Director Nick Broomfield on 'Battle for Haditha'

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Dave Calhoun talks to Nick Broomfield about a tragedy in Iraq and why his new film will highlight the plight of America‘s marines as much as Iraqi civilians

Nick Broomfield2.JPG
Nick Broomfield puzzles over the direction of his new Iraq drama, on set in rural Jordan (image © Phil Fisk)

Nick Broomfield is talking from Jordan on a weather-beaten mobile-phone line at the end of a tough day’s shooting in a remote village about an hour’s drive from the country’s capital, Amman. A few hours earlier, the British director best known for his popular documentaries such as ‘Kurt and Courtney’ and ‘Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer’ was shooting a scene for a new film – a drama – in which a group of Iraqi women in the town of Haditha grieve over the deaths of their husbands and sons at the hands of US marines. This may not be a documentary, Broomfield explains, but the scene was still a grim one to capture. Most of the actors were Iraqis who now live in Jordan and have experienced such loss themselves. To keep it real, Broomfield shot the scene in a single, 40-minute take. It would have been impossible to do anything else, he reasons. How could you recreate those same emotions a second time round?


‘I knew it was going to be hard-going and I had to get amazing performances out of them,’ Broomfield continues. He gathered the male actors in one room with their relatives’ bodies lying on the floor shrouded in white sheets and gathered the women in a room next door, as is customary for Iraqi funerals. ‘There was this one woman who had herself lost a son – he was literally shot on her doorstep in front of her husband – and she offered to lead the grieving. The women danced and sung and beat their chests and tore their clothes. She started this, and within 20 minutes every single woman was in tears, beating their faces. They’d all been through these experiences.’

Broomfield’s new film is ‘Battle for Haditha’, which he has been filming in Jordan since the beginning of March. Controversial as ever, it’s a dramatisation of the events which led to 24 Iraqi civilians in the Iraqi town of Haditha being shot dead by US Marines on November 19 2005. Exactly what happened in this small town 150 miles to the north-west of Baghdad is still emerging 18 months later. What’s for sure is that a roadside bomb, planted by insurgents, exploded in the town on the morning of the 19th, killing 20-year-old Lance Corp Miguel (‘TJ’) Terrazas, who was driving a Humvee in a convoy of four. An initial US military statement stated simply but outrageously that 15 Iraqi civilians also died from the blast of the bomb and that eight additional Iraqi insurgents were killed during an immediate gunfight with US soldiers. But a very different version of these events came into play when an amateur video, shot the day after the deaths, was passed to an Iraqi human-rights organisation and, in turn, Time magazine at the beginning of 2006. This film clearly showed the bodies of women and children who had been shot in their homes. When questioned, Iraqi eyewitnesses suggested that US soldiers had gone on an armed rampage in the town in revenge for their colleague’s death and that was how most of the 24 Iraqi civilians had died – at least six of them children aged between two and 14. Subsequently, the US army launched a criminal investigation last March, several officers have resigned, and four marines are now on trial facing charges of unpremeditated murder.

And so Broomfield is again reconstructing the context to a calamity, following on directly from his last film, ‘Ghosts’, for which he recreated the events leading to the deaths of 23 Chinese cockle-pickers in Morecambe Bay in February 2004 (and which screened on TV last month). Both that film and ‘Battle for Haditha’ were commissioned by Channel 4’s digital sister channel, More4, and again Broomfield is applying devised drama to current affairs, this time filming in Jordan as a stand-in for Iraq, which is still too volatile. Starting last June, Broomfield and producer Anna Telford made several research trips to Jordan (‘We didn’t go to Haditha itself, it was too dangerous’) and held long conversations with ‘five or six people from the town, all of whom were there on the day and knew the people who were killed’. They travelled to the US several times too, initially to meet the mother of a marine who was a close friend of ‘TJ’, the marine killed by the roadside bomb. ‘She arranged for us to meet a couple of other marines who were there on the day. They were clearly suffering from post-traumatic stress and were in a very bad way. A lot of these chaps had been through Fallujah, in a hardcore unit. It took them a long time to open up.’

