Thursday, December 21, 2006


The Sacrificial Haditha Marines

It’s on the front page: 4 Marines Charged In Haditha Killings

“Four U.S. Marines were charged with multiple counts of murder yesterday for their alleged roles in the deaths of two dozen civilians in the Iraqi town of Haditha last year. The accusations set up what could be the highest-profile atrocity prosecution to arise from the Iraq war.”

I’ve followed this case with some interest because I was afraid the Marines would wimp out and succumb to the political pressure to indict somebody here. That’s because the Marines, like all the services, are run by Generals (or Admirals). The difference between a General and a Colonel is usually politics: It’s not bravery, it’s not battlefield prowess and it’s not leadership. The Marines, like all our armed forces, have those in spades. No, it usually comes down to politics – who had the better assignments; who has the better sponsors. This doesn’t mean those who make General are unworthy – it just means they are usually better connected. And people who succeed in politics usually don’t give up on it.

While on active duty I spent a lot of time working with Marines. They’re smart, professional and committed. They are also ethical. Lacking overwhelming evidence to the contrary, I believe the Marines who were there and their version of events. I believe they feel horrible about what transpired…but not guilty. From what has been made public, the prosecution does not have the evidence to convict but instead must pin its hopes on someone rolling. That’s an acceptable prosecutorial tool but just further adds to the disdain and lack of respect many within the Services feel for the JAG Corps.

These Marines were in a combat situation experiencing stress at a level most of us – thank God – will never experience. In such situations, errors can occur. But absent that conclusive evidence, we should at least offer these Marines the benefit of the doubt that they acted appropriately. I would have no qualms defending any one of these Marines against these speculative charges.

I think this is Marine politicians throwing raw meat to the critics; hoping to quiet them for awhile. But what it says is that a bunch of law school grads would rather believe a doddering John Murtha than the grunt on the ground. That’s a mistake and a more morale-killing one I can’t think of.

Full disclosure: I am a veteran – Navy (but never a JAG).

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