Wednesday, May 31, 2006


I've avoided discussing the Haditha incident before now because it is disturbing at so many levels.

Under the fold:

Time Magazine first reported in March of 2006 that the military's original description of a firefight that had occurred on November 2005 in the Iraqi town of Haditha was inaccurate.
The next day, a Marine communique from Camp Blue Diamond in Ramadi reported that Terrazas and 15 Iraqi civilians were killed by the blast and that "gunmen attacked the convoy with small-arms fire," prompting the Marines to return fire, killing eight insurgents and wounding one other.

But over the ensuing months, eyewitness reports from Iraqis indicated that the civilians had not died in the bomb blast; they had been killed by the Marines, who went on a "rampage" and killed 15 people--including seven women and three children--in their homes.
In January, after Time presented military officials in Baghdad with the Iraqis' accounts of the Marines' actions, the U.S. opened its own investigation, interviewing 28 people, including the Marines, the families of the victims and local doctors. According to military officials, the inquiry acknowledged that, contrary to the military's initial report, the 15 civilians killed on Nov. 19 died at the hands of the Marines, not the insurgents.

On May 18, Representative John Murtha (D-Pennsylvania) revealed at a press conference that the Haditha incident was "much worse than reported in Time magazine."

The right wing infosphere launched another swift boat campaign against Murtha, stating he had "condemned" the Marines and accused him, once again of being a "traitor." (No, I won't provide links to any of that.)

Today, the New York Times published this:
Files Contradict Account of Raid in Iraq

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…

So, it's a safe bet that something happened in Haditha other than what the military initially reported, and it wasn't good.

What's Disturbing?

Don’t get too taken by all the "devil dog, steely-eyed killer" image of the standard United States Marine you may have been exposed to over the years. Yeah, these guys are trained to fight like demons, but they're also disciplined. For that discipline to have broken down in Haditha, as it appears to have, signals to me that something terribly wrong happened--most likely a complex set of circumstances that caused these Marines to react "incorrectly" in the conduct of a type of tactical mission that has shown time and again to produce little if any operational or strategic benefit.

I'm equally disturbed that Congressman Murtha was once again swift boated for bringing up a situation that had already been revealed by open press sources. We're in a sorry state when speaking the truth and informing the public is described as treasonous.

I'm incredibly disturbed that the military once more appears to have tried to cover up bad news. We have no way of knowing, just now, where the false story about Haditha originated, just as we can't tell who first put out the first false reports of the circumstances of Pat Tillman's death, or of Jessica Lynch's capture and eventual rescue.

But wherever the spin started, the result is the same. We can't trust anything we hear from official government sources. As I discussed in You Can't Handle the Truthiness, a sole superpower's most important instrument of policy may well be the credibility of its information environment. And that is most like the largest casualty of America's woebegone excursion to Iraq.

We're still hearing "stay the course" and "complete the mission" talk from the Bush administration. But we have yet to hear specifics on what the "course" or the "mission" might actually be.

That's what disturbs me the most. The Iraqi security forces are showing no signs of "standing up" and the new Iraqi government appears to be sitting down on the job. There seems to be no end in sight to this nightmare.

And American soldiers and Marines will continue to be put in Haditha-like situations for reasons our national leadership can't (or won't) explain to us.


  1. Recently spent some time with a Marine Major who is CO of Wpns Co., 3/7 Marines -- they got back from Ramadi about a month ago (his second tour). Among his observations:

    1. During his first tour, 2 - 9/04 in Al Qaim, the btn. logged 170 IED "incidents" -- explosions, duds, discoveries of undetanated IEDs, etc. This time in Ramadi, they logged 700. And his first tour was no picnic;

    2. Being the mission - oriented fellow that he is (and we taxpayers expect), he thinks we're making progress. When asked how many troops would be needed to complete the task, he said two to three times more. When asked how long did he think we'd have to be there to complete the mission, he said five to ten years.

    The point re: your post -- just like in RVN, we've taken young men (and now women) and dropped them into a mixmaster, and somehow expect everything will be ok. Not. Going. To. Happen.

    There is of course no excuse for homicide; however, there are mitigating circumstances which should be weighed after the determination of guilt or innocence has been made.

    In this case, we've put soldiers and Marines in an environment in which they are under strength, under equipped (can only imagine what shape the vehicles alone are in by now)and expected to accomplish a mission which cannot be accomplished in 120 degree heat. And among a people who are armed to the teeth and engaged in a religious/ethnic war and whose only uniting principle is hatred of us.

    Of course this was going to happen, and has probably happened in other places.

  2. Well, my sympathies are always going to be with the grunts, not with the people who put them in an untenable situation.

    Not to put the guy down or challenge him, but I'd like to ask your Major friend just how he defines the "mission."

