"The Girls Died Screaming"

The slaughter of innocents in Haditha, Iraq, last November could make a final turning point in the U.S. war against Iraq. Representative John Murtha, the former Marine who has turned against the war, and bitterly, suggests that when the full truth is known about the Haditha massacre (note to media: please stop calling it an "incident") it will be "worse than Abu Ghraib." Indeed, and far worse.

Ellen Knickmeyer's on-the-scene piece from May 27 in the Washington Post describes in brutal detail how U.S. Marines entered home after home in Haditha, shooting babies. No doubt you've already read it, but here's a typical excerpt:

It was the home of 76-year-old Abdul Hamid Hassan Ali. Although he had used a wheelchair since diabetes forced a leg amputation years ago, Ali was always one of the first on his block to go out every morning, scattering scraps for his chickens and hosing the dust of the arid western town from his driveway, neighbors said.

In the house with Ali and his 66-year-old wife, Khamisa Tuma Ali, were three of the middle-aged male members of their family, at least one daughter-in-law and four children -- 4-year-old Abdullah, 8-year-old Iman, 5-year-old Abdul Rahman and 2-month-old Asia.

Marines entered shooting, witnesses recalled. Most of the shots -- in Ali's house and two others -- were fired at such close range that they went through the bodies of the family members and plowed into walls or the floor, physicians at Haditha's hospital said.

Ali took nine rounds in the chest and abdomen, leaving his intestines spilling out of the exit wounds in his back, according to his death certificate.

And this:

The Marines moved to the house next door. ...

Inside were 43-year-old Khafif, 41-year-old Aeda Yasin Ahmed, an 8-year-old son, five young daughters and a 1-year-old girl staying with the family, according to death certificates and neighbors.

The Marines shot them at close range and hurled grenades into the kitchen and bathroom, survivors and neighbors said later. Khafif's pleas could be heard across the neighborhood. Four of the girls died screaming.

So far, except for Murtha and a handful of others, there have few expressions of outrage from American politicians. (I did a search for "Hillary Clinton" and "Haditha" and it came up empty. Does anyone know if the warlike New York senator gives a damn about the innocents of Haditha?)

What strikes me is the parallel with the trial of Saddam Hussein. Saddam is on trial for war crimes committed in his name in a small Iraqi city. In that case, terrorists tied to the party of Al Dawa tried to assassinate the Iraqi leader. In retaliation, Iraqi forces are said to have killed scores of residents after arresting hundreds. So what, exactly, is the difference here? On behalf of President Bush, the U.S. Marines - whose culpability reportedly reaches far up the command - slaughtered dozens. Will the president be put in the dock, surrounded by Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld, and the rest? It's no wonder that in 2001 Bush opposed the International Criminal Court in the Netherlands. That ought not to stop the creation of a war crimes tribunal.

And I doubt Haditha is alone. The story was revealed at all only because Time magazine confronted the U.S. military with its own atrocity. How many more Hadithas are out there? Five? Ten? One hundred?