First news stories about the My Lai massacre (picked
up from an Army publicity release), March 1968: The New York Times
labeled the operation a significant success: "American troops caught a North
Vietnamese force in a pincer movement on the central coastal plain yesterday,
killing 128 enemy soldiers in day-long fighting." United Press International
called it an "impressive victory," and added a bit of patriotic color: "The
Vietcong broke and ran for their hide-out tunnels. Six-and-a-half hours later,
'Pink Village' had become 'Red, White, and Blue Village.'"
New York Times, Nov. 21, 2005: "The Marine Corps said
Sunday that 15 Iraqi civilians and a Marine were killed Saturday when a roadside
bomb exploded in Haditha, 140 miles northwest of Baghdad. The bombing on Saturday
in Haditha, on the Euphrates in the Sunni-dominated province of Anbar, was aimed
at a convoy of American Marines and Iraqi Army soldiers, said Capt. Jeffrey
S. Pool, a Marine spokesman. After the explosion, gunmen opened fire on the
convoy. At least eight insurgents were killed in the firefight, the captain
Ridder, March 21, 2006: "Questions about the incident [at
Ishaqi] focus on diverging U.S. military and Iraqi police accounts of the raid,
which happened around 2:30 a.m. on March 15 on a house about 60 miles north
of Baghdad. Both sides and neighbors agree that U.S. troops were involved in
a firefight with a suspected member of al-Qaida in Iraq. But the U.S. account
gave the death toll as four and said the house collapsed from the heavy fire
it took during the fighting. The al-Qaida suspect was found alive in the rubble
and arrested, the U.S report on the incident said. Iraqi police, however, contend
that U.S. troops gathered 11 people in the house into a single room and executed
them, before destroying the house as they left the area."
Charlie Company, which had suffered 28 casualties in its first months in the
area without ever seeing the Vietnamese enemy, was bent on revenge when, on
March 16, 1968, it entered the sub-hamlet of My Lai 4, known to the soldiers
as "Pinkville," on the Battambang Peninsula in Quangnai Province. Looking for
the reputed "headquarters" of the 48th Vietcong Battalion, they found only women,
children, infants, and old men, none resistant, many finishing breakfast. Almost
all were slaughtered, upwards of 500 human beings.
At Haditha, we know that, in the phrase of the soldier who first reported the
My Lai massacre, "something rather dark and bloody" – and, it seems, criminal
– happened. It started with Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment,
1st Marine Division, a "feral" unit, living in a "Lord of the Flies" encampment
(as described by British journalist Oliver
Poole, who paid it a frightening visit), on its third tour of duty in Iraq.
It had already been in some of the darkest, bloodiest, most feral fighting of
the counterinsurgency war – the destruction of much of the city of Fallujah
in November 2004. After watching a company member die from a roadside bomb that
November day a year later, some of the unit's soldiers evidently massacred 24
Iraqi civilians who happened to be living nearby in the town of 90,000 in the
heartland of the Sunni insurgency. A My Lai-style cover-up followed.
Other than revealing just how overstretched the American military is in Iraq,
such an "incident" (as American officials liked to call such horrors back in
the Vietnam era and still do today) is also a kind of confession – of failure.
If, as a soldier, you feel you are protecting anyone in an area, you do not
simply slaughter random civilians, no matter how you may "snap." To commit such
acts, these Marines must have concluded in the most visceral way that there
simply were no Iraqis to protect in Haditha, perhaps in the Sunni provinces
of Iraq altogether, perhaps in the whole country. You only slaughter the helpless
face-to-face when even small children have become aliens, the enemy, so tainted
by evil, by the killing of your people, that there's no hope for them. Think
of it as on-the-ground military democracy, the grimmest sort of popular vote
on whether you or the insurgents are winning the war.
