Friday, June 16, 2006

Haditha - A Rush to Judgement?

“I will never forget that I am an American fighting for freedom, responsible for my actions, and dedicated to the principles which made my country free. I will trust in my government and the United States of America.” - 6th Article of the US Military Code of Conduct

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“…the accused must be presumed to be innocent until his guilt is established by legal and competent evidence beyond reasonable doubt.” -- Uniform Code of Military Justice, USC Title 10, Chapter 47, Subchapter VII, Article 51(c)(1)

Commentary and Reaction

  • "The indictment of U.S. troops in inevitable," says Daniel Henninger on Haditha (Wall Street Journal June 2, 2006):
    . . . the news is preoccupied with stories of the Marine squad that allegedly killed civilians at Haditha, a town in Iraq. The narrative of this story has pretty much set in already: It's another My Lai, we all know they did it, the brass covered it up, and prison sentences for homicide are merely a formality.

    Haditha is indeed the new Abu Ghraib. What this most importantly means is that any U.S. military action overseas now, no matter its level of justification, can be taken down by the significance assigned to events by the modern machinery of publicity.

  • Neo-Neocon observes, "Whether or not Haditha ends up proving to be in the mold of My Lai, My Lai remains the template, the frame for all subsequent events that might fall into the category of possible American war crimes" -- directing us to an earlier discussion of Mai Lai and a case study of the Mai Lai massacre. (Indeed, on June 3rd, 2006 the Associated Press ran a photo of Mai Lai as an entry for Haditha Via Sweetness and Light).

    Neo-neocon then raises the question of whether "a new set of rules is emerging under which modern warfare must be waged by the West," and the reality of the new criteria:

    Here are those rules, as best I can determine them (with only a little bit of exaggeration):

    (1) Wars cannot last more than a few weeks.

    (2) In the "hot" stage of the war, no civilians can die.

    (3) In the aftermath of a war, no civilians can die.

    (4) All military investigations of possible war crimes and atrocities must be treated by the press as though they are already coverups. The accused are guilty until proven innocent. And, of course, since the military always lies and covers up, the accused can never really be proven innocent by a military court.

    What would these rules do? They would set up war as an impossible to execute but morally black and white situation in which we keep our hands impeccably clean (see here for my previous essay on that subject.)

    Yes indeed, the goal is to be perfect--to never commit a war crime, to never have an innocent civilian die. But realistically, that goal will never be reached. The best we--or any nation--can do is to train our troops as well as possible in order to reduce the number of such incidents to almost nothing, and to ruthlessly investigate and prosecute them whenever they do occur.

    Because the truth is that in wars innocent civilians will always be killed, and always tragically--whether it be in targeted and precision bombing raids gone awry in the "hot" segment of the war, or even in true war crimes during the later "assymetrical guerilla and/or terrorist warfare" stage.

  • Mark Gordon (Suicide of the West May 31st, 2006):
    As a former Army officer, let me stipulate a couple of things. First, incidents like this - if it really did happen - are a direct result of command failure. The troops who reacted with homicidal rage to the death of their comrade cannot escape condemnation and harsh judgement. But neither can the non-commissioned and commissioned offers above them. It is their responsibility to so train and lead their men that the most rigorous discipline becomes an individual and collective habit, especially in the chaos and confusion of battle. In the most dire moments, discipline should overwhelm fear, rage, revulsion and sorrow. That’s the point of military training and discipline: to get men to do what they would otherwise never even contemplate doing.
  • Wallowing in Haditha: Getting at the truth. National Review's Rich Lowry on the media's attempt to use Haditha to "drive a stake into the heart of the Iraq war" and its wholesale indictment of the U.S. Armed Forces:
    The old story line on Iraq was that the Bush administration didn’t send enough troops. The new story line is that it sent too many troops who don’t realize it’s wrong to shoot girls in the head. Unfortunately, Gen. Pete Chiarelli’s decision to give all troops in Iraq “values training” plays into the notion that U.S. personnel are blissfully unaware of the prohibition against murder. This training is redundant and insulting. What’s next? Forums reminding troops not to pillage and wantonly burn and destroy?

    A combat environment presents stresses unimaginable to the civilian, and perhaps no combat is more difficult than fighting an urban insurgency. But tens of thousands of American troops have faced it without going door to door killing people in cold blood. Pointing to Haditha and saying that it means we have to leave Iraq would be a little like pointing to the New York City police officer who sodomized a suspect with a broomstick and saying that the NYC Police Department should exit New York because the stresses on its officers are too great.

