U.S. Imperialism’s Massacre in Haditha
A military judge, Col. Steven Folsom, dismissed charges against Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani after finding that a four-star general overseeing the case was improperly influenced by an investigator probing the November 2005 shootings by a Marine squad in Haditha. In essence everybody walked. Image: Chessani.
War crimes and atrocities against civilians are integral to imperialist wars of conquest and occupation. U.S. imperialism’s dirty colonial war against the heroic workers and peasants of Vietnam was historically stamped by the 1968 My Lai massacre. The U.S. occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq have produced the torture chambers of the Abu Ghraib and Bagram prisons. The Iraq occupation is now also stamped by the slaughter of men, women and children that occurred on 19 November 2005 in Haditha.
The Haditha massacre is a graphic and bloody illustration of what the U.S. has been carrying out in Iraq for three years—an endless succession of atrocities, from the leveling of Falluja and other cities to widespread bombing of homes and the shooting of random Iraqis. The Haditha massacre, in which U.S. Marines murdered at least 24 people, has been confirmed by too many sources for the Bush administration and the Pentagon brass to keep a lid on it. The military has ordered two investigations—one into the massacre and a separate one into its coverup. This came after TimeTime interviewed survivors of the massacre after being presented with a videotape made by an Iraqi journalism student at Haditha’s hospital and inside victims’ houses. Time published the story, “One Morning in Haditha” in its 27 March issue. magazine earlier this year presented military officials in Baghdad with the findings of its own investigation.
Even Iraq’s puppet government, which runs anti-Sunni death squads out of the interior ministry, denounced the Haditha massacre, saying it would conduct its own inquiry and demand that U.S. officials turn over their investigative files. Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki said that violence against civilians had become a “regular occurrence” by U.S.-led coalition forces who “do not respect the Iraqi people. They crush them with their vehicles and kill them just on suspicion” (New York Times, 3 June). Iraq’s own ambassador to Washington announced that, in a separate incident, Marines had gunned down his cousin in his home.
A March 15 raid on a home in the Iraqi town of Ishaqi that left as many as 13 Iraqi civilians dead has already been whitewashed by the U.S. military, which announced that it had found no wrongdoing by the commander who led the raid. In a May 30 incident, U.S. soldiers shot to death two women, Nahiba Husayif Jassim and Faliha Mohammed Hassan, as they raced to the hospital for the delivery of Nahiba’s baby. Meanwhile, military prosecutors are preparing murder, kidnapping and conspiracy charges against seven Marines and a Navy corpsman for the fatal shooting of an Iraqi in April in Hamandiyah, west of Baghdad.
The killings in Haditha last November were methodically carried out over a period of three to five hours. In retaliation for a roadside bombing that killed a U.S. soldier, Marines went on a rampage, bursting into homes and gunning down residents. Their victims—some of whom were finished off execution-style with a single shot to the head—included women, infants and an elderly man in a wheelchair.
The Marines began their killing spree at the home of Abdul Hamid Hassan Ali, an 89-year-old amputee. They shot him and then turned their guns on his three sons and their families. The man’s death certificate says that he took nine rounds to the chest and abdomen. His seven-year-old grandson described seeing his mother fall to the ground, dying. The boy’s aunt, Hibba Abdullah, snatched her baby niece off the floor and ran from the house. Abdullah’s husband also slipped out of the house and ran to warn his cousins nearby. As he returned, he ran into the Marines and died in a hail of gunfire.
The Marines then moved to the house next door, where customs official Younis Salim Nusaif lived with his wife, Aida Yassin, and their six children. Yassin was bed-ridden, so her sister had come to stay with the family and help with housework while she recuperated. All were slain—the parents, the visiting sister, and five children ranging in age from four to 15. The only survivor, a 12-year-old girl, later recounted how she lay on the ground, pretending to be dead, while her sister’s blood gushed over her. “I was wishing to be alive,” she said. “Now I wish I had died with them” (Los Angeles Times, 1 June). Moving to a third house, the Marines burst in on four brothers and gunned them down. The final victims were four university students and their taxi driver, who arrived on the scene by chance.
According to the Washington Post (27 May): “The remains of the 24 lie today in a cemetery called Martyrs’ Graveyard. Stray dogs scrounge in the deserted homes. ‘Democracy assassinated the family that was here,’ graffiti on one of the houses declared.” Some accounts attest to warplanes dropping 500-pound bombs on houses. After the Marine Corps paid $38,000 in compensation to relatives of some of the victims, Marjorie Cohn, president-elect of the National Lawyers Guild, wrote in a column in the Web publication truthout (30 May): “These types of payments are made only to compensate for accidental deaths inflicted by US troops. This was a relatively large amount, indicating the Marines knew something was not right during that operation.”
For the U.S. occupiers, Iraqi life is so cheap that the Pentagon does not bother to keep track of the number of Iraqi dead. Putting together the first Gulf War, the years of sanctions imposed by the United Nations and enforced mainly by the Democratic Clinton administration, and the present war and occupation, the number is staggering: nearly two million people out of a population of 25 million.