It's a small enough step in such circumstances from the knowledge that the
enemy might be anywhere to the thought that the enemy is everywhere, and then
to the feeling that every Vietnamese/Iraqi is an enemy – or, as the slaughtered
were termed in the initial military indictment of My Lai's Lieutenant William
Calley, every "Oriental human being" a "VC." Even a baby sucking at its mother's
breast might, as one My Lai defendant claimed, be helping to conceal a hidden
The process by which all human beings in a region transmogrify into the hated
and feared enemy works in reverse as well. As in the case of My Lai, the dead
by some strange process can change back into aunts, grandfathers, children,
babies. It can happen on the spot. As Ryan
Briones, the first Marine from Kilo Company to speak out (though evidently
not one of the killers), described the scene: "They ranged from little babies
to adult males and females. I'll never be able to get that out of my head. I
can still smell the blood. This left something in my head and heart."
Such "incidents" were far more common than we care to imagine in
Vietnam and are undoubtedly more common in Iraq as well. Think of this as
an endless feedback loop, the ultimate self-fulfilling prophecy. Scholar Juan
Cole at his Informed Comment blog speculates "that the number of Iraqis
in Anbar Province who said it was all right to attack U.S. troops doubled to
80 percent in 2006 from 40-odd percent in January of 2004. Doubled. And Ishaqi
and Haditha and lots of similar such incidents are the reason for this doubling."
Just this week, the U.S. military concluded a rather hurried investigation
of the "rather dark and bloody" events in the town of Ishaqi, also in the Sunni
heartland – and despite protests from the Iraqi government that this represented
"rush to judgment" – described the "incident" in
the following way:
"The [American] forces, upon arrival, began taking direct fire from the
building. As the enemy fire persisted, the ground force commander appropriately
reacted by incrementally escalating the use of force from small arms fire to
rotary wing aviation, and then to close air support, ultimately eliminating
the threat. … The investigating officer concluded that possibly up to nine collateral
deaths resulted from this engagement but could not determine the precise number
due to collapsed walls and heavy debris. Allegations that the troops executed
a family living in this safe house, and then hid the alleged crimes by directing
an air strike, are absolutely false."
Note that, under challenge, the al-Qaeda member and three "terrorist" associates
in the initial Ishaqi report multiplied. There are now nine extra "collateral
deaths," just as those "insurgents" in the initial military report from Haditha,
according to the Time
magazine piece that broke the story, had already turned into civilian "collateral
damage" in the first Marine probe of what happened there. ("[T]he deaths were
the result of 'collateral damage' rather than malicious intent by the Marines….")
The Iraqi police, who identified the deaths in Ishaqi as execution-style murders
beg to disagree with the American conclusions, but let's leave aside the issue
of criminal intent. What else do the "incidents" at Ishaqi, Haditha, and My
Lai have in common?
"A Big Public Relations Problem"
As a start, you would never have learned about
them from the U.S. military. My Lai took almost a year to make its way out of
elaborate layers of cover-up via a then-unknown journalist named Seymour Hersh,
and into major newspapers as well as – in full photographic horror – Life
Magazine. Abu Ghraib took months to make it into full
digital-photo horror on Sixty Minutes II and into the New Yorker
magazine, thanks again to Seymour Hersh. Haditha took almost four months to
make it into Time. (Knight Ridder – a rarity – reported the Iraqi and
American versions of Ishaqi at once.) Imagine what realities may lie behind
all the other news reports taken from military press releases or press conferences
of "insurgent" or "terrorist" deaths in places no Western journalist can venture
in Iraq (or Afghanistan).
The American military's mode of response to any "incident" almost invariably
turns out to be a long journey from the truth. The dead are always initially
"insurgents" or "terrorists" (or "Vietcong" in the Vietnam era). When, for instance,
you see reports of the deaths of "insurgents" in bombing attacks, whether on
urban neighborhoods in Iraq or villages in southern Afghanistan – "Airstrike
kills up to 80 Taliban, U.S. officials say" – there is every reason simply
not to believe them, not without knowing who counted and how they identified
the dead as the enemy.
Carnage is always portrayed by the military as justified, and the death of
civilians, if finally admitted, invariably as "accidental" in pursuit of the
enemy; hence, "collateral damage." When Iraqis or Afghans (or once upon a time,
Vietnamese) claim otherwise, such claims are invariably rejected on the spot
by Pentagon spokesmen. On the face of it, the natives are never reliable or
objective witnesses to killings in their own country – the police in Ishaqi,
to give but one example, might be infiltrated by or working with the insurgents.
