11:50am , Saturday 18th August 2018

Iraq Should Investigate Arbitrary Execution of Nationals by US Forces

1 December 2012
Milad Al-Jbouri

Ishaqi, Iraq – Ibrahim Harrat, a former army officer who lost one of his legs, bowed down to pick up the empty shells. These bullets were the ones used by US soldiers six and a half years ago – in this very house, now turned to rubble – to kill nine of his family members, including five children, the youngest of them barely nine months old.

The US military is yet to disclose what really happened the night its forces raided the home of then 28-year-old elementary school-teacher Faiz Harrat. It claimed the victims fell in a “tactical operation” to arrest a Kuwaiti fighter called Ahmad Abdullah al-Utaybi and assassinate another Iraqi, Uday Fares. Nevertheless, new evidence uncovered by the author of this investigative report shows that what occurred was nothing short of an arbitrary execution.

The Iraqi insurgent killed in the operation according to US claims was actually incarcerated in its infamous Camp Bucca — Iraq’s Guantanamo jail — near the port city of Umm Qasr. Fares is now spending time in an Iraqi prison, awaiting his execution after being convicted of committing several acts of violence.

The Kuwaiti fighter – whose arrest entailed the murder of 11 Iraqi citizens – was handed over by the US military to the Iraqi government in October 2008. The latter decided to hand him over to Kuwait in the fall of 2010, to complete a sentence for a prior conviction in a security-related case.

The author of this report, aided by a high-ranking security official, has uncovered new documented evidence showing that Utaybi was actually in custody by the US military, just one day before the operation.

Today, all that remains of Faiz Harrat’s house, raided at dawn on 15 March 2006 to kill and arrest the supposed insurgents, is the wall where the victims were lined up, their hands tied, and executed. In the midst of the hundreds of empty bullet casings, charred pieces of paper were scattered. They were the last English language exam given by the teacher in the elementary school of Ishaqi, 100 km north of Baghdad.

These are the only remaining witnesses to the “massacre,” other than the US military, which, at the time, exonerated its soldiers from the crime of arbitrary execution following an internal investigation. It claimed the “incident” occurred within the rules of engagement.

But, contrary to US army press statements, all forensic reports obtained by the author from Tikrit General Hospital, which received the victims that morning, confirm that they were killed by bullets fired at close range to the head and chest.

Local investigating committees and eyewitness accounts from tens of residents of al-Saffa village, where the operation took place, also confirm that the victims pulled out of the house an hour later were mouth-folded and handcuffed.

For six years, Faiz’ brothers and several local human rights organizations failed to convince the US military forces to reopen the investigation and uncover what really happened the night of the “massacre.”

But the issue was brought back into the limelight in the fall of 2011, when Wikileaks published a classified document shedding new light on the incident.

The communication was sent by Philip Alston, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, to the US State Department on March 27, 2006. He wanted to draw its attention to the incident where “MNF [Multinational Forces] troops entered the house, handcuffed all residents and executed them. After the initial MNF intervention, a US air raid ensued, destroying the house.” The communication indicated there were reports of at least 10 victims, including four women and five children.

The document was sent 12 days after the massacre. But it did not convince the US military that arbitrary execution occurred in the operation. They were neither moved when it was published by Wikileaks. A Pentagon spokesperson responded to the Wikileak report by saying that “the incident was properly investigated at the time and no new information has surfaced.” This meant that the US will not reopen the investigation into the incident.

Details of the Night of Terror

Eyewitnesses who watched the raid on the house of teacher Faiz Harrat recall the painful details of that night. Each of them carries a piece of the story that is yet to be completely recounted.

This investigative journalist met with tens of relatives of the victims and a similar number of policemen, judicial investigators and local officials. She attempts to put pieces of the story together, uncovering the sharp inconsistencies in the statements of the US army. The report also points to the suspicious silence of consecutive Iraqi governments towards the Ishaqi massacre and other crimes committed by US forces, whether those where no one was found guilty or the ones where the perpetrators received lenient sentences, which are incomparable to the number of victims or the ugliness of the crimes.

Faiz Herrat’s older brother Ibrahim recollects the beginning of the massacre. Several US military Chinook helicopters had been hovering over the village. Some began landing and dozens of soldiers jumped out and were deployed among the different houses, raiding them one by one. Ibrahim could clearly see his brother’s home, no more than 75 meters away, from his windows. The horrific scene was ingrained in his mind. Unable to do anything about it, he had to watch his brother’s home come under heavy close-range fire from tens of US soldiers from all sides.

