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A veteran speaks


Paul Rockwell

For nearly 12 years, Staff Sergeant Jimmy Massey was a hard-core, some say "gung-ho," Marine. For three years he trained fellow Marines in one of the most grueling indoctrination rituals in military life -- Marine boot camp. The Iraqi war changed Massey. The brutality, the sheer carnage of the U.S. invasion, touched his conscience and transformed him forever. He was honorably discharged last December 31 and is now back in his hometown, Waynsville, North Carolina. When I talked with Sergeant Massey last week, he expressed his remorse at the civilian loss of life in incidents in which he himself was involved.

Paul Rockwell: You spent 12 years in the Marines. When were you sent to Iraq?

Sgt. Massey: I went to Kuwait around January 17th. I was in Iraq from the get-go. And I was involved in the initial invasion.

Paul Rockwell: What does the public need to know about your experiences as a Marine?

Sgt. Massey: The cause of the Iraqi revolt against the American occupation. What they need to know is we killed a lot of innocent people. I think at first the Iraqis had the understanding that casualties are a part of war. But over the course of time, the occupation hurt the Iraqis. And I didn't see any humanitarian support.

Paul Rockwell: What experiences turned you against the war and made you leave the Marines?

Sgt. Massey: I was in charge of a platoon that consists of machine gunners and missile men. Our job was to go into certain areas of the towns and secure the roadways.

There was this one particular incident -- and there's many more -- the one that really pushed me over the edge. It involved a car with Iraqi civilians. From all the intelligence reports we were getting, the cars were loaded down with suicide bombs or material. That's the rhetoric we received from intelligence. They came upon our checkpoint. We fired some warning shots. They didn't slow down. So we lit them up.

Paul Rockwell: Lit up? You mean you fired machine guns?

Sgt. Massey: Right. Every car that we lit up we were expecting ammunition to go off. But we never heard any. Well this particular vehicle we didn't destroy completely, and one gentleman looked up at me and said: 'Why did you kill my brother? We didn't do anything wrong.' That hit me like a ton of bricks.

Paul Rockwell: He spoke English?

Sgt. Massey: Oh, yeah.

Paul Rockwell: Baghdad was being bombed. The civilians were trying to get out, right?

Sgt. Massey: Yes. They received pamphlets, propaganda we dropped on them. It said 'Just throw up your hands, lay down weapons.' That's what they were doing, but we were still lighting them up. They weren't in uniform. We never found any weapons.

Paul Rockwell: You got to see the bodies and casualties?

Sgt. Massey: Yea, first hand. I helped throw them in a ditch.

Paul Rockwell: Over what period did all this take place?

Sgt. Massey: During the invasion of Baghdad.

Paul Rockwell: How many times were you involved in check-point "light-ups"?

Sgt. Massey: Five times.

"We Lit Him Up Pretty Good"

There was Rekha. The gentleman was driving a stolen work utility van. He didn't stop. With us being trigger happy, we didn't really give this guy much of a chance. We lit him up pretty good. Then we inspected the back of the van. We found nothing. No explosives.

Paul Rockwell: The reports said the cars were loaded with explosives. In all the incidents did you find that to be the case?

Sgt. Massey: Never. Not once. There were no secondary explosions. As a matter of fact, we lit up a rally.

Paul Rockwell: A demonstration? Where?

Sgt. Massey: On the outskirts of Baghdad. Near a military compound. There were demonstrators at the end of the street. They were young and they had no weapons. And when we rolled onto the scene, there was already a tank that was parked on the side of the road. If the Iraqis wanted to do something, they could have blown up the tank. But they didn't. They were only holding a demonstration. Down at the end of the road, we saw some RPGs (rocket--propelled grenades) lined up against the wall. That put us at ease because we thought: 'Wow, if they were going to blow us up, they would have done it.'

Paul Rockwell: Were the protest signs in English or Arabic?

Sgt. Massey: Both.

Paul Rockwell: Who gave the order to wipe the demonstrators out?

