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

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Shame of Haditha

You'll of course recall that when John Murtha spoke out about the massacre of 24 Iraqis in Haditha, saying that Marines killed civilians "in cold blood" and deliberately covered it up, he caught all kinds of hell from the wingnutosphere, including claims of treason and calls for official censure. The investigation wasn't over!, they said. How dare he shame the Marines!, they said.

Well, here's a big surprise. Murtha was right. The first Marine to be charged in the massacre is accused of 13 counts of murder.

A Marine Corps squad leader was charged Thursday with 13 counts of murder in the killings of 24 civilians in the Iraqi town of Haditha last year, his attorney said, and other Marines are expected to be charged.

Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich was charged with 12 counts of murdering individuals, plus one count of murdering six people by ordering Marines under his command to "shoot first and ask questions later" when they entered a house, according to charging sheets released by defense attorney Neal Puckett.

Puckett said his client is not guilty and acted lawfully.

In a way, this incident is a textbook example of the fog of war - how frustration and anger and a lack of mission can turn quickly into madness. We know that repeat tours of duty increases the chances of PTSD and mental breakdown. We know that this war has become one where the enemy is unclear and troops are increasingly unable to determine friend from foe. We know that these Marines in particular were under a lot of stress and near the end of their rope at the time of the incident. And so this tragedy occurred, an outburst of violence as a reaction to a bomb blast, and then there was a systematic attempt to cover it up.

No statements were given by the Marines following the Haditha killings, which were investigated months later, after a Time magazine story picked holes in the Marine Corps' account that 15 Iraqis died in a roadside bomb blast and Marines killed eight insurgents in an ensuing firefight. Later reports put the number of dead Iraqis at 24.

None of the bodies was exhumed, and collecting forensic evidence in a war zone is tough. In the Hamdania case, the victim was disinterred and analyzed by U.S. pathologists.

The case will rest on motive, with the Marines claiming that they followed the rules of engagement, which allows for clearing houses and using fragmentation grenades in self-defense, while the prosecution argues that no such condition exists.

Murtha put this out into the open originally, I believe, so that the Pentagon would be unable to cover it up even further. In my view, the entire system of disclosure in these cases needs to be on trial. The Marines who murdered Iraqis If Marines are found not only to have killed Iraqis but to have done so illegally (I don't even think the defense is claiming that Iraqis weren't killed at the hands of these Marines), they must be made responsible for their actions, but SO MUST THE HIGHER-UPS who institutionalized a culture of cover-ups, and put forward a policy that results in tragedies like this. Anyone who remembers My Lai knows that this is nothing new. And the idea that because there has been an indictment, the Pentagon has learned their lesson, is frankly ridiculous.

UPDATE: CNN is now reporting that three Marines have been charged so far in this incident.

...adding, there are absolutely situations where Marines must use weapons to defend themselves, and that's what the court will determine. They will also determine whether there was a deliberate effort to lie about the incident itself. I believe the two are related.

Rep. Murtha spoke out because he knew there was a cover-up at the highest level, and he felt compelled to raise awareness. If anything, this was an attempt to SAVE American lives. If the true costs of war are hidden from the public, it essentially consigns the troops to more adventures abroad. There is a responsibility on the part of lawmakers to give the full picture of war, IMO.