American reporters, once they cross certain lines, are no less unreliable. "Time
magazine, which first began making inquiries about the [Haditha] incident
in January, reported that when one of its staff members asked [Marine spokesman
Jeffrey S.] Pool about the allegations, he accused the journalist of being duped
by terrorists. 'I cannot believe you're buying any of this,' the magazine said
the officer wrote in an e-mail. 'This falls into the same category of any aqi
[al-Qaeda in Iraq] propaganda.'" Pool was the Marine spokesman who made the
initial, fraudulent announcement about Haditha in November 2005.
In fact, to the Pentagon, there is only one objective, reliable investigator
of potential U.S. military crimes to be called upon – and that's the military
itself. No genuine outside investigators can ever be brought into such a case.
(Recently, the Iraqi prime minister demanded
that the U.S. turn over its "investigative files" on the Marines in Haditha,
so that his people could pursue their own investigation. Small piece of advice,
Mr. Maliki: Don't hold your breath.)
Having rejected on-the-spot claims by locals and asserted that nothing out
of the ordinary has happened, should challenges nonetheless persist, official
military spokesmen fall back to secondary positions, conforming, at least minimally,
to whatever embarrassing information is emerging. If the problem threatens to
settle in, an "investigation" will be announced and then allowed to fade into
the woodwork. Who, for instance, remembers the results of the investigation
bombing of a wedding party in the village of Mukaradeeb near the Syrian
border back in May 2004 which resulted in 42 deaths, including (according to
those who were there) 27 in one extended family, 14 children in all? The U.S.
military claimed initially that a "suspected foreign fighter safe house" had
been hit. Later, Maj. Gen. James Mathis asked: "How many people go to the middle
of the desert … to hold a wedding 80 miles from the nearest civilization?" Baghdad
military spokesman Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmit finally admitted festivities were
ongoing in this fashion: "There may have been some kind of celebration. Bad
people have celebrations, too."
If the "incident" or "incidents" won't go away, then not one, but multiple
military investigations ensue; the fatter their findings, the better. There
have already been three on Haditha, two still underway; perhaps 12 on Abu Ghraib.
The affair then drags out, growing ever more detailed and murkier until,
once again, attention fades or the spotlight shifts elsewhere. Already on Haditha,
we are being told by all and sundry in official positions not to "prejudge,"
but to wait until the Naval Criminal Investigative Service finishes its investigation
sometime this summer. This is American fairness in action – though nobody mentions
that the whole investigatory process is the equivalent of a corrupt police department
being empowered to investigate, charge, and try itself.
If an incident simply won't go away, as at Abu Ghraib, then small fry are generally
indicted and, under pressure, prosecuted. (Indictments for My Lai only made
it up to First Lieutenant Calley; at Abu Ghraib, a single lieutenant
colonel is finally to be charged in military court.) These are, of course,
the "few bad apples," as
President Bush termed them.
Another similarity between the My Lai moment and today is the degree to which
language is policed by those in authority in order to separate whatever atrocity
is under investigation from the war-fighting around it. So President Nixon was
quick to call My Lai an "isolated incident," particularly when compared to the
"250,000 churches, pagodas, and temples" he claimed the Marines alone had built
"for the people of Vietnam" (just as the Bush administration cites those schools
we've constructed or repainted, and other kinds of "good news" the media supposedly
refuses to report). When, back in My Lai days, Gen. William R. Peers, heading
the official Army investigation of the killings, had a press conference to present
his findings, the Pentagon ordered him not to use the word "massacre"; only
on threat of walking out was he allowed to refer to a "tragedy of major proportions."
After that, the common term, as with Haditha today, would simply be "incident."
Back then, Army Secretary Resor claimed My Lai was "wholly unrepresentative
of the manner in which our forces conduct military operations in Vietnam," sentiments
regularly seconded by the media. In the case of Haditha, Chairman of the Joint
Chiefs Peter Pace commented:
"Clearly the individuals involved – if they are responsible for the things they
are being accused of – have not performed their duty the way that 99.9 percent
of their fellow Marines have." And that figure of 99.9 percent has been repeated
across the spectrum of the American high command, civilian and military.
