As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Haditha: Soldiers With Nowhere to Turn

Editor and Publisher notes that Tom Lasseter was warning that the Marines at Haditha were on the verge of cracking months before the now-infamous incident:

The inability of U.S. forces to hold ground in Anbar province in western Iraq, and the cat and mouse chase that ensues, has put the Marines and soldiers there under intense physical and psychological pressure.

The sun raises temperatures to 115 degrees most days, insurgents stage ambushes daily then melt into the civilian population and American troops in Anbar find themselves in a house of mirrors in which they don't speak the language and can't tell friend from foe [...]

Officers worry about the enemy while trying to make sure their men don't crack under the pressure.

"I tell the guys not to lose their humanity over here, because it's easy to do," said Marine Capt. James Haunty, 27, of Columbus, Ohio. "I tell them not to turn into Col. Kurtz." [...]

Asked for an example of the kind of pressure that could cause Marines to crack, Haunty talked about the results of a car bomb: "I've picked up pieces of a friend, a Marine. I don't ever want to see that s--- again."

Rep. Murtha has focused on the pressure faced by these soldiers, based on the locale, the difficulty of determining the enemy, and the circumstances. It also can't help that so many of them aren't checked for mental illness before going onto the battlefield, or worse, loaded up with Prozac and told to have at it. And the fact that some of them are out on their 3rd, 4th and 5th tours of duty, something really unprecedented in our military history, takes its toll. Even in the Civil War soldiers were capped at a one-year tour. The right likes to hype the re-enlistment rates as a symbol of high morale, but doesn't take into account the underlying factors. For example, for so many of our soldiers the war is the only way to make money:

At military installations around the country, other families cling to the modest but steady wages, the guaranteed housing allowance, the solid retirement plan and the health benefits of the armed forces.

Although the Army missed its recruitment goals last year, in part because of the Iraq war, retention continues at record levels. Reenlistments this year are running 20% above the Army's goal, despite the long overseas deployments. Two out of three soldiers eligible to reenlist do so.

For many service members, it's a matter of balancing risk: Within the military, multiple deployments are commonplace, and more than 2,400 U.S. troops have been killed in Iraq and 18,000 have been wounded. Outside the military, 46 million people in the U.S. have no health insurance, and those who do pay increasingly higher prices for it.

And veterans are having their health benefits raised, while the enlisted men have them cut. Big incentive to stay in. So are the cash bonuses (I don't want to call them bribes, but what would you call them?):

Incentive bonuses are an Army tradition that date to the Battle of Trenton in the American Revolutionary War. But the military now uses them in more creative ways to retain qualified and experienced soldiers in a war that is stretching the ranks to their limits. Last year, the Army paid half a billion dollars in reenlistment bonuses; nearly three-fourths of soldiers who renew their contracts receive one. The average is $11,000. The longer the commitment, the bigger the bonus.

Career counselors and officers monitor soldiers who become eligible, pointing out the challenges of leaving the military's cosseted universe that provides everything from first-run movies for $1 to free prescription drugs.

"We ask them: 'Where are you going to live when you get out? Do you know how much it costs to set up a kitchen? Did you save any money?' " said Best. "The bottom line is, what are they going to do five years from now to put food on the table?"

As a result of those efforts, the Army has retained 48,666 soldiers so far this year — 120% of its goal of 40,446. That exceeds reenlistment levels that were 108% of the Army's target last year and 107% in 2004.

So a bunch of soldiers who don't want to be in this war, who are doing it out of sacrifice to their fellow troops and their families, whose presence is slowly driving them crazy, who stand around in 115-degree heat with lots of equipment on, these are the ones that end up snapping. Is that because of their personal morality, or policy? Open question.

At any rate, there might be film of this massacre, and that would be horrific. The military men that covered this up and lied about the aftermath, that set the conditions for this to happen, they need to be accountable. The troops were pawns in this game. And more of them are headed into the carnage.


A military investigator uncovered evidence in February and March that contradicted repeated claims by marines that Iraqi civilians killed in Haditha last November were victims of a roadside bomb, according to a senior military official in Iraq.

And we made payments to victim's families immediately, which you don't do unless there are innocent lives involved. Plus the President "first became aware of the episode after the Time magazine inquiry, when he was briefed by Stephen Hadley, the national security adviser." He's the COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF getting reports about serious incidents months after they occur?

The coverup needs to be prosecuted.