What happened in Haditha


The response to a reported massacre by U.S. troops must be full accountability

Left: Corpses of victims of the massacre at Haditha, in body bags

President Bush said last week that “the biggest mistake” the United States had made in Iraq was the mistreatment of Iraqi detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison, adding, “We’ve been paying for that for a long period of time.” Now another case of American misconduct may add greatly to that cost. The day after Mr. Bush spoke, The Post and other newspapers reported that some members of a Marine unit may soon be charged with murder, among other offenses, for the slaying of up to 24 Iraqis, including women and small children, in the town of Haditha in November. Other Marines may be culpable in trying to cover up the crime.

Accounts provided to The Post and other news organizations — including Time magazine, which first reported on the incident in March — describe a horrific and shameful episode…


After a roadside bomb exploded near a Marine convoy, killing a corporal, a number of members of a Marine company allegedly went on a rampage, entering houses and methodically gunning down the families they found inside. In one home, The Post’s Ellen Knickmeyer reported, a witness said the Marines shot a man named Younis Salim Khafif as he pleaded in English for his life, then murdered his wife and daughters — ages 14, 10, 5, 3 and 1.

Though we don’t yet know the details of the Marine investigation, there is no way to mitigate or excuse such despicable acts if they occurred, and hardly any way to alleviate the tremendous damage that will be done to U.S. honor in Iraq and around the world. The only remediation can come through a thorough investigation, the full disclosure of all misconduct and accountability for all those responsible. In that respect, the Marines began poorly: Serious investigation of the events in Haditha began only after Time shared its findings with the Pentagon. Reports that some senior officers may have been following the events in Haditha or were aware that an unusual number of civilians had been killed raise troubling questions about whether crimes were deliberately overlooked.

A separate military investigation is reportedly underway on attempts to cover up the Haditha shootings. Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has spoken of holding hearings. We can only hope that the Pentagon brass and Mr. Warner perform better than they have in the Abu Ghraib scandal: Despite abundant evidence of wrongdoing by senior military and civilian officials, the charges and trials have been restricted almost entirely to low-ranking personnel. All those responsible for wrongdoing in Haditha must be held accountable — those who did any unlawful killing, as well as anyone who covered for them.



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