The full moon and the Chinook searchlights illuminated the perimeter of the house, with the soldiers taking turns shooting in its direction for a full 15 minutes. Then they began the raid from the back and the front of the house. He could hear shooting coming from inside for another 20 consecutive minutes. Then they left and let the Chinooks finish up the job, destroying the house completely with six successive missiles.

To this day, nobody knows precisely what happened inside the home of Faiz Harrat. When the US soldiers rushed into Ibrahim’s house after a few minutes, the brother went after them “like crazy” demanding to know what they did with his mother and his younger brother’s family. They replied with a “strong boot kick” which threw him a few meters aside along with his prosthetic leg..

Ibrahim is still surprised that the US soldiers did not kill him on the spot, although he recalls one of them screaming at the top of his voice: “Kill him”. But if his missing leg, whose replacement had rolled on the floor, was the reason behind another soldier objecting because he was “disabled and does not constitute a potential threat,” then why didn’t that soldier save the 9-month-old Houssam from the bullet that blew his head off? “He was an infant, who cannot even hurt a dove. How can he be a potential threat to a battalion of heavily-armed US soldiers?” Ibrahim asks.

“When we found him, his hands were tied at the front. The bullet went through his skull from the back, spilling out his whole brain,” he recalled while showing pictures of young Houssam taken right after the incident. His eyes were closed, as if he had just fallen asleep.

In Search of the Victims

Issa Harrat, another brother, recalls that six US soldiers raided his home that night. They took him with his family to the garden and forced them to lie down with their faces to the ground.

Issa says this is the reason why he and several people from the surrounding houses were unable to see anything. They just heard the sound of bullets echoing over the entire place and the roaring helicopters above the village’s houses. The attack on Faiz’s home and the raids on the remaining houses in the village took two hours, before US forces retreated.

When it was all over and the hum of helicopters fading away, everyone ran to Faiz’s home calling out victims’ names one by one. But nobody answered.

Another brother, Ubaid Harrat, who had been an officer in the Iraqi army before the fall of the previous regime, says that the search for victims inside the house did not take a long time. They were lying in the only room that was partially intact. The US soldiers had covered them in blankets before they left.

Faiz’ brothers and several villagers maintain that all the victims had their hands tied to the back, except baby Houssam, whose hands were tied to the front.

Military expert and retired Brigadier-General Nateq Jawad al-Maamouri believes that tying the hands of little children in such operations is always an indicator of an interrogation under threat of killing or torturing the children. In most cases, this happens when the person being interrogated is “the child’s father or mother.”

The expert’s opinion corresponds with the confessions of former US soldier Jesse Macbeth in the spring of 2008, who claimed that the US army in Iraq committed atrocities during investigations carried out in some house raids. He said the soldiers would threaten to kill the youngest child in front of his parents to force them to confess. They would kill a different child every time they needed more information.

According to Maamouri, this could explain why the US soldiers abandoned the idea of killing Harrat, after finding out he was disabled. The forces that entered his home only wanted to terrorize the inhabitants of adjacent houses, while those in charge of direct killings did their job at Faiz Harrat’s home.

Faiz was never part of an armed group, despite the fact that many al-Qaeda and various other armed groups appeared in the area during the sectarian violence that erupted in Iraq at the beginning of 2006 and continued till the end of 2008. He steered away from violence and focused on teaching English in the village’s elementary school, according to a security official in Ishaqi and several village dignitaries.

Macbeth was accused by US officials of faking his confessions, but they concur with what many other US soldiers recounted after returning from Iraq and documented on video during several meetings. They admitted that US forces would raid homes and threaten women and children. They also indicated that they kept the helicopters roaring above to terrorize the residents. The soldiers said that such operations would often be based on misplaced fears and false intelligence information.

The head of the Hammurabi Human Rights Organization (HHRO), who arrived at the scene of the incident early in the morning of March 15, feels sorry for the loss of several pieces of evidence about the executions as villagers untied the bodies and threw away the binds to prepare  the victims for burial.

Dr. Abdul-Rahman al-Mashhadani related this to conservative customs held by the tribal sheikhs who gathered at the house after the massacre. They objected to photographing the bodies of the women, who seemed to have been violently gagged by the soldiers with their head covers (hijabs).

Mashhadani’s comments are verified by a video recording obtained by this investigative reporter. It shows the bodies being pulled out of the rubble and transferred to the morgue, while some men were attempting to push back the cameraman shouting: “Woman. Woman.”

