Bad things happen: Tales from the frontline in Iraq - James Massey ex US Marine interview


James Massey is a tall well built man, aged 34. At the age of 19 he joined the US Marines. In Iraq he saw his first combat. He has left the army and has written an account of his experiences entitled "Kill, Kill, Kill". He visited Dublin to give evidence at the trial of the Pitstop Ploughshares and during this time Dermot Screenan interviewed him.

WS: What was the moment of realisation for you ? When you knew that you were in a situation which was wrong.

JM: I call it becoming indifferent. I became indifferent to the Marine Corps when I was on recruiting duties, because I was having first hand knowledge of economic conscripts. In America we have no free health care, no retirement system. You can barely feed yourself on our social security system, the jobs in factories have gone overseas to China, South America, Mexico, so young men and women are going into the military for economic reasons. They are going in for health care or retirement benefits.

WS: What was the turning point for you in a combat situation?

JM: It was when we started killing innocent civilians. We killed over thirty of them in a three month time period when I was there, in a clear violation of the Geneva conventions. It started to happen around April 2003. We had already been in Iraq for a little over a month.

WS: Can you take me through one of those situations?

JM: A red Kia car, came speeding towards our checkpoint. We were given intelligence, basically that the average Iraqi was a terrorist so we were given 'carte blanche' to shoot first and ask questions later. This particular day the Kia sped towards our checkpoint, we gave a hand signal telling the vehicle to stop. The vehicle did not stop. We discharged our weapons into the vehicle; there were four occupants, total, three were hit. The driver was unscathed.

We immediately went over to the vehicle, started pulling documents out, searched the vehicle for weapons, ya'know anything that could link them to any type of terrorist activity. Meanwhile the driver of the vehicle was going around asking my marines why were they shot, they weren't terrorists, they were speaking plain English, they were dressed in western clothes, they looked like college students.

Ultimately what happened was the driver confronted me and he said 'Why did you kill my brother?" And that is when I found out that one of the occupants was the driver's brother. So that was when I opened my eyes and realised what we were doing and what the consequences. And not only was I feeling guilty but other members of my platoon were feeling just as guilty.

WS: Was there any questioning of these orders or was there a feeling that this was coming from the top down?

JM: What happened is once you instil fear into a marine and you tell him that insurgents and terrorists are loading down police cars and ambulances with explosives and sending them at Marine Corps checkpoints, then that sort of thing escalates. At that point when you have that fear it's easier to pull the trigger.

And when you have intelligence reports like that, that are painted, ya'know it leads to bad situations, it actually escalates the violence. When the incidences happened, the Marine Corps said they were going to conduct investigations, and I later found out that they quickly ruled them out as insurgents. So, ya'know, early on I felt like there was a cover up.

WS: Is there any questioning / discussions going on with the troops like 'what the hell are we doing over here?"

JM: You know when you are in combat the only thing that you think about is about keeping the marine to your left and to your right alive, keeping yourself alive, you don't have time to think about politics. You're constantly tired, you're going out on patrol, you just don't have time. Generally what you do is try and make it home. 365 days that you're over there, you expect the American people or the American Government to answer the questions of why you're there. Ultimately when you are there, you're mind is on the mission.

WS: After being in the army for so long and experiencing this war, what kind of person are you now after this, what's taken up your life since you are no longer a military man?

JM: It's been a difficult road. I mean I continue to ask questions, that's why I'm here. To expose the violations of the Geneva conventions that I saw, to expose them to the Irish population. To allow them to make up their minds on what they feel are war crimes or a fog of war. Ya'know it's so easy to just say things are collateral damage or a fog of war, where it effects the overall mission is your version of collateral damage or your version of fog of war, is as ultimately impacting the Iraqi people or is possibly escalating violence, that's what happened.

If you read a passage in the Koran, there is a passage in the Koran that states - when your enemies come to you, you treat them with dignity &endash; so the Iraqis were giving us the benefit of the doubt. They were expecting massive amounts of humanitarian aid, humanitarian support which we did not provide. With that the Iraqis are saying 'What are you doing here? What are you doing in my country?' So they make up their own minds, they say well they went to the oil fields first; before they came to us and asked us how we were going. So obviously they care more about the oil.

... I feel like the Iraqis will continue to fight till we're gone, or till they feel they've been vindicated for the deaths that have happened.

How do you tell a 25 year old man who's just witnessed his brother being murdered at a checkpoint; how do you tell this young man not to become an insurgent? That is the question. I'd like to ask that to George Bush.



This is an extract from a longer interview which can be read at


From Workers Solidarity 89 Nov/Dec 2005