Sgt. Massey: Higher Command. We were told to be on the lookout for civilians because a lot of the Fedayeen and the Republican Guards had tossed away uniforms and put on civilian clothes and were mounting terrorist attacks on American soldiers. The intelligence reports that were given to us were basically known by every member of the chain of command. The rank structure that was implemented in Iraq by the chain of command was evident to every Marine in Iraq. The order to shoot the demonstrators, I believe, came from senior government officials including intelligence communities within the military and the U.S. government?

Paul Rockwell: What kind of firepower was employed?

Sgt. Massey: M-16s, 50-cal.machine guns.

Paul Rockwell: You fired into six or ten kids? Were they all taken out?

Sgt. Massey: Oh, yeah. Well, I had a 'mercy' on one guy. When we rolled up, he was hiding behind a concrete pillar. I saw him and raised my weapon up, and he put up his hands. He ran off. I told everybody 'Don't shoot.' Half of his foot was trailing behind him. So he was running with half of his foot cut off.

Paul Rockwell: After you lit up the demonstration, how long before the next incident?

Sgt. Massey: Probably about one or two hours. This is another thing, too. I am so glad I am talking with you, because I suppressed all of this.

Paul Rockwell: Well I appreciate you giving me the information, as hard as it must be to recall the painful details.

Sgt. Massey: That's all right. It's kind of therapy for me. Because it's something that I had repressed for a long time.

Paul Rockwell: And the incident?

Sgt. Massey: There was an incident with one of the cars. We shot an individual with his hands up. He got out of the car. He was badly shot. We lit him up. I don't know who started shooting first. One of the Marines came running over to where we were and said: 'You all just shot a guy with his hands up.' Man, I forgot about this.

Depleted Uranium and Cluster Bombs

Paul Rockwell: You mention missiles and machine guns. What can you tell me about cluster bombs, or depleted uranium?

Sgt. Massey: Depleted uranium. I know what it does. It's basically like leaving plutonium rods around. I'm 32 years old. I have eighty-percent of my lung capacity. I ache all the time. I don't feel like a healthy 32-year old.

Paul Rockwell: Were you in the vicinity of of depleted uranium?

Sgt. Massey: Oh, yeah. It's everywhere. DU is everywhere on the battlefield. If you hit a tank, there's dust.

Paul Rockwell: Did you breath any dust?

Sgt. Massey: Yeah.

Paul Rockwell: And if DU is affecting you or our troops, it's impacting Iraqi civilians.

Sgt. Massey: Oh, yeah. They got a big wasteland problem.

Paul Rockwell: Do Marines have any precautions about dealing with DU?

Sgt. Massey: Not that I know of. Well, if a tank gets hit, crews are detained for a little while to make sure there are no signs or symptoms. American tanks have depleted uranium on the sides, and the projectiles have DU in them. If an enemy vehicle gets hit, the area gets contaminated. Dead rounds are in the ground. The civilian populace is just now starting to learn about it. Hell, I didn't even know about DU until two years ago. You know how I found out about it? I read an article in Rolling Stones magazine. I just started inquiring about it, and I said 'Holy shit!'

Paul Rockwell: Cluster bombs are also controversial. U.N. commissions have called for a ban. Were you acquainted with cluster bombs?

Sgt. Massey: I had one of my Marines in my battalion who lost his leg from a cluster bomb.

Paul Rockwell: What happened?

Sgt. Massey: He stepped on it. We didn't get to training about clusters until about a month before I left.

Paul Rockwell: What kind of training?

Sgt. Massey: They told us what they looked like, and not to step on them.

Paul Rockwell: Were you in any areas where they were dropped?

Sgt. Massey: Oh yeah. They were everywhere.

Paul Rockwell: Dropped from the air?

Sgt. Massey: From the air as well as artillery.

Paul Rockwell: Are they dropped far away from cities, or inside the cities?

Sgt. Massey: They are used everywhere. Now if you talked to a Marine artillery officer, he would give you the runaround, the politically correct answer. But for an average grunt, they're everywhere.

