24 unarmed civilians killed in 2005 by American troops
Haditha residents and relatives of the 24 Iraqi civilians killed in 2005 in the town by U.S. troops voiced disgust and shock over the light sentence meted out to a soldier involved in the massacre.
A lawyer for the victims and the Iraqi government vowed to continue pursuing the case, while a doctor at the town's hospital insisted that residents would never forget the killings.
Some residents, including one woman who lost relatives at the time and still lives on the street where much of the violence took place, were so upset by the judgment that they declined to speak to reporters. “This is an assault on the blood of Iraqis,” lamented Khalid Salman, a Haditha city councillor and lawyer for the victims.
“That is only a punishment for... small crimes. But killing 24 innocent people, and only receiving a punishment of three months? This is an assault on humanity.”
His comments came after U.S. Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich pleaded guilty on Monday to one count of negligent dereliction of duty — meaning he faced a maximum sentence of three months in prison.
Mr. Salman insisted the sentence did not “mean the end” of his legal efforts.
“There are orphans, widows and old people who are still suffering and hurting from that terrible massacre. ... If we find no way, we will go to the international courts,” he said, without elaborating.
His remarks were echoed by Ali Mussawi, spokesman for Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who said the punishment was “not suitable with the crime that was committed” and that Iraq would “keep pursuing the legal channels”.
On Tuesday, Wuterich was demoted to the rank of private and sentenced to 90 days' confinement, but will serve no time behind bars because of a pre-trial agreement.
Manslaughter charges were dropped as part of the plea deal for Wuterich, who led a group of Marines whose other members have been let off. “People in Haditha are depressed, especially the families of the victims, the families of the innocent who were murdered for no reason,” said Assem Omar al-Hadithi, a journalist with Al-Anbar television who grew up in the town.
“We don't want to talk about forgiveness and kindness — all we want is justice,” he said. In all, 24 Iraqi civilians were killed — 19 in several houses along with five men who pulled up in a car where the marines were on patrol in Haditha on November 19, 2005. The victims included 10 women and children killed at point-blank range. Six people were killed in one house, most shot in the head, including women and children huddled in a bedroom.
The other seven Marines charged have been exonerated by various legal rulings, where authorities had pushed for U.S. troops to be subject to Iraqi justice before the U.S. pullout in December.
“No, I will never forgive them,” said a civil servant.
“Not me, not my sons, and not my grandsons,” he added, standing on the street corner where the initial roadside bomb detonated in November 2005, killing a U.S. soldier, before the rampage took place in the town of around 80,000 people in predominantly Sunni Anbar province in west Iraq.
For a surgeon at Haditha's hospital, the verdict brought back memories of one of the victims — Aida Ahmed, a woman upon whom he had performed an appendectomy a week before the massacre.
“She was still in care,” said Ayad Ghazi Musleh. “So I knew that this woman was killed in her bed. ... I'm still so hurt over her death.”
For Musleh, the sentence was evidence of an unfair system, one with “different classes of blood — and the blood of Iraqis and third-world countries are the lowest and the last classification in the world.”
“Isn't Iraqi blood worth the same as American blood?”
Keywords: Haditha massacre case