The Police Investigation

Police investigations in the city could not reach a specific conclusion concerning the reasons behind the massacre and its details, despite the continuous attempts to collect related data.

A high-ranking officer at the Ishaqi police station recalls the moment his forces arrived at the destroyed house at 7:30 a.m. He was shocked by the magnitude of the devastation inflicted by the shelling and the number of empty bullet shells covering the floor where the victims were executed.

“Everyone was stepping over the rubble of empty bullets casings. The remaining wall was full of hundreds of holes. A few meters away from the destroyed room, I saw the corpses of four cows, torn to pieces. It looked like a battleground where everyone was killed,” he said.

The Coroner’s Report

Forensic reports from the city of Tikrit indicate that the majority of victims had been shot in the head and chest. Bullets tore the flesh of other victims in various parts of their bodies.

None of the victims had gunpowder on their bodies, which confirms, according to a forensics expert, that “they did not use any type of firearms.”

This contradicts the allegations of the US army that its soldiers were fired at from inside the house, which was the cornerstone of the US military’s case concerning the massacre.

The coroner’s report about Faiz’s mother, Turkiya Majeed, 74, indicates that she was killed by a bullet directly to the head.

Here, Issa Harrat goes back to the moment he saw his mother’s body in the rubble, the night of the massacre. He      fumbled for her in the dark to try to pull her out. When he finally saw her face, the top part, from the nose up, had been blown away.

His sister Faiza, 32, a teacher who had been widowed early in her life and was taking care of two children, was buried while her mouth was still gagged by her veil. The US soldiers had tied it with such a force, that any attempt to remove it would have disfigured her face.

The coroner’s report indicates that her body “had bullet wounds in the head, chest and legs.”

They buried her two children next to her, Osama Youssef, 3 and Asma, 5. The reports say that they were both killed in the same manner, “bullet shots to the head, chest and abdomen.” One of the bullet went through Asma’s side, taking with it a piece of her red dress that came out of the other side.

Faiz’s wife, Sumayya Abdul-Razzak, 24, was also shot in the head and chest. Her mouth was tied with her own veil, just like Faiza Harrat. But they had managed to remove it, unlike with her sister-in-law.

Sumayya was also buried with her children Aisha, 3 and Hawraa, 5. Both girls were killed by shots to the neck, chest and abdomen, according to the coroner’s report.

Hussam Faiz Harrat, who was less than nine months old, was buried with them. But out of all the bodies, everyone remembers the horrific way the infant was killed. His tiny hands were swollen due to being tied to the front. A bullet pierced his head from the back and emptied out his brain.

Two bodies were not part of the household. The first belonged to their neighbor, Iqtisad Hameed, 23. She was visiting Faiza and was killed with the family, according to Issa Harrat.

The second was their relative Aziz Khalil, 24. His father had kicked him out of the house, due to family problem. He was staying with Faiz’s family and was killed as a result of “gunshots to the chest and upper extremities.”

The US Investigation

In a statement issued on June 4, 2006 – four days before the assassination of al-Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi- the US army exonerated its soldiers from the massacre.

Major General William Caldwell, a US military spokesperson said that “an investigation was launched into that incident the very next day (of the Ishaqi massacre). The investigation revealed the “ground force commander while capturing and killing terrorists at that location operated in accordance with the rules of engagement governing our combat forces in Iraq.”

He admitted that the investigation showed that between 4 and 13 civilians might have been killed in the operation.

In the statement, Caldwell said that “Coalition Forces conducted a raid in the vicinity of Ishaqi on March 15, capturing Ahmad Abdallah Muhammad Nais al-Utaybi, aka Hamza, a Kuwaiti-born, al-Qaeda cell leader.”

They killed “Uday Faris al-Tawafi, aka “Abu Ahmed”, an Iraqi involved in making improvised explosive devices as well as recruiting locals to join the insurgency,” he added.

Caldwell recounted the story in the familiar pattern of the US military at the time. He said that “the forces, upon arrival, began taking direct fire from the building. As the enemy fire persisted, the ground force commander appropriately reacted by incrementally escalating the use of force from small-arms fire to rotary wing aviation, and then to close air support.”

They conducted “a thorough tactical search” in the targeted house “and documented the discovery of the body of “Abu Ahmed” plus three non-combatants.”

“The investigating officer concluded that possibly up to nine collateral deaths resulted from this engagement but could not determine the precise number due to collapsed walls and heavy debris,” Caldwell explained.

He concluded his tale by saying that “allegations that the troops executed a family living in this safe house, and then hid the alleged crimes by directing an air strike, are absolutely false.”