Paul Rockwell: Including inside the towns and cities?

Sgt. Massey: Yes, if you were going into a city, you knew there were going to be cluster bombs.

Paul Rockwell: Cluster bombs are anti-personnel weapons. They are not precise. They don't injure buildings, or hurt tanks. Only people and living things. There are a lot of undetonated duds and they go off after the battles are over.

Sgt. Massey: Once the round leaves the tube, the cluster bomb has a mind of its own. There's always human error. I'm going to tell you. The armed forces are in a tight spot over there. It's starting to leak out about the civilian casualties that are taking place. The Iraqis know. I keep hearing reports from my Marine buddies inside that there were 200-something civilians killed in Fallujah. The military is scrambling right now to keep the raps on that. My understanding is Fallujah is just littered with civilian bodies.

Embedded Reporters

Paul Rockwell: How are the embedded reporters responding?

Sgt. Massey: I had embedded reporters in my unit, not my platoon. One we had was a South African reporter. He was scared shitless. We had an incident where one of them wanted to go home.

Paul Rockwell: Why?

Sgt. Massey: It was when we started going into Baghdad. When he started seeing the civilian casualties, he started wigging out a little bit. It didn't start until we got on the outskirts of Baghdad and started taking civilian casualties.

"I Killed Innocent People For Our Government"

Paul Rockwell: I would like to go back to the first incident, when the survivor asked why did you kill his brother. Was that the incident that pushed you over the edge, as you put it?

Sgt. Massey: Oh, yeah. Later on I found out that was a typical day. I talked with my commanding officer after the incident. He came up to me and says: 'Are you o.k?' I said: 'No, today is not a good day. We killed a bunch of civilians.' He goes: 'No, today was a good day.' And when he said that, I said 'oh, my goodness, what the hell am I into?'

Paul Rockwell: Your feelings changed during the invasion. What was your state of mind before the invasion?

Sgt. Massey: I was like every other troop. My president told me they got weapons of mass destruction, that Saddam threatened the free world, that he had all this might and could reach us anywhere. I just bought into the whole thing.

Paul Rockwell: What changed you?

Sgt. Massey: The civilian casualties taking place. That was what made the difference. That was when I changed.

Paul Rockwell: Did the revelations that the government fabricated the evidence for war affect the troops?

Sgt. Massey: Yes. I killed innocent people for our government. For what? What did I do? Where is the good coming out of it? I feel like I've had a hand in some sort of evil lie at the hands of our government. I just feel embarrassed, ashamed about it.

Showdown with the Brass

Paul Rockwell: I understand that all the incidents -- killing civilians at checkpoints, itchy fingers at the rally -- weigh on you. What happened with your commanding officers? How did you deal with them?

Sgt. Massey: There was an incident. It was right after the fall of Baghdad, when we went back down South. On the outskirts of Karbala, we had a morning meeting on the battle plan. I was not in a good mindset. All these things were going through my head -- about what we were doing over there. About some of the things my troops were asking. I was holding it all inside. My lieutenant and I got into a conversation. The conversation was striking me wrong. And I lashed out. I looked at him and told him: 'You know, I honestly feel that what we're doing is wrong over here. We're committing genocide. ' He asked me something and I said that with the killing of civilians and the depleted uranium we're leaving over here, we're not going to have to worry about terrorists. He didn't like that. He got up and stormed off. And I knew right then and there that my career was over. I was talking to my commanding officer.

Paul Rockwell: What happened then?

Sgt. Massey: After I talked to the top commander, I was kind of scurried away. I was basically put on house arrest. I didn't talk to other troops, I didn't want to hurt them. I didn't want to jeopardize them.

I want to help people. I felt strongly about it. I had to say something. When I was sent back to stateside, I went in front of the regimental Sergeant Major. He's in charge of 3500-plus Marines. 'Sir,' I told him, 'I don't want your money. I don't want your benefits. What you did was wrong.' It was just a personal conviction with me. I've had an impeccable career. I chose to get out. And you know who I blame? I blame the President of the U.S. It's not the grunt. I blame the president because he said they had weapons of mass destruction. It was a lie.