    If Marines in Haditha did what they are accused of, it’s a terrible crime unrepresentative of the American military. Period.

  • Reflections on Haditha, CounterTerrorism Blog. June 13, 2006. Bill Roggio, a popular war-blogger who at the beginning of December 2005 was imbedded with Marines of the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, testifies that "In every interaction with the Marines of the 3/1, I saw them serve with distinction, as a proud and professional combat unit."
    The Marines based in the Triad, as elsewhere along the Euphrates River Valley, were fighting a tough counterinsurgency against a ruthless and often unseen enemy. al-Qaeda and the insurgency routinely used women as human shields, attacked from the middle of crowded locations, homes, schools and mosques, and showed a reckless disregard for civilian casualties. Assassinations of local tribal leaders cooperating with the Iraqi government was the norm, as were mortar, grenade, RPG and roadside bombing attacks. al-Qaeda formed military hit squads designed to provoke the Marines into violent reactions and cause civilian casualties. The al-Qaeda teams were well armed, possessed new weapons, wore body armor and were well financed.

    The strict rules of engagement (ROE) the Marines had to adhere to was of great of interest to me. The rules of engagement defined the operating procedures for the Marines when patrolling, setting up checkpoints, searching homes, taking hostile fire, and reacting to ambushes or roadside bombs. When coming under fire, the Marines had to follow a predefined set of rules on the escalation of force, to ensure an inordinate amount of force was used, which can potentially alienate the population.

    I was curious about how the Marines felt about operating in a difficult combat environment. And I didn't ask the officers about the Rules of Engagement, I asked the privates and lance corporals and sergeants - the Marines who walked the streets each and every day and put their our lives on the line. To a man, the Marines I spoke to in the 3/1 stated that while the strict rules of engagement often put them at greater risk of death or injury, they understood the need follow these rules. They understood the war had switched from kinetic war fighting to standard counterinsurgency operations, where the support of the civilian population is paramount to the success of the mission. I watched these young men in operation, and am proud of their professionalism. . . .

    The charges leveled against the Marines of Kilo Company are serious and deserve to be investigated. The Marines deserve to have judgment withheld until the investigation is completed and the results released. Prejudging these Marines, as has been done in numerous media outlets and by a sitting member of the U.S. House of Representatives, is irresponsible. No matter what the results of the investigation, anything but a charge of murder will now be viewed as whitewash. Our Marines deserve far better than this.

    If you happened to follow Bill Roggio's blog and from-the-field reporting, you would encounter numerous tales of heroism and personal sacrifice, of attacks by insurgents on the people of Iraq; of countless efforts by marines to protect and save the victims of such attacks. "These stories don't fit the preconceived story line of a military victimized, worn down and driven to depths of depravity due to a failed enterprise in Iraq," says Bill, "and so therefore they are not told."

  • Don't Run with War Rumors, by Christopher Price. Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Two Presbyterian ministers, serving as embedded reporters for a radio station out of Sacramento, CA, recall their visitation with Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines in January 2006. Comparing their experiences with the presentations of the press and the accusations of Senator John Murtha, compelled to offer the stern advice:
    No one condones the shooting of innocent people, and if, I repeat if, that is what happened, the Marine Corps should take whatever methods are deemed proper to punish the guilty and protect the Marine Corps' integrity.

    But it is a concern when some politicians and journalists seem to have already judged and condemned these young men before the investigation is complete. . . .

    Articles and newscasts on the Haditha incident --- and Murtha's comments --- tend to paint a picture of trigger-happy Marines on a tirade, worn down by responsibility, angry and contemptuous of the local population. That image couldn't be more different from what we saw while in Haditha.

    These were young men living in primitive conditions, but alive to the changes they hoped to bring to Iraq. More than once when we asked them about their mission there, we heard the phrase in one form or another, "I want to be a part of something good. I want to help these people toward freedom." If it sounds corny here, in Haditha it made your heart glow.

    Before anyone rushes to judgment --- especially politicians --- condemning them or any military people for crimes against humanity, let's allow the investigators to have their time. Then, whatever their report, let's remember that only a few were involved in whatever happened Nov. 19, 2005.

Distortions of the Press
  • U.K. Times Smears our Marines - Distortions and wrongful portrayals of the incident run amock. Perusing the headlines of the London Times on June 3rd, Michelle Malkin noticed this picture of bound and blindfolded 19 Shiite fishermen and National Guardsmen executed by Iraqi insurgents wrongfully attributed to the U.S.