What Broomfield found during these discussions was that his Iraqi sources and his informers in the marines told the same story: that the marines killed indiscriminately in Haditha as a knee-jerk reaction to their colleague’s death. ‘The story was pretty much the same, there was confusion as to the exact time order, but basically it was the same.’ From the marines’ conversations, Broomfield concluded that ‘their standard operating procedure rules are so fucking hardcore. If, for example, a house is described as “hostile”, then you just kill everyone in the house. It doesn’t matter if it contains two-year-olds or the elderly, which is what they did in Fallujah – where these guys had come from.

‘But the deeper I dug into the whole story, the harder I realised it was to take a side,’ Broomfield considers, admitting that ‘at first his story was much more judgmental against the marines.

‘I realised that these soldiers were very, very poor kids, who had all left school unbelievably early. It was the first time they had all been out of the United States. They didn’t speak a word of Iraqi. They had no idea what they were doing in Iraq, and they felt let down by the marine corps. It was hard to condemn them out of hand as cold-blooded killers.’

Broomfield is using a handful of professional actors, both American and Iraqi, but his cast is mostly amateur: ex-marines, or at least ex-soldiers, and Iraqi civilians he has persuaded to lend their lives to the film. That said, he doesn’t name specific names of marines who served in Haditha, despite taking a strictly journalistic approach to the film’s plotting and basing events on his research and conversations with those who intimately understand his characters’ culture, whether Iraqis or marines.

One reason for not pointing the finger at individual marines is that the trial of the four already accused of murder is ongoing. Another is that he doesn’t see Haditha as an isolated case but rather a symbol of a wider crisis.

‘I think there have been lots of Hadithas, and there are lots of Hadithas every year,’ he reasons. ‘The difference with this event is that the aftermath just happened to be filmed and now there’s an inquiry. It’s much more convenient for the US government and the marine corps to make scapegoats of these guys than actually deal with its policy and rules of engagement in Iraq. I’m sure it happens on a lesser scale every single day.’

Battle for Haditha’ is out in cinemas on 1 February.



Users say

25 comments
PEACE
PEACE

they what the marines to lose there human compasionet side of themselfs so eventually they can inslave there own people Irespect ever good thing done by the hole military but don't let them lie to get you iontyo war and follow the constitution and as long as you do that I'LLalways be thankful for all you've gave up and done thankyou...

PEACE
PEACE

The marines get put in an unjust war but don'get told why they are there.Preasedent first wepons of mas desruction when it was proved there was none the marines were really wondering why they were there and the people the marines are not dumb they no they were mislead like the rest of the world.But they just what to get home but do It without losing your soul.Freedom the people that run america and the world don't care about freedom wake up they car about money . not with there famillys.But then It all changed to freein them they don't care about them people if it was are country invaded and people telling us how to live with guns and tanks would we be terorists for fighting I think not It's are duty the worlds elite only care about themselfs and how mush money they can get. 90 persent of the worlds money is in 10 persent of the population.If It was used for the world we could all live middel class .IF the few people how think they run the world cared thats the way it would be not aminimum of 25 thousand kids dying of hunger evey day well they have 10 mansions around the globe and private jets.People need to get educated on whats really going on in the world and youonly hear what they what you to to the t.v news start studying the internet about the NWO and Alex Jones has alot of info to get started I'm Canadian but Americans need to vote for rone paul 2012.....g

USA Marine
USA Marine

I was working with US Marines but never been a Marine. However, you are a smart guy as I can see and there is black and white. In this movie Marines commited a pure and obvious WAR CRIME. That's it. The Iraqi insurgent pictured in the movie was a soldier and his method of war is different. If you kill children and women you are a coward, and that is point blank. You can not justify the crime by fear, loss or depression. In this case, Marines commited a mini genocide against Iraqi people. I am not undermining US help to Iraqi people and this should be looked and judged as a isolated incident. But this incidents have to be punished. US Military does care of Civilian Geneva convention and that is good but Marines think very often that they are untouchable. They in most of cases do cover up things between them like they are running privat show.

w thompson
w thompson

USMArine - while there is total agreement with you on the rules of engagement and the necessity that civilians not being intentionally taken under fire, your post convicts the Marines in the movie and also Blackwater. In the movie, that is your choice, but the movie was also about a failure of command of those Marines. As for Blackwater, perhaps you were there for the incident you convict on. Otherwise, you don't know what they faced and what they did. PSD (Personal Security Detachment) is a designation not clearly defining which force you served with - U.S. or otherwise. While your 18-year service is worthy, no matter which allied force you served, you seemed to avoid saying you served with the U.S. Marines. Is there a reason for that? Based in your screen name "USMArine" - you are representing yourself as a member of the U.S. Marines. If you are not or never have been a Marine, that screen name is one of an imposter. Which is it?

