Galloway Recalls Tour in Iraq With 'Haditha' Unit

By: Sarah Weber In January of 2006, about two months after Marines killed 24 Iraqi civilians in Haditha, veteran reporter Joe Galloway arrived at the Iraqi town.

Galloway, who was touring several military bases in Iraq to speak with soldiers for Knight Ridder, arrived at Haditha in the aftermath of one of the most controversial battles of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Moreover, Galloway met with and was given a tour of the base by two of the men who now stand accused of failing to thoroughly investigate and report the incident at Haditha to higher authorities.

To Galloway, whose tours of duty in Vietnam for United Press International (UPI) resulted in his penning the acclaimed book ?We Were Soldiers Once ? and Young,? nothing seemed awry at the military base housing the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment. A Time magazine reporter, Tim McGirk, was in the process of querying military officers about evidence he had gained about he alleged massacre at Haditha, but the story had not yet surfaced in the press.

?It seemed normal to me,? Galloway, now living in Texas, told E&P last week, though he added that the normalcy was couched within the uncomfortable conditions in which the Marines were living at the base, which was commonly referred to as Sparta. ?They weren?t living well, it must be said.? That being said, Galloway said that he ?did not detect one thing wrong in that company ...

?Everybody I talked to, about a couple dozen guys, nobody said a word about [the alleged Haditha massacre]. There had been mention that it was a pretty tough area, and they had taken casualties. But that was like every area in Iraq.?

When Galloway saw the revelations of what might have happened at Haditha in the newspapers several months later, he said that he was ?surprised and shocked.? As members of the Kilo Company of the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment were charged with various counts of wrongdoing in the Haditha incident, Galloway realized that he had spoken with a couple of the accused.

Captain Lucas McConnell, the 31-year-old commander of Company K at the time of the incident, had given Galloway a tour of the Sparta base during the January visit. According to Galloway, McConnell ? who is accused of failing to ensure that the possible violations of war conduct were thoroughly reported and investigated ? was a polite man who gave him a ?nice welcome.?

Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey R. Chessani, 43, whose Article 32 hearing into whether he should be court-martialed for his actions was just completed, also met with Galloway and had his picture taken with the reporter and McConnell. Once again, Galloway said that he ?saw nothing out of the ordinary.?

Chessani is currently the highest ranking officer being charged in the Haditha case. Charges include a violation of a lawful order and two counts of dereliction of duty in relation to his failures to adequately report the incident in Haditha, see that it was passed onto higher authorities, and direct a thorough investigation.

Though Galloway describes himself as semi-retired, he is still active as a columnist for the McClatchy Washington Bureau. Recent columns have the titles ?Re-Open Investigation of Abu Ghraib? and ?Another Flight from Reality by President Bush.?

?I?m not going to pre-judge what happened in Haditha,? Galloway was quick to say. But when questioned on the belief of many that the lower-ranked soldiers are being punished for the crimes of their superiors, he said that ?in any bureaucracy, unlike cream, blame settles near the bottom.?

Galloway also addressed factors that he felt were relevant to the case of Haditha, from the multiple tours of duty that many of the men had committed to, to the way the armed forces has been stretched thin.

?I think that multiple tours into combat [are] a terrible stressor,? Galloway told E&P. ?You take young men and send them over and over and over into the cauldron of combat ? and especially in a place like Haditha ? you?re going to have things happen that would not ordinarily happen.?

As the Article 32 hearings on the alleged Haditha massacre wrap-up for three members of Kilo Company, and as news surfaces from those hearings of the military?s stonewalling of reporters who originally investigated Haditha, Galloway?s insistence on stronger investigative reporting rings true.

?One hundred and forty journalists have died in Iraq,? Galloway said, ?sadly, most of them Iraqi. It?s a very different war, very dangerous.

?But what I want, and what I would like to see, is a hell of a lot more spine and backbone and toughness. Go do your job. Let the chips fall where they will.?


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