Another then-and-now similarity: Responsibility never goes far up the chain
of command, since all investigators are functionally sent down from that same
chain of command. In fact, we know from My Lai that trials, if necessary, are
well-planned out with media impact in mind. After all, cases like these are,
Washington Post recently quoted a congressional aide saying, "a big
public relations problem."
In the My Lai case, the military command, with many potential defendants, made
every effort to avoid the spectacle of "two dozen or more American soldiers,
including generals, lined up in the dock like a little Nuremberg." In discussions
with the Justice Department, Pentagon officials emphasized that a "mass trial"
was not an option. Instead, the accused were assigned to bases across the country
where trial decisions would be made locally by each base commandant. A similar
approach seems to have been taken for the scattered Abu Ghraib prosecutions.
Above all, in the damage-control phase of such "incidents," what is being avoided
is the phrase "war crimes."
The Language of Noncombatant Death
Perhaps, however, what the "incidents" have in
common – and what they really tell us about the war in Iraq (as in Vietnam long
ago) – is this: In both Haditha and Ishaqi, the dead were largely or all civilian
noncombatants: an aged amputee
in a wheelchair holding a Koran, small children, grandparents, students, women,
and a random taxi driver all died. These were the "collateral deaths" and what
they held in common was simply their civilian-ness, and how civilian – and so
criminal – war itself has become.
We need a new language for this. "Collateral damage" is, of course, a Pentagon
euphemism for unintentional or incidental destruction of property, facilities,
or noncombatants that crept into our language in the Vietnam years and never
left. Collateral means "of a secondary nature" or "subordinate," and "damage"
is a description you would apply to wrecked or destroyed property, but not normally
to the human body. Who, after all, would say, as a woman lay on the ground,
shot through the head, that she had been "damaged"?
But there's a far deeper problem with the term. Since March 2003, almost 2,500
American soldiers, just over 200 troops from allied forces, and several
hundred private contractors or mercenaries have died in Iraq. We have no idea
how many insurgents, Iraqi soldiers, or militia members have died in that same
period, though the number must be large indeed. But we do know one thing. In
modern wars, especially those conducted in part from the air (as both Iraq and
Afghanistan have been), there's nothing "collateral" about civilian deaths.
If anything, the "collateral deaths" are those of the combatants on any side.
Civilian deaths are now the central fact, the very essence of war. Not seeing
that means not seeing war.
The lack of decent
media coverage of the use of air power in Iraq and Afghanistan – as in
South Vietnam – as well as artillery, tanks, cluster bombs, and the like, helps
obscure both the widespread nature and the centrality of indiscriminate civilian
death. At least we do see something of the odd brutal Haditha or My Lai or Ishaqi,
when, sooner or later, it rises to the level of media attention. Killing civilians
from the air, which automatically seems to fall into the category of "collateral"
or "accidental," and never the criminal (no matter how often civilians die from
it), is actually far more destructive and so far worse. It should, of course,
be obvious that, if you are going to destroy what you believe to be a "terrorist
safe house" in the middle of an urban neighborhood, noncombatants who just happen
to be living in the environs will be "damaged."
The massacre at Haditha, which just made the covers of Time and Newsweek,
is one of those singular stories of our 24/7 moment that briefly fills the frame
of the screen (and the cover), sucking up all attention. In this way, the needs
of our media, as presently organized, fit with the damage-control efforts of
the Pentagon (although Donald Rumsfeld and his associates would surely be a
good deal happier if the "incidents" at Haditha and Ishaqi had never surfaced
in the first place).
If those horrific murders in Haditha become the mother of all "incidents,"
however, Iraq may not make more sense, but less. So let's widen the Iraq frame
and take another look. Those 24 dead noncombatants are not, in fact, an "incident"
at all, nor "isolated," nor – another of those then-and-now terms – an "aberration."
Make no mistake, they are the essence of this war. From the beginning, the continual
slaughter of civilians, as well as the destruction of civilian property and
livelihoods, has been the modus operandi of the American invasion and
occupation of Iraq. That most of it didn't happen eyeball-to-eyeball with revenge
on the brain certainly made little difference to the many victims, nor should
it make too much difference to us.
