Still Calling it the Haditha "Massacre"

Manohla Dargis reviews a British filmmaker's dramatization of the "massacre" by Marines in the Iraqi town of Haditha.

More bias from movie criticManohla Dargis, this timein Wednesday's Times. The film "Battle for Haditha" is a dramatization of what Dargis called "a wretched chapter of the war in Iraq," when 24 Iraqis were killed by Marines whohad been attacked by insurgents in theIraqi town of Haditha in 2005.The review is titled "The Killing of Innocents Faces a Dry-Eyed Dissection," and that slant prevailed throughout the review.

The first paragraph at least describes Haditha in somewhat even-handed terms.

In "Battle for Haditha," the British filmmaker Nick Broomfield revisits a wretched chapter of the war in Iraq. On Nov. 19, 2005, marines stationed in Haditha, a Euphrates River valley city northwest of Baghdad, killed 24 Iraqi civilians, including at least 10 women and children, from toddler age up, who were in their homes. The reasons for the killings remain in dispute, though not this evidence: no weapons were found in the houses, most victims died from close-range gunfire and at least five were shot in the head. After various investigations, murder charges against four marines were dropped; one still faces reduced charges.

But Dargis's lazy writing embraced some of the worst parts of Times' previous coverage, as when she referred to the incident with the emotionallyloaded term "massacre" and made a reference to "quick-triggered Marines,"a phrase thatseemed topin blame squarely on trigger-happy Marines. Yet most of the Marines initially charged have been removed from the case and charges against the remaining one downgraded

(Merriam-Webster defines "massacre" as "the act or an instance of killing a number of usually helpless or unresisting human beings under circumstances of atrocity or cruelty.")

...The Middle East dust in this film looks chokingly authentic because, much like the prostrated Iraqi women keening over their dead and much like the battle scar that runs along one marine's upper leg like a zipper, it is.

That scar belongs to Corporal Ramirez (Elliot Ruiz, a former Marine corporal turned actor), a brutalized young squad leader who's trying to protect his men and his own increasingly besieged mind. (Corporal Ramirez has been based on Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich, the enlisted marine who was the squad leader during the Haditha massacre, though it's unclear how much the character owes to the real man.) The movie, which was shot in good-looking if not the glossiest digital video (the trace of digital artifacts adds to the documentary vibe), opens with a succession of young men addressing the camera with varying degrees of cynicism and confusion, voicing the same question that is repeatedly intoned back home: Why are we here?

Mr. Broomfield doesn't presume to know the answer to that question. Somewhat surprisingly, given how subjective his documentaries skew, "Battle for Haditha" isn't a jeremiad against the war, the American administration or even the quick-triggered marines. Rather, with dry-eyed intelligence, he takes the killings at Haditha and returns the incident to the historical moment from which it has been removed by politics and propaganda. He points fingers, suggests reasons and explores rationales, showing sympathy for the war-ravaged marines without letting them off the hook. He introduces the insurgents who planted the bomb that killed a marine, apparently precipitating the massacre by the dead man's squad. And then with sickening realism, he shows how those innocent Iraqis, caught between the insurgents and the marines, died.

Does Dargis know for a fact that every Iraqi killed by the Marines was innocent?