Charges filed against eight Marines
As we all remember, Rep. John Murtha (D-Surrender) came out swinging shortly after TIME magazine, in March, "broke" the story (four months after the fact) of the incident in Haditha, Iraq which left 24 people dead last November, accusing the Marines involved of "murdering" Iraqi civilians "in cold blood." Was Murtha correct in his snap judgment, despite his lack (at the time) of evidence?
At the end of July, word came from the Pentagon that "evidence collected on the deaths of 24 Iraqis in Haditha support[ed] accusations that U.S. Marines deliberately shot...civilians, including unarmed women and children." Whether the evidence was sufficient to file charges against the Marines involved was yet to be determined at that time.
Last week, the determination was made, and charges were filed against eight of the Marines from Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division. Four were charged with murder, including the squad leader, who faces 13 counts of the crime.
According to Reuters, "Iraqi witnesses say the Marines shot civilians in their homes to retaliate for the death of their comrade, Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas, who was ripped in half by the bomb that exploded under a convoy rolling through Haditha, some 60 miles north of Baghdad."
Predictably, lefty "human rights" groups (whose duplicity has long been striking) have already begun to complain about the supposed lack of severity in the charges. At least two organizations, which I won't link here (sorry, folks), have condemned the US military's unwillingness to turn the Marines over to an Iraqi court to face the death penalty there.
A spokesman for Human Rights Watch "welcomed the charges but said accountability for the killings needed to run further up the chain of command, saying 'If the military really wants to stop future abuses it shouldn't just focus on low-level offenders, it needs to focus on the systemic issues that lead to war crimes'."
I wrote extensively about this in June, shortly after the TIME story and the Murtha accusations, and I stand by what I said then 100%. Of particular relevance was this:
If there was wrongdoing, and if it was covered up, all of those responsible will be appropriately punished. The U.S. Military severely punishes those guilty of wrongdoing; for evidence, refer to Abu Ghraib, a media-inflated scandal and an incident to which Haditha has been compared. One of the two soldiers portrayed in the majority of the Abu Ghraib photographs received ten years in jail; the other received three. Given that level of sentencing for an incident which, though hateful and malicious, did not result in civilian deaths, it is a no-brainer that these Marines, should they be guilty of the cold-blooded murder of innocents, will receive every bit of what they deserve, if not more, at the hands of the military.If it turns out, though, that there was anything involved in Haditha besides a revenge-fueled massacre of known innocents, though, then prosecuting these Marines will set a dangerous precedent, and send a very poor message to our fighting men and women who are facing death and danger every day in the War on Terror. In this current fight, as I and others have constantly attempted to point out,
What our troops are facing in Iraq goes far beyond what could be called "usual combat." No longer are our soldiers fighting a uniformed enemy, all of whom answer to a unified higher command, and all of whom have a similar or identical objective in mind.When engaged in a fight like this, it would be the height of foolishness to expect our soldiers to willingly take the casualties it would require to hold off on returning fire while engaged with an enemy that hides among the populace at large until they can positively identify only enemy fighters to target them. "Collateral damage" is a clean term for a gruesome reality - the deaths of those not directly involved in fighting - but, with a population which allows insurgents and fighters to freely operate amongst them, it is an unavoidable reality. Far too many US troops have been lost due to their attempts to keep from harming civilians while taking enemy fire; prosecuting those who do end up wounding or killing noncombatants who are in the middle of the fight - without murderous intent - effectively makes the only other option suicide for our troops.
Instead, they are fighting enemies that dress like civilians, use churches and schools as a base of operations and, as soon as the opportunity presents itself, grab the nearest woman or child from behind which to attack. Today's enemies are just as happy to see their own countrymen killed as Americans. They willingly -- even purposely -- bomb their own churches and schools, and will gladly use and sacrifice any person available to help achieve their various goals.
As bad as this all may sound - especially when embellished (and celebrated) by the anti-war Left - nothing has been decided yet. The military's record with such courts-martial in the War on Terror has been less than stellar to this point (for a prime example of this, see the Ilario Pantano case), and these men are far from having been proven guilty of anything.
The Marines in question are doing what they can to cope with their situation. Judged not to be a danger to themselves or others, or to be flight risks, they are not in custody (for the record, I applaud the decision not to incarcerate these men for an isolated combat incident); the squad leader, a 26-year-old who, according to his father, had "planned to leave the military soon and go to college to study music production," was reportedly "out Christmas shopping" at one point when the press - never the biggest respecter of privacy - attempted to reach him for comment. I sincerely hope that he, and the other Marines involved, had a Merry Christmas with their families, despite the situation. Many of their comrades in arms will never again be able to enjoy such things, and those who can - these men included - should enjoy every moment that they can.
Also unfortunately, 24 Iraqis killed on November 19, 2005 will never again enjoy time spent with their families, or any other earthly pursuits. For those who were innocent civilians, their deaths are most regrettable, and if they were killed in cold blood, then their murdereds will - and should - receive their just desserts.
However, as I also said in June,
The investigations into last November in Haditha will be completed and whatever guilty parties there may be (if any) will be brought to justice. Until then, it should not be too much to ask that our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines - who have sacrificed their time, their comfort and even their lives and limbs for our safety, for our right to live free and for our ability to be stressed over our ordinary lives - be given the slightest benefit of the doubt.And I stand by every word.