Accuracy in Media

Time magazine’s story of an alleged Marine massacre in Haditha, Iraq, has been falling apart.

Thanks to Time and Rep. John Murtha, the name “Haditha” has gained signature status as an American atrocity, even though the facts are not in. Haditha has even been compared to the My Lai massacre, in which U.S. forces killed a group of Vietnamese, during the Vietnam War. But as a media story, “Haditha” is beginning to look more like Operation Tailwind, a story that sounded sensational and damaging to U.S. forces before it was exposed as a fraud. The Haditha massacre story could turn out to be as phony as the Bush National Guard documents that scandalized CBS News.

Although Tailwind was primarily a CNN fiasco, one thing both stories have in common is Time magazine, CNN’s partner in the Tailwind story. Another is that they are both stories that make extremely serious allegations against the U.S. military, based on highly questionable sources, presented in a deceitful manner.

Haditha is a town in Iraq that had remained a haven for Sunni insurgents and foreign jihadists. On the morning of November 19, 2005, according to Time, U.S. forces were involved in deliberately killing Iraqi civilians. But Time has already had to correct and amend its coverage on several occasions, and on issues that are very substantive, and that raise serious questions about the likely truth of the charges. There are also serious questions about the motives behind the reporting.

What everyone agrees on is that at 7:15 a.m. that morning, a powerful improvised explosive device (IED) exploded as a convoy of Marine Humvees was passing by, killing Lance Corporal Miguel Terrazas, said to be the most popular member of the squad of Kilo Company. What happened next is that in a series of combat actions, 24 Iraqis were killed. According to the lawyer for Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich, an eight-year Marine who led the squad, 23 died at a traffic stop, and in three nearby houses. A 24th was killed while fleeing from a house. This is where the stories diverge.

According to alleged eyewitnesses who spoke to Time magazine reporters, the killings were in cold blood, sometimes point blank, and included women, children and the elderly. But according to Wuterich and other Marines, the deaths resulted from a firefight with terrorists. Following the IED explosion, he says, they set up a defensive perimeter. A car drove by with five Iraqi men inside, and when ordered, in Arabic, to halt, they got out of the car and began to run. The Marines shot and killed them all. They had considered their running to indicate hostile intent.

Then a shot came from one of the houses. They then decided to clear the houses along that block. They used grenades to “prep” the first house, before going in. They acknowledged killing the Iraqis over a period of several hours, but deny charges that civilians were lined up and executed. They reported the incident up the chain of command, and said there had been collateral damage, meaning civilian deaths. The next day, the 2nd Marine Division issued a statement saying that 15 Iraqis had been killed by an IED and firefight. That story, based on apparent miscommunication, wasn’t true. Wuterich insists that he never said the Iraqis had been killed as a result of an IED.

Time broke the story in March, some four months after the incident. One of their sources was described as a “journalism student” and “a young local man” who said he shot video of the aftermath of the incident and at the morgue. Time originally reported that “The video was obtained by the Hammurabi Human Rights Group, which cooperates with the internationally respected Human Rights Watch, and has been shared with TIME.” They later amended the story, and said in note at the end of the article that “In fact, Human Rights Watch has no ties or association with the Hammurabi Human Rights Group.”

It turns out that the “young” journalist is 43-year-old Taher Thabet al Hadithi, and a co-founder of the Hammurabi Human Rights Group. At the time, he was also one of its only two members. Many have questioned the timing?why the charges were made much later. In an editorial, the Washington Times noted that although Hadithi claims to have witnessed the Marines killing civilians, and that he videotaped the aftermath on the following day, he waited at least two months before bringing his tape to the attention of the media. The Times noted that Hammurabi’s other founder, Abdul-Rahman al Mashhadani, failed to mention the alleged massacre during an interview with the Institute for War and Peace in December.

A Reuters article quoted a lawyer for one of the Marines being investigated as saying that the two “employees” of Hammurabi have family members “in local prisons for insurgent activities.” They deny this but questions remain about the nature of this “human rights” organization. At this point, it would not be beyond the pale to suggest that it could be a terrorist front organization. But all the facts are not in.

Was Time lied to by the Hammurabi boys, or did they embellish the story on their own? How well did Time vet the source of the tape they were shown before going forth with the story?

Making the initial charges sound extremely damaging, Time had reported that “one of the most damning pieces of evidence investigators have in their possession, John Sifton of Human Rights Watch told Time’s Tim McGirk, is a photo, taken by a Marine with his cell phone that shows Iraqis kneeling?and thus posing no threat?before they were shot.” Sifton later said that he has no first-hand knowledge of that photo, and that it appears to him that “Time Magazine mixed up their reporting, possibly conflating and then confusing what I said with what others had reported.”

When Time showed the video to military officials in January, it set in motion a series of investigations. One reportedly concluded that Marine officers failed to ask the right questions, but that nothing in the report indicated a “knowing cover-up.” Instead, it said, that the officers involved up the chain-of-command had not demanded “a thorough investigation” of the events that took place.

As to what took place and how this happened, it has been turned over to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), which will determine whether or not the troops broke any laws, or acted within the parameters of their duty and training.

It has become clear that the terrorists don’t hesitate to use women and children as human shields, and that they have learned how to manipulate the media to gain sympathy in a campaign to break the will of the U.S. and its allies. Clearly, such a campaign could utilize fake videos and bribing or threatening people to tell lies about the Americans.

If the Time account completely collapses, much credit will have to go to the blog Sweetness & Light, which has been analyzing every twist and turn, noting how Time has been forced to repeatedly correct aspects of the story. It has focused some critical attention on the curious performance of Time reporter Tim McGirk, who “broke” the Haditha massacre story.

The American Thinker website has gone so far as to ask, “Is Tim McGirk the new Mary Mapes?” Mapes, of course, is the former CBS News producer who fell for the bogus Bush National Guard document and put it on the air. She left the network in disgrace, and her accomplice, Dan Rather, who narrated the Mapes report for the CBS 60 Minutes II program, is leaving under a cloud as well.

Time magazine insists that it engages in professional journalism, but Accuracy in Media recently caught its top reporters fabricating part of an interview conducted with National Intelligence Director John Negroponte. No apology was offered in that case.



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