledges the men had no weapons and made no threatening moves. They simply ran.

Wuterich claimed he heard two or three "sporadic shots" from another direction and called in backup. He got the OK to approach a house. Did Wuterich hear gunfire from the house? "Specifically, no." Did Wuterich see the gunfire from the home? "I did not see muzzle flashes coming from the house." Wuterich simply assumed there could be insurgents inside and led a group of Marines to the house. According to various witnesses, the U.S. soldiers broke in, shouting, tossing grenades, and shooting people point-blank. Nine-year old Emaan Waleed, one of the few survivors, explained in a news video, "I heard explosions by the door. The Americans came into the room where my father was praying and shot him. They went to my grandmother and killed her too. I heard an explosion. They threw a grenade under my grandfather’s bed." Emaan was struck by shrapnel, and her nine-year old brother shot in the shoulder.

Wuterich denied knowingly killing civilians and said that he and his men simply "cleared the rooms the way they were supposed to be cleared." When the 60 Minutes interviewer expressed concern that Wuterich and his men had no idea who they were targeting, he answered: "Well that's what we do. That's how our training goes." He continued the assault, even though he knew women and children lay dead, leading his unit to attack other houses. He said on 60 Minutes, "My responsibility as a squad leader is to make sure that none of the rest of my guys die or got killed, at that point we were still on the assault."

Wuterich insisted what happened at Haditha was not a massacre, which he said "is a large group of people being executed, being killed for absolutely no reason”—and, he said, “that’s absolutely not what happened here" Follow the logic here. To protect “my guys,” Iraqi families living in “suspect” homes were considered fair game for cold-blooded killing. It's not massacre, it's just good military training.

In 1968 U.S. soldiers committed a massacre in the hamlet of MyLai in Vietnam, killing over 500 people, mostly women, children, and elderly people. Women were raped. Bodies were dumped into ditches. This crime remained buried until a growing outrage forced the government to bring charges against a number of those involved. The exposure of the MyLai massacre opened many people’s eyes to the U.S. crimes in Vietnam and compelled them into political action. In the end, only one soldier, Lt. Calley, was convicted for what the U.S. military did at MyLai. Calley remained unapologetic, saying, “I carried out the orders I was given and I do not feel wrong in doing so.” Forty years later, the same reactionary outlook can be seen in the attempt to justify the Haditha massacre.

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