Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Evidence of massacre by Marines caught on film

The Courier Mail

PHOTOGRAPHS taken by US military intelligence have provided crucial evidence that up to 24 Iraqis were massacred by marines in the insurgent stronghold of Haditha.

One photograph shows an Iraqi mother and young child, kneeling on the floor as if in prayer. They have both been shot dead at close range.

The pictures also show other Iraqi victims, shot execution-style in the head and chest in their ownhomes.

A US government official said the marines involved had "suffered a total breakdown in morality and leadership".

The killings are emerging as the worst known US atrocity of the Iraq war.

At least seven women and three children were among those killed in the massacre.

Witness accounts obtained by The Sunday Times suggest the number of children killed may be as high as six.

"This one is ugly," a US military official said.

In Britain, the chief of the defence staff, Air Chief Marshal Jock Stirrup, said at the weekend the "appalling" reports of the massacre could undermine British support for the war.

"This sort of accusation does make that harder to achieve," Air Chief Marshal said.

The pictures of the dead, which are being closely guarded by the US military criminal investigation service, were taken by a military photographer who is believed to have arrived on the scene moments after the shootings.

Many US forces are accompanied by photographers to gather intelligence and to shield soldiers from accusations of torture, intimidation and violence.

But the evidence in this case points to a murder rampage by the US marines.

The stain on the US military could prove harder to erase than the photographs of sadistic abuse and torture by US guards at the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad.

Comparisons are being made to the My Lai massacre in Vietnam in 1968, in which US troops slaughtered 500 villagers.

Up to a dozen marines may face criminal charges -- including murder, which carries the death penalty -- dereliction of duty and filing false reports.

Three marine commanders were suspended last month.

With a political storm brewing, the top US marine, General Michael Hagee, flew to Baghdad on Friday to tell his troops they must kill "only when justified".

The naval inquiry is focusing on the actions of a sergeant who may have been the leader of a four-man fire team.

Miguel Terrazas, 20, a lance-corporal from El Paso, Texas, was travelling in a convoy of four Humvees in Haditha just after 7am on November 19 last year when a roadside bomb struck his vehicle, killing him and wounding two others.

The events that followed are the subject of two military inquiries due to report soon: one into the facts of the case, the other into a cover-up.

One witness, Aws Fahmi, heard his neighbour, Yunis Salim Khafif, plead for his life in English, shouting: "I am a friend, I am good."

"But they killed him, his wife and daughters," Fahmi said.

Haditha, about 225km northwest of Baghdad, has long been considered a rebel stronghold. It is among a string of Euphrates Valley towns used by insurgents and foreign fighters to infiltrate from Syria to reach Baghdad and the Sunni heartland.

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