IRAQ. Nineveh governorate. Tal Afar. January 18, 2005. Samar Hassan, 5, screams after her parents were killed by U.S. soldiers from the 25th Infantry Division. The troops fired on the Hassan family car when it unwittingly approached them during a dusk patrol. Parents Camilla and Hussein Hassan were killed instantly, and a son Raccan, 11, was seriously wounded in the abdomen. Racan, paralysed form the waist down, was latter treated in the U.S.
Chris Hondros was with an army unit when its soldiers killed the parents of this blood-spattered girl at a checkpoint, and his photo was published around the world. Mr. Hondros was kicked out of the unit, though he soon became embedded with a unit in another city.
The following is an excerpt written by Chris Hondros about his photograph. The writing was pulled from his laptop recovered after he was killed on assignment in Libya.
“At six in Tal Afar, it isn’t yet quite dark. A gloom hung over the roads and alleys with just a little dark blue light from the sky. No one was out. As we made our way up a broad boulevard, in the distance I could see a car making its way toward us. With all the relentless car bombings in Iraq, groups of soldiers are understandably nervous about any cars that approach them, and they do not allow private cars to breech the perimeter of their foot patrols, particularly at night. "We have a car coming,“ someone called out, as we entered an intersection. We could see the car about a 100 meters down but I doubt if it could see us—it would be hard to see this group of darkly camouflaged men in the gloom. That already gave me a bad feeling about what might conspire, so I moved over to the side of the road, out of anyone’s line of fire. The car continued coming; I couldn’t see it anymore from my perch but could hear its engine now, a high whine that sounded more like acceleration than slowing down. It was maybe 50 yards away now. “Stop that car!” someone shouted out, seemingly simultaneously with someone firing what sounded like warning shots—a staccato measured burst. The car continued coming. And then perhaps less than a second later a cacophony of fire, shots rattling off in a chaotic overlapping din. The car entered the intersection on its momentum and still shots were penetrating it and slicing it. Finally the shooting stopped, the car drifted listlessly, clearly no longer being steered, and came to a rest on a curb. I stared at it in shocked silence. Soldiers began to approach it warily. The sound of children crying came from the car, and my worst fears were instantly realized. I walked up to the car and a teenaged girl with her head covered emerged from the back, wailing and gesturing wildly. After her came a boy, tumbling onto the ground from the seat, already leaving a pool of blood. “Civilians!” someone shouted, along with a stream of epithets, and soldiers ran up. More children—it ended up being six all told—started emerging, crying, their faces mottled with blood in long streaks. The troops carried them all off to a nearby sidewalk. It was by now almost completely dark. There, working only by lights mounted on ends of their rifles, an Army medic began assessing the children’s injuries, running his hands up and down their bodies like he was frisking them, looking for wounds. Incredibly, the only injuries were a girl with a cut hand and a boy with a superficial gash in the small of his back that was bleeding heavily but wasn’t life-threatening. The medic immediately began to bind it, while the boy crouched against a wall, his face showing more fear than pain. From the sidewalk I could see into the bullet-mottled windshield more clearly, and even my hardened nerves gave a start—the driver of the car, a man, was penetrated by so many bullets that his skull had collapsed, leaving his body grotesquely disfigured. A woman also lay dead in the front, still covered in her Muslim clothing and harder to see. Body bags were found and soldiers grimly set about placing the two bodies in them. Meanwhile, the children continued to wail and scream, huddled against a wall, sandwiched between soldiers either binding their wounds or trying to comfort them. The Army’s translator later told me that this was a Turkoman family and that the teenage girl kept shouting, “Why did they shoot us? We have no weapons! We were just going home!“ There was a small delay in getting the armored vehicles lined up and ready, and soon the convoy moved to the main Tal Afar hospital. It was fairly large and surprisingly well outfitted, with sober-looking doctors in white coats ambling about its sea-green halls. The young children were carried in by soldiers and by their teenaged sister. Only the boy with the gash on his back needed any further medical attention, and the Army medic and an Iraqi doctor quickly chatted over his prognosis. "Oh, this will be okay,” the Iraqi doctor said in broken English, roughly pulling the skin on the edge of the wound, causing the boy to howl. “We will take care of him fine.” The unit’s captain, Thomas Siebold, was adamant that the children be kept in a waiting room when the body bags, which were waiting outside on gurneys, were brought through the doors to be taken to the morgue. “They’ve seen enough,” he said. “I don’t want them seeing any more tonight.” I thought of Seibold’s office where I’d met up with him earlier, and the picture of his smiling 5-year-old daughter filling the entire desktop of his computer at his desk.”
Photograph: Chris Hondros/Getty Images