USA Marine
USA Marine

I have been a paid Security PSD member since I was 18. I was in Kosovo, Bosnia, Gaza, Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia. Many people tried to kill me and I was shooting back but I never shoot any Civilian even when my life was in danger. Therefore, they did wrong from moral stand point and rules of engagement. There is no excuse for the Crime that BlackWater or these Marines commited. That is differance between terrorist groups and us. They kill Civilians and we do not.

w thompson
w thompson

Sure "US MArine" - war crime and genocide. BS! Check in with your parole officer and ask what impersonating a Marine is worth in any but an online world - or perhaps you'd like to give details about the war crimes and genocide you testified to in setting things right.

USA MArine
USA MArine

I have three words for this: WAR CRIME and Genocide against Iraqi innocent people

w, thompson
w, thompson

David - for some things Sonny Barger might be right - but I for one will not forget the good things American troops have done - all over this planet - as they have given life and limb to carry out their missions. With Memorial Day almost here, I think this is timely. As for the people of Iraq - of course they will be better running their own affairs - but without a dictator that used to run their lives for them. That's what our troops will have left behind for them - and yes, there were some terrible prices paid for their new freedom (on their part and our own) - just a such prices were paid in our own Revolutionary War. If only the entire world would "get it" that any war - anywhere - brings pain and death that was never part of the plan, we'd all live on a better planet.

David
David

w. thompson: The Hells Angels leader, Sonny Barger, once said, "When we do right, no one remembers. When we do wrong, no one forgets." That likely applies to American soldiers and marines. You're right, I haven't been to war in Iraq. I imagine American troops have done a lot of heroic things there, and that in some instances the population has benefited. On balance I tend to think that Iraq will benefit most fully if Americans leave and allow Iraqis to look after their own affairs.

w thompson
w thompson

David's comment: "American soldiers/marines, like Russian or Vietnamese or Rwandan soldiers, tend to be ignorant teenagers who will kill for the fun of it if it means a pat on the back from their buddies. To think that we put guns in their hands and send them overseas at all is frightening." My take: This is David's vast generalization that is totally without merit. Perhaps 25% of mortally-wounded Americans fell because they hesitated to fire into civilian shields being used by the enemy - or thought their targets may not have been the enemy. They dieed because they waited. David may act the way he accuses our troops of behaving, but he must not have been beside them in combat to see their real maturity when the bullets are flying.

David
David

At this time charges have been dropped for seven out of eight men charged. If the scenes shown in the film are accurate, I have difficulty with this. Not that I'm surprised. By the way, I cheered for the mujahideen all the way through. American soldiers/marines, like Russian or Vietnamese or Rwandan soldiers, tend to be ignorant teenagers who will kill for the fun of it if it means a pat on the back from their buddies. To think that we put guns in their hands and send them overseas at all is frightening.

w thompson
w thompson

I just watched the film. It took me back to my days of combat in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam. That was a long time ago, but the memories of combat don't fade - at all. In all the actions we experienced, right through the Tet offensive and all its firefights, I never had one of our men "lose control" - except perhaps after the engagements when I'd come upon one of the toughest people I'd ever known sitting with his head bowed and shaking. I was an officer in the Navy Special Warfare teams. We weren't offshore 20 miles, but right in the thick of it. As I watched 'Battle for Haditha' I saw it happening - when the Marine sergeant asked to see a doctor - and he was turned down. My stomach wretched at that moment - because any leader knows strong men don't cry out for help until its almost too late. If it was the policy that he could not see a doctor, every Marine officer to the top command should have been hung for abandoning a man in desperation. The picture really didn't adequately show the villains - the officers who let their men down. The miserable pukes who sent these men into battle without standing beside them, supporting them, and being ready to fall with them, if it came to that. The officer shown was adequately portrayed as a wimp-faced ferret who waged his war over a computer screen - but I don't think that went far enough. I hated the film at first - and then came to admire it for the way it became a textbook for what happens when leadership goes to hell. It shows the tragedy - on all sides - of that. This film could be shown in boot camps and especially to officers who think they are better than the men (and now women) they command. I don't think I'll get over watching it for awhile, because it made me ill and proud at the same time - proud remembering the fine people I served with in battle and how they performed. I can still see them now, sweating, scared, eyes wide and doing their duty as incoming rounds came by, in spite of us all wanting to run. We got each other through it, and most of us - not all - came home. God help anyone who has walked into the line of fire and those who have yet to experience it - because those people will judge themselves on their actions for a long, long time. I'm and old codger now, with a son who served in the Marines. I was on the U.S.S. Boxer (the ship now off Somalia dealing with pirates) at sea with him on the morning of 9-11 as we sailed back to California. The Marines and Navy men and women I saw go to general quarters that day were proud, disciplined and ready - and their officers were right beside them. That's the military I know - but if there's any element of command remaining that functions as in this film, it needs to be flushed out and immediately disbanded.

