Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The Lessons of Haditha

After several weeks of liberal assaults on the Marines accused of crimes at Haditha and finally their attorney’s telling the other side of the story last week, there are still very few things we know for sure about the incidents at Haditha.

We know that it’s a treacherous, confusing place. It is not the isolated utopia the left has tried to portray where women and children go about their daily games and housework in some sort of Iraqi version of 1950’s suburban America. Haditha is not a picture of tranquility where the natural balance is only disturbed by marauding, blood-thirsty Marines intent on execution.

Haditha is an incredibly dangerous city. It has its share of insurgents who force the populace into terrorist activity through threats or coercion or who adeptly use civilians as pawns in their grotesque jihadist games.

Our battalion had a company at Haditha for a while in 2004. There were plenty of bad guys there then. During a later deployment, a friend of mine commanded an infantry company there. He lost more than 20 of his Marines and Corpsmen at Haditha. Haditha is not a peaceful place.

But unfortunately the left, led by John Murtha, has vigorously attempted to use the trickled tidbits of information about the Haditha incident to portray it as such and to publicly prosecute and convict the Marines involved in that incident.

The rapid rush to judgment and public conviction by John Murtha long before the investigation is even finished is an egregious act of political posturing and anti-war rhetoric. It is probably only second to John Kerry’s testimony against his fellow servicemen during the Vietnam War, which was thankfully and very publicly disputed during the last election by the Swift Boat Veterans.

The left’s labeling of what happened as a “massacre” and accusations of Marines killing innocents “in cold blood” is based on, everyone has to admit, less than half the story. The investigation into the matter isn’t even complete yet; the facts are not known.

Regardless of where their tidbits originate and the credibility of any sources (the Commandant in one case) the three truths at this point are that it’s a dangerous place, no one fully knows what happened that day, and many civilians are dead.

It is not surprising though that the early pieces of released information led Murtha and friends to a prejudiced, anti-American conclusion which suits their defeatist agenda.

They act as if Marines have absolutely no regard for the Iraqi people. The reality is that Marines train hard to be culturally sensitive and eliminate or at least minimize even the potential for civilian casualties. But just the same, and with deep regret, they occur.

The death’s of innocent civilians in war is truly unfortunate. If they die from the unintended consequences of combat action it is sad and regrettable. If they die at the hands of those who intentionally target them, as the terrorists often do, it is sad and unforgivable. If they die because one side intentionally places them between opposing forces as a means of advancing their guerrilla warfare strategy, it is just as despicable an act as simply targeting them for summary execution.

But, we don’t fully yet know how or why these civilians died.

It was good to get the other side of the story last week about their deaths, not because I’m prejudiced to automatically thinking these Marines are innocent, but because I’m prejudiced to wanting to judge based on all the information available.

There is no room for prejudgment of innocence or guilt in this case. Marines understand and demand this more than any others when it comes to matters involving their own.

After all, the reputation and honor of the Corps, which we so fiercely defend, can itself be on trial in cases of this magnitude.

The strength of camaraderie among Marines demands we stand by each other through trials and adversity. But our high standards allow very little tolerance for mistakes and no tolerance for criminal conduct. Mistakes happen, but there is little sympathy for them. There is no sympathy for criminal offenses. “Zero tolerance” is more common than uncommon. Punishment for proven mistakes and criminal behavior is quick, but appropriate to the offense. It’s part of what makes Marines who they are.

In every endeavor, Marines are notoriously unyielding, particularly with regard to discipline. But, they are also adamantly fair. I have confidence in my fellow Marines, more than any other group, to demand these Marines be treated fairly (something Murtha seems to have forgotten). But should the accused be tried and found guilty of the alleged crimes, I also have full confidence in my fellow Marines to punish them accordingly.

Until that time, we should let the blindness of justice produce a verdict. And those like John Murtha, blinded by ideology and political ambition, who can’t seem to stop themselves from using this case for defeatist purposes, would better serve our young enlisted Marines by remembering the lessons and standards of fairness we should always apply to them.

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