This interview first appeared in the Sacramento Bee. Paul Rockwell is a writer in the Bay Area




JEAN-PAUL MARI, LE NOUVEL OBSERVATEUR, FRANCE - In a just-published book, Master-Sergeant Jimmy Massey tells about his mission to recruit for, then fight in, the war in Iraq. He tells why he killed. And cracked. Jimmy Massey is 34 years old. He's originally a Texas boy, raised as a good Southern Baptist who loves squirrel hunting with his air rifle. After 12 years in the Marines, Jim is a broken man, a veteran afflicted with post-traumatic stress syndrome, a depressive hooked on his medications, haunted by the nightmare images in which he massacres innocent civilians, scenes experienced in Iraq when he was nothing but a killing machine. Jim has cracked, has withdrawn from the service for medical reasons, and has written a raw and brutal book. . . . The army denies the facts and his former comrades have insulted, rejected, and threatened him. An extract:

JIMMY MASSEY - We had reached the military site Al-Rashid on an overcast, dark and sinister day. . . . When we stopped, I saw ten Iraqis, about 150 yards away. They were under forty years old, clean and dressed in the traditional white garment. They stayed on the side of the road waving signs and screaming anti-American slogans. . . . That's when I heard a shot pass just over our heads, from right to left. I ran into the middle of the street to see what was happening. I had barely rejoined Schutz when my guys unloaded their weapons on the demonstrators. It only took me three seconds to take aim. I aimed my sights on the center of a demonstrator's body. I breathed in deeply and, as I exhaled, I gently opened my right eye and fired. I watched the bullets hit the demonstrator right in the middle of his chest. My Marines barked: "Come on, little girls! You wanna fight?"

I acquired a new target right away, a demonstrator on all fours who was trying to run away as fast as possible. I quickly aimed for the head; I breathed in deeply, breathed out, and I fired again. One head: boom! Another: boom! The center of a mass in the bull's eye: boom! Another: boom! I kept on until the moment when I saw no more movement from the demonstrators. There was no answering fire. I must have fired at least a dozen times. It all lasted no longer than two and a half minutes.

I know that they had also been shot in the back; some of them were crawling and their white clothes turned red. The M-16's 5.56 is a nasty bullet: it doesn't kill all at once. For example, it can enter the chest and come out at the knee, tearing all the internal organs on the way through. My guys were jumping around in every direction. Taylor and Gaumont hollered: "Come back, babies!" "They don't know how to fight, those cocksuckers! Fucking cowards!" They slapped one another on the back, exchanging "Good job!," but they were frustrated because some demonstrators had succeeded in getting away. I wanted to keep on firing, I kept telling myself: "Good God, there must be more of them." It was like eating the first spoonful of your favorite ice cream. You want more. . . .

Those demonstrators were the first people I killed. . . . That had a hell of an effect on me. What an adrenaline, rush, fuck! Fear becomes a motor. It pushes you. It had more of an impact on me than the best grass I ever smoked. It was as though all those I had ever hated, all the anger that was accumulated in me was there in that being; you feel like you're absorbing life like a cannibal. You're really happy with yourself; you feel really powerful and everything becomes clear. You reach nirvana, like a white luminous space. But after a few hours, you come down from nirvana and find yourself in dark waters; you swim in a pool of mud and the only way to go back to that other feeling is to kill again. . . .

[Translated by Truth Out]


RON HARRIS ST LOUIS POST-DISPATCH - For more than a year, former Marine Staff Sgt. Jimmy Massey has been telling anybody who will listen about the atrocities that he and other Marines committed in Iraq. In scores of newspaper, magazine and broadcast stories, at a Canadian immigration hearing and in numerous speeches across the country, Massey has told how he and other Marines recklessly, sometimes intentionally, killed dozens of innocent Iraqi civilians. . .