Caldwell’s comments contradicted what the US military had been saying since the day of the massacre, insisting that only one suspect, two women and one child were killed in the attack.

According to Caldwell, four people were killed (Abu Ahmed, two women and a child) in addition to the nine others (the rest of the victims). This means the total is 13 killed.

The contradiction in numbers – 4 bodies in the initial US military reports, 13 bodies in Caldwell’s statement, and the 11 bodies removed from the devastated house according to Ishaqi police – is a clear indication that the US forces had been hiding the details of the massacre, including the real number of victims.

The question that was never answered by the US in all its statements, is how did Utaybi stay alive when such heavy gunfire was directed at the Harrat home for 15 minutes  and from all sides? And how did he survive the following 20 minutes of consecutive gunfire inside the house?

Why were they all killed, including five children, while Utaybi escaped? And if the US soldiers were able to arrest Utaybi without killing him, why did they decide to eliminate the unarmed civilians, including women and children?

The US army refused several times to reply to questions posed by this journalist or to give a statement on the issue. “No comment,” said the US Embassy.

The (Living Dead) Iraqi Combatant

US forces justified their attack by saying the house contained an Arab combatant called Ahmed Abdullah al-Utaybi and an Iraqi combatant called Uday Fares.

The first revelation reached by this investigative journalist, was that the Iraqi, whom US forces claimed was killed during the raid, Uday Fares Abdullah al-Majmai, AKA “Abu Ahmed”, was still alive. But all attempts by the author to contact him at prison in Tikrit were blocked by Iraqi authorities.

Fares had risen to fame when he managed to escape his prison with another 15 al-Qaeda combatants in September 2009. All Iraqis followed the details of the search operations and the rest of the escaped prisoners. The last one to be captured, two years later, was none other than Uday Fares.

In a phone call arranged by some contacts, Uday’s father told the author of the report that his son was arrested by US forces in 2005. He then heard he was killed in Faiz Harrat’s house from the news. But this was untrue, because he was able to visit him in jail several times following the Ishaqi operation.

The author of the report is still waiting for the Iraqi authorities to allow her to visit Fares in jail to uncover the truth behind him being killed, according to US documents, and his imprisonment and remaining alive, according to official Iraqi documents and prison records.

In Search of the Kuwaiti Chief

US forces in Iraq are refusing to comment. All those who were in the devastated house were killed. Iraqi combatant Uday Fares is either dead, according to US forces, or was not even in the house because he was under arrest. This means that the only remaining witness is Utaybi, whom US documents claimed was already at the Harrat house and was arrested during the operation.

Reaching Utaybi or finding out about his whereabouts was not easy, especially more than six years following his alleged arrest. US forces, who were still in Iraq when this investigation began end 2011, were imposing a total blackout concerning detainees.

Information about Utaybi on jihadist websites indicated that he was 24 years old when US troops committed the Ishaqi massacre. He had been arrested in 2005 in Kuwait, suspected of planning to overthrow the Kuwaiti regime with the members of al-Qaeda’s Osoud al-Jazeera ([Arab] Peninsula Lions). He was later released on bail in August 2005.

After his release, he fled Kuwait and snuck into Iraq through Syria, under the pretext of trading purebred Arabian horses. US documents claim he was rearrested inside Faiz Harrat’s home in Ishaqi on March 15, 2006.

Documents concerning Utaybi were made available to this journalist by a high ranking Iraqi security official on condition his name and position will not be to preserve his career.

The documents show that, although Utaybi’s arrest required the elimination of a whole Iraqi family, according to US statements, he was later released from their custody and transferred to Iraqi authorities in October 2008. He was sentenced to six years in prison for entering the country illegally, despite admitting to US interrogators that he had conducted military operations in Iraq on behalf of al-Qaeda.

Utaybi spent around two years in Sousa prison in Sulaimaniya in northern Iraq. The documents provided by the security official indicate that he was suffering from rheumatism and was sent to the hospital for treatment more than ten times. In November 2011, he was released and sent back to Kuwait, at the height of good relations between the two countries.

The Secrets of the Night They Arrested Utaybi

The aforementioned records concerning Utaybi indicate that he had infiltrated into Iraq via Syria in order to fight alongside al-Qaeda. He was arrested by US forces on 14 March 2006, but his official administrative detention began on 15 March.

This crucial piece of information shows that Utaybi was incarcerated by US forces at the time they were perpetrating the Ishaqi massacre. The same situation applied to alleged-combatant Uday Fares.

