Does man's inhumanity to man know no bounds? Last November, an IED (improvised exploding device) planted at a roadside near the Western Iraqi town of Haditha took the life of a US Marine. An official report of his death stated 15 Iraqi civilians had also died in the blast. It was a document based on a tissue of lies.

Eyewitnesses, who insisted that Marines went on a rampage killing innocent Iraqi civilians to avenge the loss of their friend, have been proved right. Their victims were not civilians standing around gleefully celebrating the demise of one of the hated occupiers. These were people asleep in their own homes; people who had nothing whatever to do with the incident.

Time magazine published this first hand account from nine-year-old Eman Waleed. "When the Marines entered the house, they were shouting in English. First, they went into my father's room, where he was reading the Quran, and we heard shots ? I watched them shoot my grandfather ? then they killed my granny." Her eight-year old brother was shot in the shoulder and a piece of shrapnel injured her leg.

The Marines turned their attention to two other homes that night. The first was devastated by a grenade that blew up a gas bottle in the kitchen before they turned their guns on three adults and four children. A family occupying the second house was shot dead after being herded into a closet. The Marines claimed they had come under fire from those homes. This has proved to be yet another cover-up.

"There was no firefight. There was no IED that killed those innocent people," said Congressman John Murtha commenting on the outcome of a military investigation. "Our troops overreacted because of the pressure on them, and they killed innocent civilians in cold blood."

Shameful excuses

While I appreciate John Murtha bringing this atrocity into the public spotlight, shame on him for making excuses for those murderers for that's what they are.

The poor things were under so much pressure they overreacted by slaughtering women and children? In the civilian arena, such a defence would be laughed out of court, the defendants carted off to death row or a secure mental institution.

Naturally, the Pentagon is outraged at the behaviour of this bunch of killers. Or is it? Cheryl Irwin, speaking on its behalf, says the military hasn't decided what action, if any, to take against the Marines in question.

An initial probe found that the Marines had not behaved maliciously and surviving family members were offered a shameful $2,500 for each of the 15 dead. Contrast this was with the millions offered to families of September 11 victims. Is $2,500 the worth of an Iraqi child in Washington's eyes?

One can only ponder over what the US army deems "malicious". In my book, wiping out entire families is about as malicious as it gets. We've heard how "battlefield combatants" were stuffed into airless containers in Afghanistan that were later shot through with bullets; the dead buried under desert sands as members of the US military looked on. We've seen the stomach churning pictorial evidence of physical and sexual abuses perpetrated by US guards at Abu Ghraib. "A few bad apples" they said, ignoring indications that orders had trickled down from on high.

We've listened to eyewitness testimony concerning the levelling of Fallujah where corpses were left in the street to be eaten by scavenging dogs and ambulances were prevented from reaching the sick and dying. We've heard how a family of five was shot while trying to escape the war-torn city by swimming across a river, and we are told that hundreds have died at the hands of trigger happy US soldiers manning checkpoints.

We've viewed with disbelief the video of a US marine callously shooting an alleged insurgent, while he was lying injured and comatose on the floor of a mosque. Unbelievably, the uniformed perpetrator received a rap on the knuckles while the reporter was deemed "unpatriotic" for making public the footage and torn to shreds by sections of the US media.

Then there was Tel Afar, where residents were ordered to leave, while those who stayed to protect their homes were collectively punished, their water and electricity cut. We've seen how doors were routinely smashed in, their occupants, including terrified small children, made to sit on the floor their hands bound behind their backs. It's the fog of war, they say.

We've surely witnessed enough to know that the US military is behaving more like a Barbarian horde than a well-trained, sophisticated force. Even so, its members are glorified at home in some cases with an almost religious fervour.

And all of this carnage to what end? Bringing democracy to Afghanistan? Bringing freedom to Iraqis? These claims would be laughable if they weren't so terribly tragic. The Taliban has regrouped in Afghanistan where the poppies bloom brighter than ever before, while Iraq is literally a bloodbath.

They call it a war against terror. The problem is the war is the terror with extremists from all over the world flocking to answer the call.

When the former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, angling to be a presidential runner 2008, was asked in 2004 whether he thought the deaths of Iraqi civilians should be commemorated, he answered with a question. "Would you prefer to see Saddam Hussain still in power?" Would he dare ask it today?

Linda S. Heard is a specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She can be contacted at