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12-31-06, 06:40 AM #1
Local Iraqis react to Haditha charges
Local Iraqis react to Haditha charges
By: WILLIAM FINN BENNETT - Staff Writer
Charges against eight Marines in the alleged massacre of 24 Iraqi civilians fuel hostility toward U.S. troops, according to a native of Iraq and UC San Diego medical school professor.
"It's going to be a major stigma that will tarnish the image of the U.S. military, similar to Abu Ghraib," if the men are found guilty, Wael al-Delaimy said last week.
When the photos of abuse of Iraqi prisoners surfaced in early 2004 at the now-closed Iraqi prison Abu Ghraib, it set off a firestorm of hostility against the U.S. across the Middle East. The Haditha incident adds to that rancor, al-Delaimy said.
"Because of these incidents, many Iraqis have become anti-U.S. when they were not before," al-Delaimy said.
On Dec. 21, the Marine Corps charged four enlisted men in the deaths that occurred in Haditha on Nov. 19, 2005. Also charged were four officers, accused of dereliction of duty and related offenses for allegedly failing to properly investigate and report what happened.
Through their attorneys, the enlisted men from Pendleton's Kilo Company attached to the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, maintain their innocence, saying they believed they were following the rules of engagement dictated to them by the Marine Corps. Attorneys for the officers also contend their clients did nothing wrong.
Al-Delaimy, a Muslim, said that if the Marines are ultimately found guilty, "the penalty should be really severe, to deter others from even thinking of doing something similar."
The simple fact that the Marines have been formally charged is a sign that there is accountability, he said.
"That is kind of reassuring," al-Delaimy said. "The unfortunate thing is that this may just be the tip of the iceberg of many more incidents where no one has been charged."
Some express doubts
While Iraq is predominantly Muslim, many Iraqis living in San Diego County are Chaldean Catholics, a centuries-old offshoot of the Assyrian Church of the East, integrated into Roman Catholicism in the 16th century.
On Wednesday morning, about 30 Chaldeans were gathered at the El Cajon Shish Kebab restaurant on Main Street in El Cajon, chatting and drinking strong, dark tea.
Several said that while the civilian deaths were tragic and the perpetrators should be punished, Iraqi militia groups and sectarian terrorists murder dozens of innocent civilians every day.
That is where the real problem lies, they said, and where the U.S. should be concentrating its efforts to stop needless bloodshed.
Chaldean and a native of Iraq, Tony Behnan, 53, said he was withholding judgment on the Marines.
"Who knows why they killed them," Behnan said. "They may have been fighting with the Americans. I hope they'll let the Marines go, because we don't know what happened.
"We can't know the truth."
Sabah Putrus, 53, said he suspected that there may have been insurgents hiding amid of the civilians at Haditha.
"That happens all the time," Putrus said.
Charges a 'smoke screen'
Jamil Gabriel, 65, is the mayor of a town approximately 400 miles north of Baghdad. He was visiting friends and family in El Cajon last week and said that he will soon return to his country.
A Chaldean, Gabriel said he was not overly impressed that eight Marines have been charged in the case. He said he believes the charges are nothing more than a smoke screen, designed to make it look as if President Bush is looking after Iraqis.
"He has killed many of our people," Gabriel said.
Another Chaldean Christian, Sevan Maro, 25, was visiting a Main Street barbershop frequented by natives of Iraq living in El Cajon. The Iraqi said that if the Marines are guilty in the Haditha incident, they should be prosecuted and punished to the fullest extent of the law.
If not, "it would mean the American military is no good ---- we're supposed to be the good guys," Maro said.
Shiite Muslim and El Cajon restaurant owner Majed Aleesawy, 31, said he is concerned that the Haditha incident will further sway public opinion against the Americans.
"If it's true, it would make Iraqis believe in those who say that Americans are bad," Aleesawy said. "They could start to collaborate with the insurgents."
It was good the charges were filed, he said, because that will help counter the claims being made in the Arabic media that say "the Americans are trying to cover it up."
Aleesawy, who worked for the U.S. military as an interpreter in Iraq in the 1990s, said that while justice must run its course, he believes the Marines killed innocent people and should pay the price.
He saw the news coverage of the killings and "they shot them at close range." Aleesawy said.
"They should get at least life in prison," Aleesawy said.
Marine Corps officials last week said that the investigation into what happened at Haditha continues and that more troops could be charged.
That statement followed an inquiry by the North County Times as to why only 20 Iraqi civilians are listed as homicide victims in charging information provided by the Marine Corps, which continues to state that 24 civilians were killed.
Defense attorneys hired by the accused have been given computer disks containing thousands of pages of investigative material; they say it will take them weeks to sift through the data.
The next formal step in the legal process for each of the accused will be pretrial court sessions conducted before a military officer in what are known as Article 32 hearings. Prosecutors and defense attorneys will present their cases, and the hearing officer will then recommend whether he believes their cases should move on to courts-martial.
Pretrial hearings over evidentiary matters and related issues could take place before the Article 32 hearings, which are not expected to begin for two to three months at the earliest.
Contact staff writer William Finn Bennett at (760) 740-5426, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
IN LOVING MEMORY OF MY LATE HUSBAND, SSgt Roger A. Alfano, USMC
ONE PROUD MARINE
Once a Marine...Always a Marine
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