  3. My sister was in the marines and so was her husband, but saying that, I don't think there is much excuse for what happened. Stress and bad situations can cause bad things to happen, but to go into homes and shoot 6 year olds in the head? It makes me sick even thinking about it. I have already been attacked and called a traitor on my site for even mentioning this story.!2E92B740FDF194F!2932.entry

    People think that if we ignore gruesome events like these and stick our heads in the sand that everything will be alright. But there is a serious problem. This makes me think that there are some seriously disturbed people over there in Iraq taking out there misplaced aggression on civilians and children of all things.

    There needs to be some serious discussion about the mental degradation of our troops that have served over in that hell hole that we created. I have found though that you cannot mention that sort of thing without being reminded that one must support the troops, aka keep your mouth shut and look the other way. When are we going to address this mounting problem? Haditha is not the only case of Marines killing civilians in the last year. When can we say it is a pattern and a serious problem?

  4. Atrocities have been committed in every war. I don't think one can imply that the Iraq war is somehow unique in fostering atrocities on the part of the troops in ways that haven't existed in past wars. It simply isn't the case.

    Of course, these things should not be covered up by the government, they need to be vigorously investigated and, if it is found that the soldiers are guilty, I wouldn't be opposed to turning them over to Iraqi authorities. But I have heard and read from a number of people how unbelievable and bizarre this is, and how the Iraq war must be so different from others for something like this to happen. Nonsense. Much worse has happened in past wars; I think it is in many ways inevitable given the brutality of war. That doesn't make it excusable - the people should be tried on murder charges. Period. But come one...this is a situation unique to this war? No.

  5. Cloudy7:54 PM

    Mus says:
    "Much worse has happened in past wars; I think it is in many ways inevitable given the brutality of war. "

    That's why the human rights organizations and most churches opposed this war from the start & did not buy the causus belli number 3 ("we need to invade Iraq for humanitarian reasons/because Saddam is evil")

  6. Anonymous10:15 PM

    Funny if a group of german soldiers had done that they would have end up in prison or shot, but because it was done by our brave marines it is alright.
    They are in a bad situation and they are overstressed, so they get a pass and the officers naturally never do anything wrong and have no responsibility for anything done under their command. How nice!

    If this is how our finest operate, it simply proves that this country is morally bankrupt and once you end up in this manure pile you never get rid of the stink.

    What a wonderful way to win their cooperation.

    But in the end the joke will be on us when Iraq will have become a theocracy allied with Iran. Boy what a wonderful accomplishment for our foreign policy in the Middle East.

  7. Anonymous12:51 AM

    A little girl got her head blown off, execution style - by US Marines. And our taxes paid for this, therefore we all are responsible. What the hell are we doing?

  8. William Bollinger8:56 AM

    Of course, atrocities have been committed in every war. Bad shit happens when you toss around lots of bullets and bombs. Rogue units, collateral damage, friendly fire, unexploded munitions, attacks due to bad intel, all happen in every war. It's how we deal with these that are important.

    Back, when we still had some credibility, at the beginning of this war, we managed to bomb a Chinese embassy, because of an out of date map. We verified what happened, admitted our mistake, and apologized and paid retribution. Today, we stonewall, whitewash, deny, and call anyone who does otherwise a traitor. When stonewalling, whitewashing, denying are no longer effective, prosecute some confused grunt, and give the rest sensitivity training to add to their confusion.

    Anonymous has it right. The government is doing this in our name, and every time something like this happens, instead of trying to hide it, we need to rub the public's noses in it, so they can feel the shame they should. Every dead little Iraqi child's picture should fill the nightmares of all Americans, so when we ask ourselves, "Is it worth it?” we know what we're really asking.

  9. Let me clarify:

    Nothing makes what apparently happened in Haditha "all right." Not past wars, not the behavior of the insurgents/terrorists, not the fact that "our boys" were involved.

    I lament that it happened, and especially lament the string of events and conditions that led to it.

  10. Anonymous11:18 AM

    I wonder just how often our soldiers have lied about why some civilian was killed?

    They know that they are outside Iraqi law, which means they pretty much can do what they want, they just have to plant evidence that the dead is a "insurgents" and their command and pentagon will whitewash, and they are home free.

    But how often can you do that and become so emotionally damaged that you can never lead a normal life again?

    I remember a soldier was caught on tape executing a wounded man, nothing happend because "the guy moved" said the executioner, therefore he did nothing wrong, he had to defend himself from a weaponless wounded man.

    But then we do not torture or secretly send people to other nation for torture.

    What have we become?

  11. William:

    You're right - it is our response to these things, which will invariably happen during wars, that is of utmost importance. When you have the government trying to cover things up, it is not only immoral but it makes the situation worse.


