I was two hundred or three hundred meters back. The road bends just a little bit, and there are some small houses and stores on the side of the road. So I could not see what was happening down the road. I was with the commander. I knew that there were vehicles coming up and they were taken care of. We assumed they were all military vehicles. Or ordinary vehicles carrying Republican Guard or whatever, because, you know, we didn’t really know the situation. But the Marines, particularly the snipers who were on the front line, who were looking through scopes and could see faces in vehicles, knew what was going on. And the photographers were there. So, the photographers heard the sniper commanders saying, “Don’t shoot, don’t shoot.” The snipers would fire to disable the vehicles, hit the engine block, hit the tire so the vehicle can’t go forward. Even though the orders were, let the snipers handle it, when the Marines, the ordinary grunts, heard one or two shots from a sniper, they’d all open up. So, you had all these civilians, women and children, getting killed on that road.
[In the morning] I just kind of walked down there and looked at the vehicles and saw the civilian bodies. And on the side of the road there were a couple of civilians who were burying the bodies, and one of them spoke a little bit of English. He had been in one of the vehicles and told me what had happened. And so I was able to see with my own eyes the result of what had happened. I was able to see dead civilians, cars along this road that were shot full of holes, the bodies were still there, and there were witnesses there. The title of the story in The New York Times Magazine was “Good Kills,” because the battalion commander, [Lieutenant Colonel] Bryan McCoy, when I was with him during the battle, I had asked him, “How are things going?” And he had a cigar at that moment, I think, and he said, “Oh, you know, it’s a day of good kills.” And that, “good kills,” is kind of a military term that officers and soldiers will use, meaning their job is to kill people, the right people. But he didn’t know, at that time he didn’t know that there were civilians being killed.
He did realize afterwards. And a lot of people in that battalion knew, not just the ones who shot those vehicles. And I think, actually, when they were shooting, they didn’t know whether there were civilians in them or not, they were just scared. There was one marine who I quoted in the story, who was on the road checking out the bodies. And one of the photographers was with me at that moment, and the photographer was saying, not in a whisper, “This should not have happened. This was wrong.” And, this particular marine heard that and swore, said something. So I went up to him and said, “Well, what do you think about what happened?” — because he was amid all the bodies, as I was — and he kind of said, “Look, you know, you can’t second-guess it. We’ve got to keep ourselves safe. We didn’t know who was in the vehicles. This is war, and this is what happens in war.” And so I put that in, paraphrasing his words, into the story. Two days later, Baghdad falls. This battalion, by the way, was the battalion that took down the statue of Saddam.