In the Line of Fire
To be even more accurate, Iraqi civilians were
dying long before the invasion of Iraq. Though exact numbers have been much
argued about, there can be no question that the unsuccessful American (and British)
strategy of strangling
Saddam Hussein's regime via severely
imposed UN sanctions caused the death rates of Iraqi children to soar before
On March 20 of that year, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld chose to begin the
invasion of Iraq with a "shock and awe" campaign of American missile and air
wizardry over Baghdad. He meant to shock and awe a waiting world of potential
enemies with the news that we were to be the dominatrix of all history. At the
same time – all things for all men – in one fell swoop the U.S. would also "decapitate"
Saddam's regime in downtown Baghdad (and elsewhere). The results: Of 50 "decapitation
attacks," as the slaughter that passed for war began, not
a single one killed an Iraqi leader of even the most minor sort, but scores
of Baghdadi civilians died. In just four of these attacks that Human
Rights Watch was able to investigate, 42 noncombatants were killed and many
more wounded. One early missile attack was on "a civilian Baghdad restaurant
where faulty U.S. intelligence suggested that Hussein might be having dinner,"
reports journalist Robert
Parry. "As it turned out, Hussein was not there, but the attack killed 14
civilians, including seven children." Not quite Haditha numbers, but close enough;
and this would set the tone in "accidental" death for the "liberation" of Iraq
that was to follow. It simply never ended.
The invasion itself was largely a military slaughter (as, for anyone who remembers
the Highway of Death out of Kuwait, Gulf War I was too). Cluster bombs and depleted-uranium
weaponry were left in our wake. We took Baghdad and then let Iraqis loot the
city's infrastructure without raising a finger except to guard the Oil Ministry.
American troops stood idly by while, at
the National Museum and Baghdad's grand libraries and archives, untold national
treasures burned to a crisp and art work of every sort from the origins of humankind
was stolen or destroyed. (This represented, of course, cultural death.)
Before the invasion was over, civilian
journalists started dying from coalition "accidents." From early on, checkpoints
were set up, manned by jumpy, ill-trained American troops, convinced that Iraq
was indeed a land of al-Qaeda terrorists – talk about self-fulfilling prophecies
– and Iraqi civilians started dying at them. Just last week at a checkpoint
Nahiba Husayif Jassim, pregnant, in labor, and being rushed to a hospital by
her brother, as well as her cousin Faliha Mohammed Hassan were shot and killed
at such a checkpoint. "The U.S. military is investigating…. " Each "incident,"
As the president prepared to land on the deck of an aircraft carrier off San
Diego and declare "major combat operations ended," American soldiers occupying
a school in
Fallujah fired into an angry crowd, killing 10 to 13 people and wounding
perhaps 75. Another "incident." (The Americans claimed they had been fired upon.)
Just last week, American troops in our other war in the capital of Afghanistan
fired into a similarly angry crowd after an out-of-control American vehicle
ploughed into cars and killed at least one Afghan. (Typically, American spokesmen
that the Americans had fired over, not into, the crowd in Kabul; then, under
the press of evidence, reversed themselves.) From 2003 to now, it's been all
accidents all the time.
Soon enough, American troops launched extensive urban raids to root out a
growing insurgency in which doors were busted in and civilians killed. All of
them unfortunate "incidents." Tens of thousands of liberated Iraqis were soon
arrested, put into squalid jails, some tortured and humiliated in especially
gruesome ways; a few were murdered – by oversight or accident.
We destroyed three-quarters of the city of Fallujah and regularly loosed our
air force on the downtowns and neighborhoods of largely Sunni cities from Ramadi
to Samarra as well as the Shi'ite city of Najaf and Sadr City, the vast Shi'ite
slum in Baghdad. Sometimes these were proclaimed "targeted" strikes, with smart
bombs being used on "terrorist safe houses." Civilians who nonetheless insisted
on dying did so accidently.
We reconstructed the country by deconstructing it. We were unable to deliver
potable water or significant electricity, or repair sewage systems already badly
damaged by Gulf War I and the sanctions that followed. More civilians got sick,
more died. We couldn't deliver jobs and tried to cut down on Saddam-era state-delivered
rations. More childhood
malnutrition, more deaths. Unemployment
remained sky-high. Less money, less ability to care for families, more deaths.