    My view, as stated above, is that those who commit such acts should be turned over to the Iraqi government and subject to Iraqi law. I would not do this without first having a finding of guilt by our own military processes, but once that happens I'd be in favor of handing anyone found guilty over to the Iraqi authorities. That would end the perception of being above Iraqi law.

  12. musmanno,
    No one is going to turn our troops over to a foreign country. What we need is for the top officials in this country to stop pretending that there is nothing wrong and stop covering things up. When they do that, they send the message that it is ok to do things like this and it will be "taken care of".

    Never would I advocate handing over our men to another country. I would not hand any American citizen, no matter how vile, to a foreign nation. That is not addressing the underlying problem. One of the problems is that the troops still think Iraq was behind 911. Another problem that stems from the first problem is that they then dehumanize all Iraqis. A third problem is that everytime they do something like this, they create more people that want to kill them.

    A huge problem is misplaced aggression and anger. They don't want to be there and they lash out at the wrong people. Instead of standing up and demanding that this war be stopped, they take out their aggression on innocent bystanders.

    But, ultimately, there is no excuse for executing women and children. But, we cannot just round up those guys and throw them in some Iraqi prison and think that the problem will go away. At some point someone has to address the entire war itself to get to the root of the problem.

    Yesterday, a pregnant Iraqi woman was killed at a checkpoint b/c her brother was speeding her to the hospital to give birth. These types of incidents cause more strife. The attacks on our troops doubled since the massacre happened in November. The reason is that even though we are just now hearing about it, the Iraqis heard about it right away. We had a bunch of our guys die in the increased attacks b/c our government decided to cover up a situation instead of immediately addressing it.

    The main thing is that these guys are becoming dehumanized. And this will stick with them for the rest of their lives. We are going to have an entire generation of young men that are mentally disturbed.

    But, in a lot of ways, it is a creation of our society. When you have the coulters of this country saying that we need to kill all their leaders and convert them to christianity and other people saying we just need to nuke the entire country, what do you expect? As a country, we have lost our humanity. I do not recognize this place anymore.

  13. Navywife:

    I agree with most of what you are saying in terms of having to address the root of the problem, etc., but I'd still advocate turning people found guilty over to the local authorities. I'd make sure they had due process of a U.S. court first (military in this case, I presume) before doing so, so that we're not turning people who haven't been found guilty over to a country whose judicial system doesn't provide for the rights that we guarantee, but once the U.S. process is exhausted, and if someone is found guilty, I see no reason they shouldn't be provided to the local authorities where they committed the crime. I don't think it is going to happen, of course, but I see no reason why is shouldn't.

  14. A rather disappointing column on Haditha and the aftermath - disappointing given the fact that the author is a man of the cloth.,2933,197807,00.html

  15. What utter, unbelievable trash. The Fox News Father, eh?


  16. That was my thinking as well, Jeff. I literally couldn't believe what I was reading.

  17. William Bollinger5:10 PM

    Gott mit uns.

  18. Anonymous8:11 PM

    I do not have the words that express my horror at to what level we as a nation have sunk. That means all of us - our government courts, citizens and military.

    Some grunts will be slapped on the wrists not for their action, but for embarrasing Rumsfeld and Bush. That is a crime far worse than killing woman and children in cold blood and covering it up. After all they are infidels and deserve it.

    The reaction of the military to this is perfectly expressed in this editorial, and the socalled ethics classes are far too little and much too late.

  19. Anonymous8:50 PM

    If foreign torture nations are good for our "renditions," suspects, then they should be good for our own convicted criminals. Iraqi justice for murderers of Iraqis seems fair.

  20. If we're talking murder convictions, and it sounds like we might be, we'll be seeing a lot more that slaps on the wrist.

    In many ways, though, I'm somewhat more interested in how the cover-up went.

    And yeah, the ethics classes are a freaking joke. Standard CYA.

  21. Uhh... you people are missing something... this is incident is being INVESTIGATED and thus everything we know is one sided and speculation at best... we don't know if the 6 year old was killed deliberately or just was in the wrong place at the wrong time. This is a battle ground... not a school yard. It was night time... split second decisions are made in combat... and sometimes they can be terribly wrong. Let's give these marines a chance to tell thier side before jumping to reckless conclusions. Or at least wait until the investigation is over!!

  22. Anonymous11:28 AM

    To theotherside:

    Were you referring to the "non-biased, impartial" ivestigation that can only take place in a right-wing palm-greasin' dreamscape. Bush and Rummy will see to it that the truth about this or any other incident that makes them look bad in the short run, does not see the light of day. And they will do so with no regard as to the condition of The United States standing in the global community. I wish I could have faith in the system of today, but with all the reckless abuse of power in our country, that faith is being whittled away by the current adminsration's cronyism.