This piece by Arwa Damon is worth reading:
It actually took me a while to put all the pieces together — that I know these guys, the U.S. Marines at the heart of the alleged massacre of Iraqi civilians in Haditha.
I don’t know why it didn’t register with me until now. It was only after scrolling through the tapes that we shot in Haditha last fall, and I found footage of some of the officers that had been relieved of their command, that it hit me.
I know the Marines that were operating in western al Anbar, from Husayba all the way to Haditha. I went on countless operations in 2005 up and down the Euphrates River Valley. I was pinned on rooftops with them in Ubeydi for hours taking incoming fire, and I’ve seen them not fire a shot back because they did not have positive identification on a target.***
I was with them in Husayba as they went house to house in an area where insurgents would booby-trap doors, or lie in wait behind closed doors with an AK-47, basically on suicide missions, just waiting for the Marines to come through and open fire. There were civilians in the city as well, and the Marines were always keenly aware of that fact. How they didn’t fire at shadows, not knowing what was waiting in each house, I don’t know. But they didn’t.
And I was with them in Haditha, a month before the alleged killings last November of some 24 Iraqi civilians.
I’m told that investigators now strongly suspect a rampage by a small number of Marines who snapped after one of their own was killed by a roadside bomb.
Haditha was full of IEDs. It seemed they were everywhere, like a minefield. In fact, the number of times that we were told that we were standing right on top of an IED minutes before it was found turned into a dark joke between my CNN team and me.
This story confirms a great deal of what I already believe (but do not know for sure), and also illustrates the benefits and the downfalls of a press that establishes a personal relationship with the subjects they cover.
I really do think Damon is probably painting the most accurate description of events (at least from the evidence I have seen)- that it was, as she wrote, “a rampage by a small number of Marines who snapped after one of their own was killed by a roadside bomb.” This is what I think happened- a small group of frazzled Marines, under a great deal of stress and pressure, lost control when one of their buddies was killed and went on a “rampage.” It does not excuse their behavior, but it does help to explain it.
What is more interesting to me is the tone of this piece- the personal nature of it, and I think that reflects what is good and bad about reporters having an intimiate knowledge of their subjects. It is possible that this reporter (and those like her), having had the experiences she did with Marines being very careful to hold their fire, being careful to avoid collateral damage, etc., may have been slower than a reporter with no experience with these Marines to pick up on the massacre. However, on the positive side, her experiences with the troops gave her a depth of experience which allowed her to write such an interesting yet careful piece such as the one linked, rather than simply screaming that “Organized units of marines are systematically executing civilians!” as some jackasses have done in the comments section here.