May 29, 2006

Haditha: Why Did Kilo Company Snap?

TIME magazine, which apparently has video footage of the scene post-massacre, looks at The Shame Of Kilo Company:
The outfit known as Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, wasn't new to Iraq last year when it moved into Haditha, a Euphrates River farming town about 150 miles northwest of Baghdad. Several members of the unit were on their second tour of Iraq; one was on his third. The men in Kilo Company were veterans of ferocious house-to-house fighting in Fallujah. Their combat experience seemed to prepare them for the ordeal of serving in an insurgent stronghold like Haditha, the kind of place where the enemy attacks U.S. troops from the cover of mosques, schools and homes and uses civilians as shields, complicating Marine engagement rules to shoot only when threatened. In Haditha, says a Marine who has been there twice, "you can't tell a bad guy until he shoots you."

But one morning last November, some members of Kilo Company apparently didn't attempt to distinguish between enemies and innocents. Instead, they seem to have gone on the worst rampage by U.S. service members in the Iraq war, killing as many as 24 civilians in cold blood...

A military source in Iraq told TIME that investigators have obtained two sets of photos from Haditha. The first is after-action photos taken by the military as part of the routine procedure that follows any such event. Submitted in the official report on the fighting, the photos do not show any bodies. Investigators have also discovered a second, more damning set of photos, taken by Marines of the Kilo Company immediately after the shootings. The source says it isn't clear if these photos were held back from the after-action report or were personal snapshots taken by the Marines. The source says a Marine e-mailed at least one photo to a friend in the U.S.

Almost as damaging as the alleged massacre may be evidence that the unit's members and their superiors conspired to cover it up. "There's no doubt that the Marines allegedly involved in doing this--they lied about it," says Kline. "They certainly tried to cover it up." Three Marine officers, including the company commander and battalion commander, have been relieved of duty in part for actions related to the deaths in Haditha. A lawmaker who has been briefed on the matter says the investigations may implicate other senior officers...

So why did some men in Kilo Company apparently snap? Perhaps because of the stress of fighting a violent and unpopular war--or because their commanders failed them. Military psychiatrists who have studied what makes a soldier's moral compass go haywire in battle look first for a weak chain of command. That was a factor in the March 1968 My Lai massacre in Vietnam, when U.S. soldiers, including members of an Army platoon led by Lieut. William Calley, killed some 500 Vietnamese. Says a retired Army Green Beret colonel who fought in Vietnam: "Somebody has failed to say, 'No, that's not right.'" No one, apparently, was delivering that message last November in Haditha.


Blog Archive