    The Times issued a public apology and correction for their alleged "mistake," but not before the same graphic association was repeated by Chicago Sun-Times' cartoonist Jack Higgins on June 6th; and (a Dubai company separate from the TV station). Suffice to say we can expect further appearances of the photo in media outlets around the world.

    As Michelle noted in her response to the Sun-Times:

    "some smears aren't so easy to take back--especially when the image is as searing and damning as the bloody image the Times wrongly attributed to our Marines. Despite the correction, the image has been burned into the public memory."
  • Jack Higgins is not the only political cartoonist to slander the U.S. military -- left-wing Arizona Republic cartoonist Steve Benson has taken a swipe at the entire U.S. Marine Corps, suggesting the acronym stands for "United States Massacre Cover-up."

What really happened?

Numerous bloggers have been drawing attention to the discrepencies of Reuters' and Time magazine's coverage of the Haditha incident (Collateral Damage or Civilian Massacre in Haditha? March 19, 2006) -- particularly the sources of the story and the manner in which it was relayed to the press. Many of the questions are being raised by blogger Sweetness & Light:

If you don't have time to read it all, Clarice Feldman of American Thinker has compiled much of the reports in narrative form, including articles which cast substantial doubt on the charge of a massacre of civilians at Haditha. Indeed, Time has already issued some retractions of earlier mistakes in reporting on Haditha.

The military blog Mudville Gazette has been clearing away some of the chaff as well -- Haditha: Signal to Noise: Part I June 10, 2006; Part II June 11, 2006):

given the number of media "investigations" into the story and the number of words on the topic they've delivered to the public over the past few weeks, it could be that there are reporters who actually have difficulty understanding what's taking so long with the official inquiry. But as we'll demonstrate, an actual criminal investigation - with the purpose of uncovering evidence of guilt or innocence (and perhaps ultimately determining punishment of any guilty parties) is a bit more painstaking a process than is the typing of a news report, with the purpose of selling papers.

In this discussion I'd like to cut through that abundant noise, and discover if any faint signal may be currently available. But at this point in time, it seems the best we can do is identify at least some of what is clearly noise. . . .

See also The Unraveling of Haditha-Part I and Part II; and Haditha: Reasonable Doubt, by Andrew Walden. Hawaii Free Press June 5, 2006.

In the News

  • Marine Says Rules Were Followed: Sergeant Describes Hunt for Insurgents in Haditha, Denies Coverup, by Josh White. Washington Post June 11, 2006.

  • Senator Murtha's charge that U.S. marines killed Iraqi citizens "in cold blood" may have to answer for his comments. According to the Washington Times:
    A criminal defense attorney for a Marine under investigation in the Haditha killings says he will call a senior Democratic congressman as a trial witness, if his client is charged, to find out who told the lawmaker that U.S. troops are guilty of cold-blooded murder.

    Attorney Neal A. Puckett told The Washington Times that Gen. Michael Hagee, the Marine commandant, briefed Rep. John P. Murtha, Pennsylvania Democrat, on the Nov. 19 killings of 24 Iraqis in the town north of Baghdad. Mr. Murtha later told reporters that the Marines were guilty of killing the civilians in "cold blood." Mr. Murtha said he based his statement on Marine commanders, whom he did not identify.

    Mr. Puckett said such public comments from a congressman via senior Marines amount to "unlawful command influence." He said potential Marine jurors could be biased by the knowledge that their commandant, the Corps’ top officer, thinks the Haditha Marines are guilty.

    (Marine may call Murtha as witness, by Rowan Scarborough. The Washington Times June 15, 2006).

  • Emphasizing the need to restrain a rush-to-judgement, a Marine unjustly charged with two counts of premeditated murder protests the behavior of Senator Murtha in a letter to the Washingtpon Post:
    A year ago I was charged with two counts of premeditated murder and with other war crimes related to my service in Iraq. My wife and mother sat in a Camp Lejeune courtroom for five days while prosecutors painted me as a monster; then autopsy evidence blew their case out of the water, and the Marine Corps dropped all charges against me ["Marine Officer Cleared in Killing of Two Iraqis," news story, May 27, 2005].

    So I know something about rushing to judgment, which is why I am so disturbed by the remarks of Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) regarding the Haditha incident ["Death Toll Rises in Haditha Attack, GOP Leader Says," news story, May 20]. Mr. Murtha said, "Our troops overreacted because of the pressure on them, and they killed innocent civilians in cold blood."

    In the United States, we have a civil and military court system that relies on an investigatory and judicial process to make determinations based on evidence. The system is not served by such grand pronouncements of horror and guilt without the accuser even having read the investigative report. . . .