In its devastation of semicolonial Iraq, U.S. imperialism has taken one of the more advanced countries of the Near East and turned it into a living hell: whole towns laid to waste; entire families annihilated; imprisonment and torture at the hands of the imperialist occupiers; death-squad killings, communalist bombings and attacks that purposely target civilians as they try to go about their daily lives. For the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Iraq and Afghanistan! There will be no reckoning for the crimes perpetrated by U.S. forces in Abu Ghraib, Haditha and elsewhere in Iraq and Afghanistan short of the defeat of U.S. imperialism through workers revolution.
War Crimes and Liberal Apologists
Marjorie Cohn’s article also noted that John Murtha—Democratic Party hawk turned bourgeois defeatist on Iraq—both indicted and exonerated the Marines when he stated, “Marines over-reacted because of the pressure on them, and they killed innocent civilians in cold blood.” Liberal New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, a leading voice of the “anybody but Bush” crowd, picked the theme right up in her 3 June column: “The American military is not in the business of atrocity, even if an undeniable atrocity was committed and even if the war has become something of an atrocity.” Dowd nauseatingly weeps for U.S. troops who are “under spectacular emotional pressure” and “not trained for a counterinsurgency.”
News flash, Ms. Dowd: this is what counterinsurgency looks like. Far from an aberration, Haditha, Abu Ghraib, Samarra, Hamandiyah, Ishaqi are the result of conscious policies designed to secure the occupation of Iraq. Examples of this true face of imperialist “democracy” are innumerable. To name but a few: Following the 1898 Spanish-American War, which marked U.S. imperialism’s emergence on the world stage, U.S. forces slaughtered up to half a million Filipinos between 1899 and 1902 to suppress a nationalist uprising. In Latin America in the 1970s and ’80s, U.S.-trained death squads were the tool of choice against leftist insurgents as well as Maryknoll nuns and any other perceived supporters of social justice. In Northern Ireland, the infamous Long Kesh wire cages and torture chambers were employed by the British imperialists against Irish Republican militants. Slaughter of women and children in No Gun Ri during the Korean War was official U.S. policy (see “Korean War Document Confirms: Massacre at No Gun Ri Was Official U.S. Policy,” page 7).
And, of course, there was Vietnam. Unlike the war and occupation in Iraq, the Vietnam War was waged against insurgent workers and peasants struggling for a social revolution, whose fight became a catalyst for anti-imperialist struggles throughout the globe. Before its defeat on the battlefield, the U.S. military engaged in horrendous war crimes. The My Lai massacre of some 500 Vietnamese—which included mass rape, sodomy, torture and maiming prior to the killing—was infamous. Also, infamously, the U.S. ruling class pinned the blame on low-level “rogue” soldiers and amnestied the most senior officers involved. General Koster, the division commander in overall charge of the troops, watched the massacre from the air and radioed orders to Lieutenant Calley in the village. Calley was as high up in the chain of command as the U.S. government was willing to go. He served three and a half years of house arrest in his quarters at Fort Benning, Georgia, and was freed in 1974. His captain, Ernest Medina, was acquitted at a separate trial.
My Lai was just the tip of the iceberg. There was the CIA’s “Operation Phoenix,” a program of assassination in which thousands of Vietnamese were killed. In October 2003, the Toledo Blade won a Pulitzer Prize for a four-part series that revealed the atrocities committed by an Army platoon known as Tiger Force, which killed hundreds of unarmed men, women and children in a seven-month rampage through Vietnam’s Central Highlands in 1967. In a subsequent article, the Blade (5 September 2004) summarized its revelations:
“Soldiers hurled grenades into underground bunkers full of women and children. They shot elderly farmers toiling in their fields. They severed the ears of the dead to fashion into necklaces. One former unit medic told The Blade that soldiers ‘would go into villages and just shoot everybody. We didn’t need an excuse. If they were there, they were dead’.”
For pro-imperialist liberals à la Dowd, such facts are surely inconvenient, especially as the Vietnam War was prosecuted first under Democratic president Kennedy and then escalated under Democratic president Johnson. The murderous history of both capitalist parties does not square with the liberals’ painting of the atrocities in Iraq as simply the result of blunders by the Republican Bush administration.
Socialism or Barbarism
Dowd’s column decried the loss of U.S. credibility: “They wanted everyone to be afraid of us, and now nobody’s afraid. Certainly not the nutty president of Iran, whom the administration is forced to kowtow to, now that the American military is not a fearsome force in potentia, but a depleted, demoralized and disparaged force trapped in Iraq trying to police a civil war.”
Such sentiments find an echo among “anybody but Bush” reformists like the International Socialist Organization (ISO) and the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP). Take the petition signed by the ISO and the RCP-supported group “World Can’t Wait” that counsels Bush and Cheney on the “most effective way to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons” (weapons inspectors rather than bombs) and implores these war criminals “to lead the way to peace, not war” (see “ISO, RCP to Bush: Disarm Iran, ‘Lead the Way to Peace’,” WV No. 870, 12 May).
