An impassioned critique of the handling of the Haditha massacre by U.S. Marines on Nov. 19, 2005.
Preferring the term “incident” rather than “massacre,” and comparison to the My Lai massacre in Vietnam notwithstanding, Vietnam vet and former police officer Helms (My Men Are My Heroes: The Brad Kasal Story, 2012) explores the horrendous killing of eight suspected insurgents and 15 innocent civilians (including women and children) in their houses in Haditha, described by some officials as unavoidable “collateral damage” in a day in the life of Marines trying to do their job. The killings took place just after the fatal ambush of one of the Marines’ team when the soldiers swept what they believed were “hostile” houses of al-Qaida insurgents, using grenades and M16s. The then-24-year-old commander in charge of the mission, Sgt. Frank Wuterich, would eventually be court-marshaled and, the author believes, scapegoated for the incident involving seven other defendants. Helms has examined all facets of this tragedy and does not attempt to deny the “cold-blooded” killing of civilians, the evidence for which was carefully examined by the “convening command” and the press, most notably by a TIME cover story in 2006 by Tim McGirk. However, the author asserts that the Marines were trained meticulously for this mission and were essentially doing their work by the book, according to Operation Iraqi Freedom—rather than avenging the death of one of their own, as had been suggested. Moreover, commanding officers initially congratulated the Marines, the “deadliest hunters in the world,” for the success of the mission. Later, however, when the press got wind of it, the Pentagon and Defense Chief Donald Rumsfeld apparently decided to “publicly crucify the Marines.” Helms’ use of sarcasm is off-putting, and the role of his co-author, Faraj, as a lawyer defending Wuterich, leaves no doubt on which side they come down in this unsettling work.
An account of an event that deserves better investigation.