In November 2005, U.S. marines in Iraq were involved in the killing of 24 civilians—including women and children. Shortly after the story became public, the ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for all documents related to the incident and other civilian casualties of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Although we received thousands of documents in response, the government did not give us a single document relating specifically to the killings at Haditha.
Apparently, it threw them away instead.
Last week, The New York Times reported that it had found hundreds of pages of records relating to the horrific incident in Haditha . . . in a junkyard, being burned as kindling to cook a dinner.
The U.S. government could have turned these documents over and, in the process, helped Americans obtain the information they need in order to critically reflect on our conduct in Iraq and other theaters of war. Instead it chose to trash transparency, and as a result, strangle any chance of proper accountability.
The documents discovered by The New York Times reflect a disillusioned and tragically misdirected mission that resulted in death and suffering in Iraq and among the Marines themselves. Ironically, the military’s attempt to fog the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has worked doubly against the interests of the American people. First, the American public was denied access to records reflecting its government’s conduct for years. Second, its servicepersons were forced to operate in an environment where the death of innocent civilians was considered a “cost of doing business,” resulting in severe damage to the servicepersons themselves.
These documents should have been made public. Throwing away documents relating to atrocities in Iraq will not make those atrocities go away. Instead, it only breeds distrust in our government and deprives us of the information we need as citizens to hold our leaders accountable and to make informed choices about our policies.