If Abu Ghraib was a “mistake,” what was Haditha?

Marines may face murder charges in the killing of 24 Iraqi civilians.

Topics: George W. Bush, Iraq war, War Room, Abu Ghraib,

During his press conference with Tony Blair Thursday night, George W. Bush said America’s biggest mistake in Iraq was “Abu Ghraib.” You can read about that on the front page of the New York Times this morning, right under the story about a more recent “mistake” that is — though potentially smaller in scale — every bit as disturbing.

As Time first reported back in March, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service has been investigating what happened one day last November in the Anbar Province town of Haditha. An initial military report claimed that one U.S. Marine and 15 Iraqi civilians were killed that day by a roadside bomb. The truth, it now seems, was much different: One senior military official familiar with the NCIS investigation tells the Times that 24 Iraqis died in Haditha that day, and not one of them was killed by the roadside bomb.

Instead, the Times says, investigators are now expected to conclude that “a small number of marines … carried out extensive, unprovoked killings of civilians” during a “sustained sweep … that lasted three to five hours and included shootings of five men standing near a taxi at a checkpoint and killings inside at least two homes that included women and children.” A retired Marine Corps lawyer tells the Washington Post: “When these investigations come out, there’s going to be a firestorm. It will be worse than Abu Ghraib.”

Two lawyers involved in the case tell the Times that the investigation could lead to murder charges against some of the Marines involved.



Although Rep. Jack Murtha has been discussing the case publicly for more than a week now, Bush did not mention in it in the course of describing mistakes in Iraq Thursday night. But others in his own party are expressing shock and dismay after being briefed about the allegations and the investigation into them. “This was not an accident. This was direct fire by marines at civilians,” Rep. John Kline, a Republican from Minnesota and retired Marine colonel, said of the allegations. “This was not an immediate response to an attack. This would be an atrocity.”

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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