News organizations worldwide published or broadcast Massey's claims without any corroboration and in most cases without investigation. Outside of the Marines, almost no one has seriously questioned whether Massey, a 12-year veteran who was honorably discharged, was telling the truth.

He wasn't.

Each of his claims is either demonstrably false or exaggerated - according to his fellow Marines, Massey's own admissions, and the five journalists who were embedded with Massey's unit.

[He] backtracked from allegations he made in a May 2004 radio interview and elsewhere that he had seen a tractor-trailer filled with the bodies of Iraqi civilians when Marines entered an Iraqi military prison outside Baghdad. He said the Iraqis had been killed by American artillery. He told listeners that the scene was so bad "that the plasma from the body and skin was decomposing and literally oozing out of the crevices of the tractor-trailer bed."

He repeated the story in the Post-Dispatch interview. But when told that the newspaper's photographs and eyewitness reports had identified the trailer contents as all men, mostly in uniform, Massey admitted that he had never seen the bodies. Instead, he said, he received his information from "intelligence reports." When asked if those reports were official documents, he answered, "No, that's what the other Marines told me.". . .

He almost always told his audiences and interviewers of an event he said he'd never forget: Marines in his unit shooting four civilian Iraqis in red Kia automobile. In some accounts, Massey said Marines fired at the vehicle after it failed to stop at a checkpoint. In another version, he said the Marines stormed the car.

Sometimes he said three of the men were killed immediately while the fourth was wounded and covered in blood; sometimes he said the fourth man was "miraculously unscathed."

Sometimes he said the Marines left the three men on the side of the road to die without medical treatment while the fourth man exclaimed: "Why did you shoot my brother?" In other versions, he said the man made the statement as medical personnel were attempting to treat the three other men, or as the survivor sat near the car, or to Massey personally.

There is no evidence that any of the versions occurred.

In a speech in Syracuse in March, the Post Standard newspaper quoted him as saying, "The reason the Marines teach you discipline . . . is so that you can confront the enemy and kill him. . . . Or so you can put a bullet into a 6-year-old, which is what I did. "

In the interview with the Post-Dispatch, Massey said he never personally had shot a child.

"I meant that's what my unit did," he said.

He could not provide details.

Nor could he name any Marine who could corroborate any of his stories.

"Admitting guilt is a hard thing to do," he said.


STAN GOFF, COUNTERPUNCH - On April 9, 2003, Ron Harris, a St. Louis Post Dispatch writer embedded with Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, posted a story about Resheed, an Iraqi military base near Baghdad, wherein he described a dramatic daylong battle which included RPGs hidden away in civilian clothes and guerillas "hiding behind civilians." The battle, as the story turned out, was the apologetic context for the description of Marines firing into a car full of civilians, wounding all of them. Quoting the battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel Belcher, Harris wrote, "You're seeing drive-by shootings, suicide bomb attempts, and they're even trying to use civilians as shields."

Researching other stories done by Harris over 2003 and 2004, the guerrillas hiding behind civilians becomes a recurrent topic. He was also as enamored of florid prose as Shacochis. That's what happens when you are writing about those you love.

The problem was, according to former Marine Staff Sergeant Jimmy Massey, who was interviewed at the Boston Veterans for Peace Convention in 2004, Harris' description was heavily embellished. Contact that day was thin and sporadic.

"As his Marine unit entered Iraq it came upon empty Iraqi military bases with weapons lying on the road. 'We shot it up with everything we had, and we were laughing and having a good time. The Iraqis let us in the country; we didn't take it.'

"Upon entering Baghdad his unit came upon an unarmed pro-Saddam demonstration. His unit killed several of the demonstrators. 'I knew that we caused the insurgency to be pissed off because they had witnessed us executing innocent civilians.' Massey told us how the U.S.-embedded reporter, Ron Harris, from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote that there was a ferocious battle between his unit and the Iraqi military, but it never happened. The reporter was writing what the Marines wanted him to write.". . .