In the process, a raging insurgency as well as a jihadi car-bombing
campaign of Zarqawi-style terrorism grew in Sunni areas, while death-squad-style
torture-and-execution murders of vast numbers of Sunnis and Shi'ites signaled
a growing civil war.
This finally brings us to the 24 dead noncombatants in Haditha (and any of
the other Hadithas that haven't made it into the news). Yet more "incidents,"
yet more death.
Civilian Casualty Counts
The upshot of all of this is the central fact
of the war: a staggering civilian death toll impossible to calculate. Early
on, a group of Iraqi academics and political activists tried to study the question
of civilian casualties, consulting with hospitals, gravediggers, and morgues,
and came up with the figure of 37,000
civilian deaths just between March 2003 and October 2003.
A careful study published in the British medical journal The
Lancet in October 2004 suggested a figure of 100,000 or more civilian
"excess deaths." Iraq
Body Count, an organization that relies largely on Western media reports
of civilian casualties for its count, now offers 38,000-42,000 as a conservative
but confirmed range of noncombatant deaths ("civilians reported killed by military
intervention in Iraq" including in "insurgent and terrorist attacks").
But what does any of this mean when most of Iraq is beyond the view of the
media, when many deaths may never be reported at all? Louise
Roug of the Los Angeles Times, for instance, reports that this May,
"1,398 bodies were brought to the central morgue [in Baghdad], according to
Ministry of Health statistics, 243 more than April." In other words, the two-month
total for Baghdad's central morgue alone was 2,553 victims of "shootings, stabbings,
and other violence." And note that this doesn't include either dead Iraqi soldiers
or dead civilians who were victims of explosions (including suicide bombings)!
Put another way, "since 2003, at least 30,240 bodies have been brought to the
morgue, the vast majority of them shot by gunmen who are seldom caught or prosecuted."
And remember, that's just certain categories of death in Baghdad.
Though there is no way to know the real figures on invasion and occupation-related
civilian deaths in Iraq, they are the essence of what's happened. They are both
modern war and a crime. Given the history of war (and of American warfare) in
the last half of the last century, they were largely predictable. They represent
neither a set of isolated incidents, nor collateral damage, nor – over three
years later – can they be ascribed to accident. Neither can Haditha.
Under the pressure of a strengthening Sunni insurgency, which has gained some
control over large parts of al-Anbar province, the Bush administration, instead
of drawing down American forces, has just
called in reinforcements – the 1,500 troops of the 1st Armored Division,
kept in reserve in Kuwait. Let me suggest that, if these troops garrison Ramadi
or move on Haditha or Ishaqi or Tal Afar or any other rebellious community,
certain things are predictable – and there will be nothing accidental about
them: More IEDs will go off under American vehicles; more Americans will die
without eyeballing the enemy; more angry, frustrated, increasingly feral troops
on their third, fourth, or fifth tours of duty, with a sense that every Iraqi
anywhere in sight is an enemy, will act accordingly. We already know what will
happen. More civilian bodies, more atrocities, more horrors, and Ramadi, Haditha,
Ishaqi, and other such communities will not be subdued in the process.
The only thing that can possibly alter this course of events isn't to send
our soldiers back to morals
school for Intro 101B in "core warrior values" – at the next Haditha, maybe
they'll just send in the planes – but to begin to end the hapless American
occupation of Iraq, to ratchet the war down, not up.
Our president, in March 2003, just couldn't resist opening the Pandora's Box
of Iraq. Since then, from that box has emerged every horror with which we are
now familiar. Unlike in Greek myth, however, at the bottom of the box wasn't
Hope, but another H-word: Haditha.
Sidebar: Talking About Haditha Talking Points
The Bush administration ran its numbers quickly after the Haditha story broke
big-time in the media – and word of those numbers went around fast. In fact,
in the last week, was there a major military or civilian Pentagon figure who
didn't manage to use them? Here's a sampling:
of Defense Donald Rumsfeld: "We know that 99.9 percent of our forces conduct
themselves in an exemplary manner. We also know that in conflicts things that
shouldn't happen, do happen."
Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, commander of multinational forces in Iraq: "The
allegations of Haditha are troubling to all of us … [but] out of those 150,000
soldiers, I'd dare to say that 99.9 percent of them are doing the right thing."
