April 2, 2003
“Cease fire!” Johnson yelled over the radio. Then, as he peered into his binoculars from the intersection on Highway 9, he roared at the platoon leader, “You just [expletive] killed a family because you didn’t fire a warning shot soon enough!”That’s from “embedded” Washington Post reporter William Branigan’s account of Monday’s awful scene on Highway 9, where US forces wound up killing five adults and five children packed into a Toyota van.
Fifteen Iraqi civilians were packed inside the Toyota, officers said, along with as many of their possessions as the jammed vehicle could hold. Ten of them, including five children who appeared to be under 5 years old, were killed on the spot when the high-explosive rounds slammed into their target, Johnson’s company reported. Of the five others, one man was so severely injured that medics said he was not expected to live.Liberal Oasis notes that Branigan’s eyewitness account contradicts the official line that warning shots were in fact fired. Who’s right? I don’t know. But score one for independence even among “embedded” reporters.
“It was the most horrible thing I’ve ever seen, and I hope I never see it again,” Sgt. Mario Manzano, 26, an Army medic with Bravo Company of the division’s 3rd Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, said later in an interview. He said one of the wounded women sat in the vehicle holding the mangled bodies of two of her children. “She didn’t want to get out of the car,” he said.Then again, as LO points out, the New York Times and the AP both followed the official line, so score one, debit two.
God knows the soldiers have reason to be scared; the innocent-looking vehicle full of apparent civilians could indeed be the next suicide bomb attack. But these rules of engagement (from the London Daily Mirror) seem pretty scary in themselves:
Troops were told that if those in cars or trucks do not obey orders within five seconds they can open fire.Okay, that’s the Mirror, not the most completely reliable source. Corrections or amplications welcome. Back to Branigan’s Washington Post account, there’s this:
To try to prevent a recurrence, Johnson ordered that signs be posted in Arabic to warn people to stop well short of the Bradleys guarding the eastern approach to the intersection.That might be an idea. You know, actually communicating with terrified civilians in their own language, before you kill them.
Medics gave the group 10 body bags. U.S. officials offered an unspecified amount of money to compensate them.Before anyone starts: This isn’t about how US soldiers are evil monsters or something. This is just about how war really, really sucks. [08:49 AM]
“They wanted to bury them before the dogs got to them,” said Cpl. Brian Truenow, 28, of Townsend, Mass.