Military expert Nateq Jawad believes that this is an indication that Utaybi’s name was slapped onto the case, to be able to cover up the truth behind the massacre. This happened on several other occasions, when the killing or arrest of combatants is announced while they were actually already dead or incarcerated in previous battles.

Jawad does not deny the possibility that Utaybi could have been in the house on 14 March, since it is the date the warrant was issued, not when it was implemented.

But he adds that “there is a very small chance that such a mistake could happen, although it is possible. Ultimately, the issue will be revealed when the justice ministry releases the documents related to the case in full.”

“Forbidden” Documents

It will not be possible to verify all the details concerning Utaybi without accessing all the documents. This means a detailed search for all documents concerning his case at the Iraqi justice ministry and the Higher Judicial Council, which keeps a copy of all the documents of cases which reached a decision, in addition to Sousa prison where he was incarcerated.

Sousa prison warden, Brigadier Momen Khodor, refused the author’s requests to access the records without a formal approval from the justice ministry.

From the end of 2011 until August 2012, the Justice Ministry has refused numerous attempts to allow this journalist to access the documents.

The Higher Judicial Council also rejected her requests. Spokesperson for the council, Abdul-Sattar al-Bairaqdar claimed that “details of trials of detainees are secret and their records cannot be revealed.”

The office of the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) in Iraq, in addition to an ICRC official in the Jordanian office and another ICRC official in Sulaimaniya, refused to provide any information on Utaybi’s file classified under number IQZ012953.

After several attempts, the US Embassy said, “No comment.” Similar attempts with the US army also failed. The latter justified this at the beginning by saying that there was no new information. Then, the new Media Advisor for the US Army in Iraq, Nader Soliman, said he will not comment on the case because it was “old.”

The search for the former advisor became an absurd game and finally concluded with a returned email saying : “Delivery Failure.”

The lack of the right to access information in Iraq and its parliament’s failure to pass such a law proposed nine years ago makes it very difficult to convince authorities to allow the press to access the records of a former detainee, even if he is no longer considered a threat to national security.

Policy of Terror

Head of the Hammurabi Human Rights Organization (HHRO), Abdul-Rahman al-Mashhadani, explains that this is a familiar method used by US troops. The massacre “is part of the policy of terror that has been adopted to terrorize civilians in Iraq’s villages and towns. They randomly target a home and kill all its residents.”

Eyewitnesses, including Harrat’s brothers and several adjacent neighbors, stressed that the attack came out of the blue. Not one bullet was shot from the house before or during the raid. The attacking troops did not warn anyone in the house or ask them to surrender, as is usually the case.

Military expert Omar Jabbouri argues that the Chinooks, which carried the troops and attacked the house, are equipped with high tech infra-red sensors that can detect the number of people in the house. They can also detect the size of the persons inside – whether they were fully-grown adult or small children, and their location.

Jabbouri believes that the US forces knew exactly who was in the house since the beginning of the raid. Nevertheless, they kept claiming that they did not know there could be five small children inside and gave contradictory numbers in their statements.

According to Jabbouri, this clearly indicates that US forces have something to hide, especially since all other similar raids were usually videotaped moment by moment by the attacking forces.

The expert believes that they decided to wipe out all the witnesses other than the soldiers themselves.

Between Baghdad and Washington

Several attempts were made by this journalist to contact Ali al-Moussawi, advisor to the Iraqi prime minister, to comment on the statements of the Pentagon’s spokesperson, who said that the Wikileaks cable about the massacre will make the US army reopen the investigation.

“We will reopen the investigation based on the new information published by Wikileaks. The government [of Iraq] will use all legal means to ensure the victims’ rights,” he finally replied.

Moussawi explained that Iraq “cannot initiate an investigation without the cooperation of the US side, because it has all the basic details.” The troop withdrawal agreement between the two countries stipulates that Baghdad has the right to “initiate an investigation, only in the case of evidence of arbitrary execution by US troops.”

However, the prime minister’s advisor, reaffirms that Iraq “will not abandon the rights of its citizens and will follow the case until the investigation is reopened.” But he did not go into details.

The author informed the Harrat family of the prime minister’s advisor’s comments that the Iraqi government will attempt to reopen the investigation into the massacre.

They said that demanding the rights of Iraqi citizens “dead or alive, is the duty of the prime minister.” But they did not hide the fact that such comments might be for “media consumption, no more.”