Brig Gen. Donald Campbell, chief of staff for Multi-National Corps-Iraq:
"While the bulk of our forces, 99.9 percent, serve with honor, there are a small
number of individuals who sometimes choose the wrong path."
the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Peter Pace: "Clearly the individuals involved
– if they are responsible for the things they are being accused of – have not
performed their duty the way that 99.9 percent of their fellow Marines have."
Commandant Gen. Michael Hagee: "Praised the '99.9 percent' of Marines who
follow their training not to fire on civilians."
(Multinational Forces) spokesman in Iraq: "Defended the record of the US-led
troops in Iraq, saying that '99.9 percent of all men and women' in the forces
adhere to the highest standards and any violations will be punished."
Okay, but that's where they all stop. Now, let's do the rest of the math for
them. If Rumsfeld and others are right, then only .1 percent of American forces
in Iraq have not conducted themselves in "an exemplary manner," did not do "the
right thing," serve "with honor," or "adhere to the highest standards." Let's
assume, despite Lt. Gen. Chiarelli's figure above, that there are actually about
135,000 American troops in Iraq at the moment. That means that only 135 of them
are not doing "the right thing," etc. If it's only the Marines, who make up
less than one-quarter of our troops in Iraq, the figure is obviously far lower.
It seems the military won't need to invest in many teachers for that "core warrior
values" retraining of theirs, given such numbers.
Prejudgment at Haditha
Marine Corps issued a directive to its generals telling them not to discuss
details of the Haditha case because such comments could compromise 'the integrity
of the investigative and legal processes…'."
of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Peter Pace: "I understand it's going to
be a couple of more weeks before those investigations are complete and we should
not prejudge the outcome."
of Defense Donald Rumsfeld: "We don't know what – quite what happened there
[at Haditha] yet, and it strikes me that it's appropriate to get the facts and
see what took place. We in the United States hold our forces to a very, very
high standard, and it's proper that we should. And General Hagee is out meeting
with the Marines and talking to them about this subject. And I don't know that
I could add anything else. Furthermore, it's not proper for me to discuss these
types of things since I'm in the chain of command, and there is a legal phrase
called 'command influence,' which if I say something by mistake, it could adversely
affect the outcome of a trial, for example, in one way or another, either favorably
to a defendant or unfavorably to a defendant. And I wouldn't want to be involved
in anything like that, so I am not going to get beyond what I've suggested."
House spokesman Tony Snow: "Because the Marines are actually conducting
an inquiry and it's a very vigorous one. I would ask you to suspend any judgment
about what happens. I mentioned this morning that there are two tracks. Number
one is what happened with the reporting of the incident, and what happened.
And the Marines are taking both of those very seriously and they're proceeding
very aggressively. So I think rather than trying to prejudge it – the second
thing, and this is equally important, is that when you have an ongoing criminal
proceeding, to try to characterize it on my part or anybody within the chain
of command within the Department of Defense could very well prejudice and injure
any attempts to engage in a prosecution should it be necessary. So you've got
to be very careful about how you do this."
Spring, a military expert at the Heritage Foundation. "If soldiers [or Marines]
are acting inconsistently with these requirements, there's no doubt the military
will take disciplinary action…. It's always wrong to prejudge the outcome of
This sampling of restatements of essential American fairness in the face of
a judicial process should actually be amended for the sake of accuracy to read
in the following way: When any "incident" is first reported, American military
spokespeople should always immediately prejudge the outcome by denying in the
strongest possible terms that any account other than the military one is in
any way accurate. The fallback position, once that "incident" won't go away,
is that judgment should be suspended and no prejudging should go on until, hopefully,
it fades from sight.
The Commander-in-Chief Presidency Takes a Walk
George Bush wanted to be "commander in chief" and, with the help of his vice
president and fervent followers, to create a commander-in-chief presidency.
Now he has something approaching that and, it seems, he wants out
of the mix.
"Q: Have you gotten updates on the [Haditha] situation?
"THE PRESIDENT: Well, I'm not involved with the investigation, and you shouldn't
expect me to be. I expect this investigation to be conducted independent of
the White House, with a full and thorough investigation."
Copyright 2006 Tom Engelhardt