In stark contrast to these bootlickers of imperialism, Workers Vanguard has forthrightly stated that in the context of the threats by U.S. imperialism, Iran needs nuclear weapons to defend itself and deter U.S. attack (see “Imperialists Threaten Iran,” WV No. 869, 28 April). We call for the military defense of semicolonial Iran against imperialist attack. At the same time, we give not an iota of political support to the reactionary Islamic fundamentalist regime in Tehran.
We also called for military defense of Afghanistan and Iraq against U.S. attack, but extended no political support to either the barbaric Taliban or to Saddam Hussein’s murderous capitalist regime, a one-time ally of the U.S. Today, we say that every blow struck against the imperialist occupiers of Iraq and Afghanistan is in the interests of the world working class. But we are in sharp political opposition to the religious fundamentalists and bourgeois nationalists, who, in addition to launching insurgent strikes against the U.S., are often also deliberately hitting civilians.
For the Democratic Party and other bourgeois critics of the Bush gang, the Afghanistan war, unlike the Iraq war, is a just response to the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. A common criticism made by Democrats of the Iraq war is that it diverts attention and resources from the “war on terror”—the rulers’ pretext for imperialist rampages around the world and for a massive assault on democratic rights at home. At an April 29 demonstration in New York against the occupation of Iraq, some protesters carried signs distributed by the liberal outfit “Working Assets” that read, “Osama bin Forgotten.”
The mass killings and torture inflicted by U.S. forces on the Iraqi people are also standard operating procedure in Afghanistan. After a May 29 traffic accident involving a U.S. military convoy killed five people in Kabul, anti-U.S. riots broke out all through the capital. At least a dozen people, including a seven-year-old boy, were killed as U.S. troops and Afghan forces fired on protesting crowds. The barbaric face of the “war on terror” is also revealed by the conditions of those incarcerated without trial at Guantánamo Bay, where many of the at least 460 prisoners have repeatedly engaged in hunger strikes, protests and suicide attempts. U.S. out of Guantánamo! Free the detainees now!
Speaking for ruling-class liberals who complain that the Bush administration is ruining U.S. imperialism’s prospects, Frank Rich wrote in his New York Times (4 June) column: “On Thursday the latest American-backed Iraqi prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, whom Mr. Bush is ‘proud to call’ his ‘ally and friend,’ invited open warfare on American forces by accusing them of conducting Haditha-like killing sprees against civilians as a ‘regular’ phenomenon. If this is the ally and friend we are fighting for, a country that truly supports the troops has no choice but to start bringing them home.”
Following in the footsteps of such Democratic Party liberals are the reformist left and its various antiwar coalitions. Having refused to forthrightly call for the defense of Iraq (much less Afghanistan) against the U.S. onslaught, these coalitions commonly raise the call to “Bring the Troops Home.” Thus the April 29 antiwar demonstration in New York City was centrally called around the slogans: “End the war in Iraq—Bring all our troops home now!” Such demands, meant to evoke sympathy for U.S. troops, serve to clean up the image of U.S. imperialism. These are not “our troops”! The pictures of the slaughtered in Haditha, the images of Falluja leveled, the photo of Lynndie England, dog leash in hand abusing a naked Iraqi prisoner—all are graphic reminders of the routine brutality meted out by imperialism’s military enforcers.
The reformists’ tailing of imperialist liberals does not fall from the skies. During Cold War II, the bulk of the left signed on to the imperialist “human rights” crusade against the Soviet Union launched by Democrat Jimmy Carter. Carter seized on the Soviet Union’s unambiguously progressive intervention into Afghanistan, and the U.S. funneled billions in aid to the mujahedin Islamic reactionaries. Uniquely, the International Communist League (then the international Spartacist tendency) declared: “Hail Red Army in Afghanistan! Extend social gains of October Revolution to Afghan peoples!” The bulk of the reformists went on to cheer Boris Yeltsin’s 1991-92 imperialist-backed counterrevolution within the Soviet degenerated workers state itself.
We fought to the end in defense of the Soviet Union and the gains of the October Revolution against capitalist counter revolution. The counterrevolutionary destruction of the USSR has produced a far more dangerous world where the U.S. imperialists feel unconstrained in their attacks at home and abroad. As proletarian internationalists in the U.S., we seek to win workers and youth to the understanding that the most bloodthirsty danger to humanity is the U.S. imperialist ruling class, represented by both capitalist parties. We fight to build a revolutionary workers party dedicated to the overthrow of this barbaric system and to the establishment of workers rule. This is the road to realizing V.I. Lenin’s profoundly humanist view of the “socialist system of society, which, by abolishing the division of mankind into classes, by abolishing all exploitation of man by man, and of one nation by other nations, will inevitably abolish all possibility of war.”
Courtesy of Workers Vanguard No. 872 9 June 2006