Tarek Harb, a legal expert, commented on the government’s obligations by saying that this is “not easy at all.” Such an investigation can only be initiated through diplomatic channels. He explained that the agreement gives “immunity” to US soldiers. They cannot be tried in Baghdad, only in US courts.

Harb’s suggestion remains a theory. Such a case “is financially very costly.” Often, reopening such investigations “is close to impossible.” Harb suggested that the Iraqi foreign ministry could try “to ask its US counterpart to reopen an investigation in light of the Wikileaks cable.”

A high ranking official in the foreign ministry told the author of the report that “there are cases similar to the Ishaqi incidents, which might be dealt with in the future according to the US-Iraq agreement.” But this will be based on “future evidence.” But he said that his statements should not be considered an official declaration, “due to the sensitivity of the issue.”

Possible Scenarios

Military experts and security officials propose three likely scenarios for what actually occurred during that operation.

The first scenario was that Utaybi was actually inside the targeted house. He could have been a guest, like many al-Qaeda operatives around Iraq. He might have also forced the family to host him and began shooting at the troops when they approached the house. So, they fired back.

This scenario makes Utaybi a witness to the events inside the house that night.

Trying to obtain Utaybi’s confessions, the author spoke with three Kuwaiti and other Arab journalists working in Iraq to intervene. They all apologized due to the sensitivity of the case.

The second possible scenario is that the US troops received false information that led it to attack the house by force. When the soldiers saw the bodies of the victims of the random shooting from outside, they decided to kill those who remained and bomb the house in order to hide the crime.

The Ishaqi massacre came only a few months after the famous Haditha massacre, where 24 Iraqi citizens were slaughtered, and was still fresh in everybody’s mind.

Neither of those scenarios explain why the victims’ hands were tied and their mouths gagged. Which opens the door for the third scenario.

US forces might have repeated what they did several times in the past, interrogation by way of tying up children and women, then killing family members one after the other.

Up to now, it seems that uncovering the truth depends, in the first degree, on the Iraqi government responding to calls to reopen an investigation in the case or the rise of a rights movement that can put pressure to reopen the files for all the massacres committed by US forces in Iraq.

There does not seem to be any other way to uncover what happened during the Ishaqi massacre, except if the justice ministry allows access to Utaybi’s file or a direct interview with him to record his account of the massacre.

US troops left Iraq in 2011. Utaybi is back in his country, welcomed as a hero by many jihadi and armed groups websites. It is up to Iraqi authorities to uncover the truth during that night when 11 Iraqis were killed – 4 women, 3 men and 5 children.

The victims included a 9-month-old infant called Houssam Faiz who was found with his hands tied together and his head blown away by a US soldier who evaded justice.

This report was completed with the support of the Network for Iraqi Investigative Journalism (NIRIJ) and supervised by Mohammed al-Rubayi.

Box

The Ishaqi massacre was not the only one of its kind in Iraq. It was preceded and followed by many other massacres in several towns. The most famous of those was al-Haditha massacre, almost four months earlier, where 24 civilians, including 10 women and children were killed.

The courts later revealed that the operation was retaliatory. It was committed by US troops following the death of one of their companions when a roadside bomb exploded during a patrol.

The trial lasted three full years. People thought that it will bring down harsh sentences to deter US soldiers from killing Iraqi civilians at whim.

The actual sentence came as a shock. The US court dropped the charges against six of the defendants. The US Judge in Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton in California decided to demote the commander of the group that committed the massacre, Sgt. Frank Wuterich.

The sentences were an indicator that US courts do not care about protecting Iraqi civilians from being killed by US soldiers. None of the sentences reflected the magnitude of the crimes. The lives of 24 Iraqi civilians in Haditha only warranted the demotion of one of the soldiers who committed the massacre.

The same thing was repeated in a massacre committed by the US army at the end of 2006. They killed 36 Iraqi civilians living in two adjacent houses, including 6 children and 8 women.

The incident was never investigated, since the US military concluded, according to a statement issued later, that “the soldiers operated within the rules of engagement when replying to gunfire from the targeted houses.”

Ishaqi was no different. The US commander of the nearby base denied any knowledge of the raid at first. He later informed the residents of the village that the operation was carried out by soldiers who arrived in helicopters from a base in Baghdad.

US forces carried out a cursory investigation with Faiz Harrat’s brothers. They were done in a couple of hours.

Some time later, an American with a Lebanese accent contacted the brothers and offered them a “reasonable” financial compensation if they waive their right to sue the US army for the Harrat family massacre.

The brothers refused the offer. They were never contacted again and the investigation was closed. It remains so until today.+-


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