Jimmy Massey didn't meet Harris that day, or ever, because while Harris was embedded with Lima Company 3/7, Jimmy was assigned to Weapons Company. In fact, Ron Harris has never so much as called Jimmy Massey on the telephone or attempted to send Jimmy Massey an email until he called several weeks ago to tell Jimmy to retract all his claims or be "exposed." The reason I bring that up is that two days ago, Harris published an ambush piece on Jimmy Massey, a year and a half after Massey dissed Harris on his Resheed battle story, and just one month after the release of Massey's devastating book, Kill Kill Kill, relating his experiences in Iraq, and naming names. . .

Harris hasn't read the book nor has he called Jimmy Massey except once to demand he retract his claims, but that didn't deter him from writing his hit-piece. . .

Harris goes on . . . to claim that Massey said he had personally killed a 6-year-old. But Massey says that this was a misquote that grew legs. There was a child among the dead when demonstrators were shot in Resheed. The original statement was "I brought these series of events up through the chain of command. Each time I was told they were terrorists, or they were insurgents. My question to the marine corps at that point became, how was a 6-year-old child with a bullet hole in its head a terrorist or insurgent?" Reads a bit differently that Harris' smear-job, doesn't it?. . .

Harris says, "While touring with Sheehan in Montgomery, Ala., he told of seeing the girl's body." Sheehan did not join that leg of the three-bus tour until Atlanta. She was never in Montgomery. I just got an email from Cindy confirming that. No big deal in most circumstances. Just a minor error. But since what is good for the Massey-goose is examination with an electron microscope, let's just say its sauce for the Post-Dispatch's embedded-gander.

JIMMY MASSEY, COUNTERPUNCH - Major newspapers and media outlets published my story. Neither the Marine Corps nor any of my platoon members filed any charges against me as a result of my claims in over 20 months. Nor did they attempt any defamation campaign to counteract my allegations that the large numbers of civilians killed in the invasion, as a result of failed strategies, fomented anti-American sentiment, and fueled the insurgency. Until Saturday.

Quantico Marine Base Public Affairs Officer Lt. Col. Richard Long, former director of Public Affairs and the embedded reporter program in Iraq, began circulating an article Monday published in the St. Louis Post Dispatch, Saturday, November 5, by former embedded reporter Ron Harris, accusing me of lying. Harris not only was not assigned to my Weapon's Company, (he was with Lima), and was not present for any of the incidents he disputes, but before last week, had not spoken with me once since my return.

On Monday, Harris appeared on CNN's "American Morning," in an unrebutted interview stating, "not only did I not see any protesters, nobody saw any protesters," and "nobody ever interviewed the Marines, which I did all of." Nobody ever checked his story. . .

Harris' apparent contempt for me seems to stem from the fact that one and a half years ago, I exposed him for having greatly embellished an incident at Rasheed Military complex in his April 9, 2003, article in the St. Louis Post Dispatch In the article, Harris described a dramatic, daylong battle glorifying heroic deeds and describing guerillas "hiding behind civilians." Speaking at the Boston Veterans for Peace Convention in 2004, I said Harris had greatly exaggerated the combat in what was subsequently hailed as an example of American military prowess. I confessed publicly that"contact that day was thin and sporadic," and that "as my unit entered Iraq it came upon empty Iraqi military bases with weapons lying on the road." I noted that We shot it up with everything we had, and we were laughing and having a good time. The Iraqis let us in the country; we didn't take it.'

It is ironic that Ron Harris should accuse others of bad reporting. It was Ron Harris himself that misquoted me as having mentioned a 4 year old with a bullet in her head, and then conveniently used his own misquote to accuse me of lying. Simply doing a web search for "Jimmy Massey" and "4 year old," you will find that the only source even suggesting that I knew of an incident when Marines had killed the child is Harris' own story. My only related quote had been "Lima Company was involved in a shooting at a checkpoint. My platoon was ordered to another area before the victims were removed from the car. The other Marines told me that a 4-year-old girl had been killed."