DirtyThirty
DirtyThirty

As a combat medic who recently finished a fourteen month tour in Baghdad with an infantry platoon, I can say without any hesitation that I feel for the Marines involved in this situation. Losing friends in combat is an incredibly demoralizing, very traumatic event. But to lose them in an IED or EFP strike is so much worse than losing them in a firefight. In a firefight, there is someone to kill; someone still holding that rifle, someone still shooting. It's obvious, and it's immediate. You have retribution, even though it doesn't really make you feel better. At least you have a chance to release some of your rage on a sanctioned target showing hostile action. With an IED or EFP, there's no one to kill. It's not obvious who the trigger man is (if it was even a personnel-detonated device). One moment you're in your truck rolling down the road, watching out your window and talking smack with your buddies, and the next, someone is dead. A cloud of dirt and debris or a white flash and a deafening, body-rattling explosion and someone you knew and loved is dead or severely wounded. At best, your ears are ringing, your head is pounding and you feel like you've just sprinted full speed into a brick wall. And there's no one to get back at. It is the single most infuriating, frustrating feeling I have ever experienced. So for everyone who has never been there who says how terrible the marines and soldiers are over there, and who laments all the civilian life lost without so much as a thought for the dead American troops, consider for a moment your lack of knowledge of what you speak about. The only way to understand war, and to comprehend what a combat soldier/marine goes through and feels, is to go to war as a combat soldier/marine. There are no words in any language, spoken, written or otherwise, that can come close to describing what war and combat really feel like. Save your judgement Ed. We don't need it and we don't care. That being said, you are entitled to your opinion. After all, this is a free country. Just remember that freedom isn't free. We who have served know this better than anyone else.

cookiemonstar
cookiemonstar

WELL LETS SEE WHAT TO WRITE...HMMM..WELL BE A SOLDIER CURRENTLY SERVING, AND FOUR PREVIOUS DEPLOYMENTS UNDER MY BELT TWO OF WHICH IN IRAQ, I AM NOT ENTIRELY IMPRESSED WITH THE OUTCOME WITH THESE MARINES. WE ARE BRIEFED BEFORE WE EVEN GO INTO COUNTRY THE ROE. IF YOU FAIL TO ADHERE TO IT IT IS AT YOUR OWN DEMISE. I AM NOT SAYING I DON'T FEEL PITY FOR THE MARINES AND THE SITUATION IN WHICH THEY FOUND THEM SELVES, BUT I WILL SAY THAT I TOO HAVE BEEN THERE. I WAS THE LEADER ON THE GROUND AND DID NOT COMMAND MY SOLDIER TO SLAUGHTER INOCENT BY STANDERS. YOU ARE ACCOUNTABLE FOR YOUR REACTIONS AND DECISIONS. IF YOU HAVE ANY MORALES AT ALL BESIDES THE TRAINING YOU KNOW THIS SITUATION WAS DEAD WRONG. THANKS TO THESE YOUNG MARINES IT ISN'T THE ENMY WE HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT TODAY IT IS THE ROE. THE ROE IS SO STRINGENT AND IT SCRUTINIZED BY EVERY OFFICER AND POLITICIAN SITTING BEHIND THERE DESK AWAY FROM HARM SOME WHERE SAFE. SO TO THOSE WITH BAD DECISION MAKING PROCESSES THANKS.

peijin
peijin

@dennis sykes so "creative expression" can do what it wants unless it means criticizing the US marines. That doesn't sound like freedom. It sounds like you want everyone to just kiss your ass because you put your ass on the line, even though we don't agree with why your ass was put on the line, and even though some of us didn't want your ass on the line in the first place. But we're supposed to all shut up about those misgivings and just toe the line right? By the way you don't spell very well, soldier.

