Archive for June 1st, 2006

Contrary to what I thought in an earlier post, the Haditha massacre is getting traction and will probably result in the prosecution of the accused Marines . As it should. But that shouldn’t be the end of the story.

The first thing that appalls me – besides the actual incident, of course – about this story is how long it took to hit the headlines. The massacre took place in November 2005, and the Marines were cleared by an initial probe. Then Time did a feature story on the massacre, concluding that the involved Marines did, in fact, murder 15 unarmed Iraqis, including women and children, in their own homes. After Time handed in their gathered evidence to military authorities, the case was reopened. That was in March.

The real news rush on Haditha began just a few days ago. Why? Because a military inquiry confirmed Time’s findings.

Got that? It wasn’t a story until the government confirmed it.

Let me say that I have nothing but praise for Time for going after the story. If they hadn’t, the men of the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment would have escaped punishment for murder. But the story should have hit the headlines in March.

I don’t like this tendency of traditional media not having the courage to run with a story as fact until the government says it’s true. Mainly because this government under the Bush administration is a prevaricating political machine.

We know why the story wasn’t pounced on without government approval, too. It’s that “support the troops” rhetoric that handcuffed the media. They were afraid to run with the story, hammer the story, do serious investigative work on this and other suspected American atrocities, because they wanted to support the troops. Why? Because they’re afraid of the indignation of right-wing pundits. Why? Who knows.

There’s a funny effect we’re seeing in the wake of this incident: a tendency to excuse or explain the Marines’ murders as a result of battle fatigue, or to highlight the US soldiers’ bravery and duty. Take this account from the AP’s Antonio Castenda, who was embedded with the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines last October:

The Marines I observed were sharp, thoroughly searching homes as they swarmed Haditha's streets. Their commanders gave thoughtful responses to my questions. The unit fired only a few shots as it retook the city in just a couple days.[snip]

The battalion was remarkably open to the media, and the Marines seemed mature and self-confident. For several days, I slept on a crowded schoolroom floor alongside a company commander and several senior Marines. I sat in on meetings that most commanders would have barred me from.


But, for all their experience and obvious military skill, there was something else that caught my attention.

Several Marines approached me and asked my opinion about a controversial incident during the Fallujah offensive in the fall of 2004.

A Marine from the battalion shot and killed a wounded, unarmed man in a mosque. The killing was videotaped by a cameraman and broadcast worldwide.

Several Marines wanted to know if I thought the shooting was justified. I hadn't examined the footage. I saw it in passing on CNN. I wasn't there, and I didn't claim to understand the raging hell the storming of Fallujah must have been.

But some Marines were eager to discuss the shooting, arguing that the Marine was entirely justified in firing at a perceived threat.

To them, it was a litmus test to identify those who understood combat. The Marine Corps agreed on some level, opting not to press charges against the Marine. Only one Marine in the battalion, in a private conversation, said he believed the Marine had done wrong by shooting the man.

Some of these younger Marines looked so much older than their years. It was scary to think they were still not old enough to buy a beer back home but had already seen the unspeakable.

Look, I’m a liberal: I earnestly believe that criminals can be rehabilitated, that a murderer is a human with human emotions and human potential. That a man or woman who’s broken a law, been addicted to drugs or alcohol, who’s done something seriously wrong can change and become a law-abiding productive member of society.

That said, I’m wary that we’re going to see this defense – that such murders are the natural offshoot of war, that our soldiers’ killings of civilians is understandable, though unfortunate. Others, of course, will claim that US Marines are simply not capable of doing such a thing as was done at Haditha:

Terrazas said he has met with many from his son's unit who told him they did only what was necessary to survive. He wouldn't say when he spoke with them."Those Marines just did their job," he said. "Some of these kids were saying, 'We have to live with it'."

Former Marine Luis Terrazas, Miguel's uncle, said Marines are trained to stay cool under pressure.

"Jarheads don't just go out and kill because they get frustrated," Luis Terrazas said. "Their training is exquisite. It just doesn't make sense."

But these incidents seem to happen too often. A Kos poster listed a number of suspicious shootings of civilians in a post called “Iraqi Massacre: It’s Not Just Haditha.” In it, he lists six separate and suspicious cases or strings of incidents where American forces acted questionably. There’s also the recent shooting of a pregnant woman, and a claim from an Iraqi minister that his cousin was deliberately shot in a house-to-house search. It’s obvious that this behavior is quite common.

