The editors at The Nation tell us Why Haditha Matters:
Enough details have emerged from survivors and military personnel to conclude that in the town of Haditha last November, members of the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment perpetrated a massacre. The killings may have been in retaliation for the death of a Marine lance corporal, but this was not the work of soldiers gone berserk. The targets (children from 3 to 14, an old man in a wheelchair, taxi passengers), the hours-long duration of killings, the number of Marines involved, the careful mop-up--all amount to willful, targeted brutality designed to send a message to Iraqis. As Representative John Murtha has pointed out, the patently false story floated afterward, blaming the killings on roadside bombs, and Marine payoffs to survivors imply a cover-up that may extend far up the chain of command.
What matters about Haditha? After all, Iraq is a place where civilians die every day. Many of them die as a result of insurgent car bombs, or at the hands of Sunni or Shiite militias. Many thousands of others died in US air attacks early in the war (as civilians did recently in airstrikes in another US war zone, Kandahar).
Of course, this isn't the first time that innocent iraqis have been killed in this war, as The Nation points out. But this is the first time that anyone's admitted that the deaths were deliberate. But, logically speaking, there's no way you can argue that the death of every iraqi civilian since we invaded hasn't been deliberate.
In his March 17, 2003 speech on the eve of war, Bush told iraqis, "Many Iraqis can hear me tonight in a translated radio broadcast, and I have a message for them. If we must begin a military campaign, it will be directed against the lawless men who rule your country and not against you." This is bullshit.
There is no person who knows anything about war who'll honestly tell you you can fight one without killing innocent noncombatants. They'll tell you they can limit the death count, but not that they can limit it to zero.
Since this is so, how can you logically argue that taking a course of action that is 100% guaranteed to kill noncombatants is not deliberately killing them? How can you say that you know innocent people will die if you do something, then claim that the death of innocents is 'accidental'?
The deaths at Haditha - and perhaps, elsewhere - seem to be an undeniable crime. But I've always found the term 'war crime' redundant. The fault for anything that occurs in a war must lie with the aggressor - in this case, the Bush administration. Without this pointless war, there would be no insurgency, no sectarian violence. This war - and the deaths resulting from it - may have been a mistake. But there's no possible way you could argue that it was an accident.