Graham Fisher
Graham Fisher

Well done Nick, what a way you've come. Masterful, long way from the Anti-Apartheid stuff you did. Although that was very cutting, I much prefer this approach. I’m no film or political critic as you will probably tell, but this time you’ve reached everyone. Which is more important? You've excellently portrayed what motivates and misguides people in this situation. Stuff like this, educates everyone, kept us all talking for hours and into the following day. You’ve probably educated more people in 2 hours than all the headlines and debates in the last 10 years. You’re a while in between doing things but when you do, God it’s good. Well done again. Dry clean the tux, the awards are on there way.

IM
IM

I admire Broomfield for giving both points of view regarding Haditha and it highlights the struggle that both sides face. What does America expect after what it has done/has not done in Irak? What America is doing disgusts me and the behaviour that Sykes has displayed clearly highlights how ignorant people are. The marines are pawns and it is pity that should be felt for them - not pride.

Aaron
Aaron

I think that some people here need to remember the saying "No soldier ( or in this case, Marine) picks their war. These young men can't be demonized for fighting in this war. I can guarantee that given the choice, the majority of them wouldn't have gone. And also remember that these Marines aren't grizzled war vets with appetites for murder and mayhem. They're young kids, as young as 18 who see a friend die, and are angered by it.

Fliss
Fliss

i want to watch this film, though can't seem to find out where it is showing...any ideas?

Mike
Mike

I would like to hear dennis sykes opinion on the UXO mess his country left behind in southeast asia. Perhaps the peasant farners should kiss his boots as a thankyou for the ongoing loss of life. A legacy that looks set to continue in Iraq and other parts of the world in the name of 'freedom', actually 'commerical freedom' for the US at the expense of poorer nations. I can sympathise with the average soldier who is sent off to war at an age where they may not consider the wider implications of their deployment. Im sure this was very much the case in Vietnam with the cold war propoganda of the time. However, is it not time we realised the reality of these conflicts? I guess not. Capital has no morality.

Lars
Lars

The complexity of the script is good, because you feel for all people in a sense, (maybe less with the insurgents, and the retorics of the soldiers on both sides, but anyway) The end of the movie; to show that the big war actually is fought as small wars with blindfolds is good for us living in peaceful sites too see. The war(s) and all war tragedies become more alive - and that's imperative if you want too take stand. Nick Broomfield, his staff - and the real US and Iraqi people behind the story really helps us. Both Ramirez and the Iraqi have taken place in my heart. Thank You for a good movie.

Laure
Laure

hello, I saw the film last Sunday in France (I'm french) and at the same time I met two of the main actors, which were real marines . And I can just say that the film was very good. It deeply touchs/affects me and teachs me some things about the war in Irak. The film show both side marines and iraqis. I hope the film will be well welcomed in the US because it's a really good one. If you want to discuss about it, I will be pleased to answer you.

james p.
james p.

I STAND WITH THE MARINES!! THEY DID WHAT THEY WERE TRAINED TO DO!!! thank you Dennis Sykes, for your services. SEMPER FI MARINES!!

ed
ed

yea lets all listen to baby killer, veitnam was soo right,,,,, invading another country on a lie, how does it feel to go to another country and kill people because you were told to?/ i think your the arsehole. its harder to make a well balanced and thoughtful film about somthing important than it is shoot ing someone, murderer...NOT on my behalf thanks.

dennis sykes
dennis sykes

Having served in combat in the U.S. Marine Corps and having been wounded at Khe Sahn, Vietnam in 1968 I understand Marine Corps combat situations. I served for 13 months in a combat rifle platoon in a battalion called "The Walking Dead" or 1/9. The firat Battalion of the ninth Marines. The men I served with are the most honorable and decent people I have ever known. Soldiers like these have made the country save so assholes like this film maker and sponcers of can produce this shit. Sure there are combat extremes that will always occur when people have their asses on the line but in this case it will be adjucated appropriately. But what about the vast amount of sacrafice and good that is done by Americans in uniform around the world. I bet a zillion bucks that Broomfield never had his ass on the line for anything. He should kiss the Marines combat boots and the ground they on for his freedom and "creative expression"



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