That’s the thing. It is a war. These things do happen in time of war. Always have. And it’s also true is that a number of our troops have no secondary education, come from poverty-stricken neighborhoods, or join up because of the macho image the Army supplies – they want to shoot guns. Most grunts haven’t been away from home, don’t speak foreign languages, haven’t had any experience living in a foreign culture, are cut off from everything they know and hold dear, are bred for aggression, and are trained to kill. (And these are good qualities in a soldier: you want the kids to fire their weapons and to be unquestioningly loyal to their unit and command.) They’re also over-deployed, undersupplied, occupying a hostile country, and facing guerrilla troops. They also know the war is unpopular, which negatively affects morale.

It’s no surprise, then, that Haditha massacres occur.

What the US command – and I mean Donald Rumsfield, Pentagon muckity-mucks, and high-ranking officers in Iraq – should do is vigorously investigate any suspected incident and suspend or prosecute soldiers for even the suspicion of wrong-doing. (The command should also properly equip the soldiers and provide shorter, more regular rotations.) That’s called “discipline.” Not only would it reduce the number of incidents, it would help with morale and relations with the Iraqis. In short, it would help us win the war.

Only that’s not happening. Instead, these incidents are getting covered up. There’s enough evidence to suggest that military officials knew about Haditha from the beginning. And know about other incidents that haven’t made it to the public spotlight. Why?


Look, I can’t claim that for certain, but what else could it be? It seems obvious that Pentagon officials are covering up the grisly details of war so that it doesn’t become unpopular here in the States. No pictures of war dead, no Presidential appearances at soldiers’ graves, almost no acknowledgement from the administration that a war exists other than as a means to urge Americans and lawmakers to patriotically subvert their liberties and political opposition. Covering up atrocities committed by US troops fits nicely with their other actions.

Thing is, we’re losing the war – or already lost it, if you believe some – because the administration has tried to tailor the war to American opinion and political expedience rather than actually trying to win it. If the war was ever winnable, that is.


Kos toots Tester’s trumpet. Hopefully Tester will get some $$ lovin’. It’s not too late to volunteer!

Great guest editorial in the Billings Gazette: “One soldier's story of service and dissent.”

New York City’s anti-terror funds slashed forty percent. Why? Department of Homeland Security: “There aren’t any Republican voters – er, National Monuments or icons – in the city.”

Apparently, British soldiers may be expressing their opinion about “America’s war” with their feet.

Five Pennsylvania women file a suit against Senator Rick Santorum after being expelled from an appearance for “expressing opposing views.”

Cool protest video against the Iraq War, urging high school kids not to join the Army. “Starve the Beast.”

The Economist finds spending more on welfare means less poverty.

The Kos’ UncommonSense on the remarkable failure of the “Bush Doctrine.”

Dixie Chicks hit #1 on the charts with their new album and anti-war image.

Crooked Timber examines the anti-global-warming crowd. As you would guess, they’re pretty much useless.

Kevin Drum’s 2004 prediction comes true: “scandal.”

Alabama candidates for state’s supreme court believe that “state courts are not bound by US Supreme Court precedents.” Um, aren’t justices supposed to have read the Constitution? And didn’t we already decide this, once and for all about 140 years ago?

World Cup predictions. (Via Blogenlust.)

First to ask, last to know. So yesterday, completely unaware that Richards was set to announce his withdrawal from the race and his endorsement of Tester, I pondered the significance of the few percentage points that prefer the third candidate’s politics. I heard the buzz last night only, but thought it best to wait for the news release.

I was scooped!

Pogie reported the rumor. Matt got to the announcement first. He’s got all the good quotes.

Let me add my two cents.

First, I liked what Paul Richards had to say. I don’t think his vision had a snowball’s chance in h*ll of gaining traction in this country, right now. Too much money is banked against his ideas. He couldn’t win the primary, let alone the general.

Second, I think the timing of this announcement benefits Tester greatly. I suggested that Richards drop out a few weeks ago, thinking his withdrawal and endorsement would set off momentum for Tester. Turns out Tester didn’t need it. But endorsing Tester now, five days before the election, keeps the buzz going for Jon. It puts him in the news. It peaks interest. And hopefully it puts Richards’ people in Tester’s camp.

Go over to Left in the West and let Matt get you excited about the race. He’s right. The impact of this race will be enormous. It might decide the difference between affordable health care and a middle class that slips into poverty. It might decide the difference between a police state with unwarranted personal searches and a government beholden to the electorate and the law. It might mean the difference between a ceaseless slog in the Middle East and thousands of lives lost to a useless and meaningless war, or peace.

H*ll, you may not agree with everything Tester stands for. But what’s certain is this: Tester is honest and competent. What he says, he means. Isn’t that enough?

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