Atrocities in Iraq: 'I killed innocent people for our
By Paul Rockwell -- Special to The Sacramento Bee
Published 2:15 am PDT Sunday, May 16, 2004
"We forget what war is about, what it does to those
who wage it and those who suffer from it. Those who
hate war the most, I have often found, are veterans
who know it."
- Chris Hedges, New York Times reporter and author of
"War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning"
For nearly 12 years, Staff Sgt. 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
The Iraq war changed Massey. The brutality, the sheer
carnage of the U.S. invasion, touched his conscience
and transformed him forever. He was honorably
discharged with full severance last Dec. 31 and is now
back in his hometown, Waynsville, N.C.
When I talked with Massey last week, he expressed his
remorse at the civilian loss of life in incidents in
which he himself was involved.
Q: You spent 12 years in the Marines. When were you
sent to Iraq?
A: I went to Kuwait around Jan. 17. I was in Iraq from
the get-go. And I was involved in the initial
Q: What does the public need to know about your
experiences as a Marine?
A: 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.
Q: What experiences turned you against the war and
made you leave the Marines?
A: 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.
Q: Lit up? You mean you fired machine guns?
A: 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.
Q: He spoke English?
A: Oh, yeah.
Q: Baghdad was being bombed. The civilians were trying
to get out, right?
A: 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.
Q: You got to see the bodies and casualties?
A: Yeah, firsthand. I helped throw them in a ditch.
Q: Over what period did all this take place?
A: During the invasion of Baghdad.
'We lit him up pretty good'
Q: How many times were you involved in checkpoint
A: Five times. There was [the city of] 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.
Q: The reports said the cars were loaded with
explosives. In all the incidents did you find that to
be the case?
A: Never. Not once. There were no secondaryexplosions. As a matter of fact, we lit up a rally
after we heard a stray gunshot.
Q: A demonstration? Where?
A: 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."
Q: Were the protest signs in English or Arabic?
Q: Who gave the order to wipe the demonstrators out?
A: Higher command. We were told to be on the lookout
for the 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.
Q: What kind of firepower was employed?
A: M-16s, 50-cal. machine guns.
Q: You fired into six or ten kids? Were they all taken
A: 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.
Q: After you lit up the demonstration, how long before
the next incident?
A: 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.
Q: Well, I appreciate you giving me the information,
as hard as it must be to recall the painful details.
A: That's all right. It's kind of therapy for me.
Because it's something that I had repressed for a long
Q: And the incident?
A: 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
Depleted uranium and cluster bombs
Q: You mention machine guns. What can you tell me
about cluster bombs, or depleted uranium?
A: Depleted uranium. I know what it does. It's
basically like leaving plutonium rods around. I'm 32
years old. I have 80 percent of my lung capacity. I
ache all the time. I don't feel like a healthy
Q: Were you in the vicinity of of depleted uranium?
A: Oh, yeah. It's everywhere. DU is everywhere on the
battlefield. If you hit a tank, there's dust.
Q: Did you breath any dust?
Q: And if DU is affecting you or our troops, it's
impacting Iraqi civilians.
A: Oh, yeah. They got a big wasteland problem.
Q: Do Marines have any precautions about dealing with
A: 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 Stone magazine. I just started
inquiring about it, and I said "Holy s---!"
Q: Cluster bombs are also controversial. U.N.
commissions have called for a ban. Were you acquainted
with cluster bombs?
A: I had one of my Marines in my battalion who lost
his leg from an ICBM.
Q: What's an ICBM?
A: A multi-purpose cluster bomb.
Q: What happened?
A: He stepped on it. We didn't get to training about
clusters until about a month before I left.
Q: What kind of training?
A: They told us what they looked like, and not to step
Q: Were you in any areas where they were dropped?
A: Oh, yeah. They were everywhere.
Q: Dropped from the air?
A: From the air as well as artillery.
Q: Are they dropped far away from cities, or inside
A: 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.
Q: Including inside the towns and cities?
A: Yes, if you were going into a city, you knew there
were going to be ICBMs.
Q: 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
A: 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.
Q: How are the embedded reporters responding?
A: I had embedded reporters in my unit, not my
platoon. One we had was a South African reporter. He
was scared s---less. We had an incident where one ofthem wanted to go home.
A: 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
Q: 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?
A: 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 OK?" 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?"
Q: Your feelings changed during the invasion. What was
your state of mind before the invasion?
A: 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
Q: What changed you?
A: The civilian casualties taking place. That was what
made the difference. That was when I changed.
Q: Did the revelations that the government fabricated
the evidence for war affect the troops?
A: 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 superiors
Q: 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?
A: 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
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.
Q: What happened then?
A: 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 sergeant major. He's in charge of
3,500-plus Marines. "Sir," I told him, "I don't want
your money. I don't want your benefits. What you did
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 saidthey had weapons of mass destruction. It was a lie.
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