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INCIDENT AT HADITHA

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By Michelle Malkin  •  May 26, 2006 10:04 PM

***update: Mary Katherine Ham follows up with retired Brig. Gen. David H. Brahms, a long-time lawyer with the Marine Corps, who says his remarks about Haditha were taken out of context by the Washington Post…***

Last week, Rep. John Murtha blabbed about the military’s not-yet-complete investigation into alleged atrocities by Marines in Haditha, Iraq. I quoted Bob Owens, who wrote:

Someone who truly supports the troops, even if they do not support the war, would want this incident fully investigated to uncover the truth. They would want to know the facts.

They would want to know if the Marines fired out of blind rage at the loss of their friends, and they would be equally interested in finding out if the Marines assaulted that location because someone inside fired upon them, as they claimed. Was it a slaughter of innocents, or were insurgents firing from within civilian homes? Were those that triggered the IED among the dead? We do not yet know, and some are already passing judgment.

The investigative report has still not been officially released, but there are new unauthorized, anonymous leaks (what timing) that don’t look good. Breitbart/AP:

Military investigators probing the deaths last November of about two dozen Iraqi civilians have evidence that points toward unprovoked murders by Marines, a senior defense official said Friday.

The Marine Corps initially reported 15 deaths and said they were caused by a roadside bomb and an ensuing firefight with insurgents. A separate investigation is aimed at determining if Marines lied to cover up the events, which included the deaths of women and children.

If confirmed as unjustified killings, the episode could be the most serious case of criminal misconduct by U.S. troops during three years of combat in Iraq. Until now the most infamous occurrence was the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse involving Army soldiers, which came to light in April 2004 and which President Bush said Thursday he considered to be the worst U.S. mistake of the entire war.

The defense official discussed the matter Friday only on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk publicly about the investigation. He said the evidence found thus far strongly indicated the killings in the insurgent-plagued city of Haditha in the western province of Anbar were unjustified. He cautioned that the probe was not finished.

Once the investigation is completed, perhaps in June, it will be up to a senior Marine commander in Iraq to decide whether to press charges of murder or other violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

The NY Times has more:

A military investigation into the deaths of two dozen Iraqis last November is expected to find that a small number of marines in western Iraq carried out extensive, unprovoked killings of civilians, Congressional, military and Pentagon officials said Thursday.

Two lawyers involved in discussions about individual marines’ defenses said they thought the investigation could result in charges of murder, a capital offense. That possibility and the emerging details of the killings have raised fears that the incident could be the gravest case involving misconduct by American ground forces in Iraq.

Officials briefed on preliminary results of the inquiry said the civilians killed at Haditha, a lawless, insurgent-plagued city deep in Sunni-dominated Anbar Province, did not die from a makeshift bomb, as the military first reported, or in cross-fire between marines and attackers, as was later announced. A separate inquiry has begun to find whether the events were deliberately covered up.

Evidence indicates that the civilians were killed during a sustained sweep by a small group of marines that lasted three to five hours and included shootings of five men standing near a taxi at a checkpoint, and killings inside at least two homes that included women and children, officials said.

That evidence, described by Congressional, Pentagon and military officials briefed on the inquiry, suggested to one Congressional official that the killings were “methodical in nature.”

LA Times adds:

Marine Commandant Gen. Michael Hagee flew to Iraq on Thursday to talk to Marines and remind them of long-standing orders to protect Iraqi civilians and follow the Geneva Convention.

Hagee is emphasizing “the importance of our core values” and reminding troops about the laws of war, a Marine Corps statement said.

The Marine commandant planned to read to officers and enlisted personnel a statement reminding them: “We must regulate force and violence, we only damage property that must be damaged, and we protect the noncombatants we find on the battlefield.”

Allah has the full rundown. Bryan Preston responds to the My Lai II meme:

Haditha does not compare to My Lai in raw numbers, but raw numbers have meant next to nothing in this war. By historic standards, Iraq has been a low-level insurgency occassionally flaring up into a mid-level one. But by press accounts, Iraq is the apocalypse and the End of Days all rolled into one. Likewise, Haditha will join Abu Ghraib if not surpass it as the enemy’s rallying cry and the left’s beating stick. That’s just a fact. This is a post-modern war, and these Marines (should they turn out to be as guilty as they presently seem) have handed the enemy a major victory they could not have won in straight up battle. Their crime makes the war harder to win. Some folks writing here need to understand that.

There is no excusing this. It’s not Hiroshima, a justified destruction to end a war and prevent much greater loss of life. Haditha appears to be a crime, and should be treated as such. It resulted in the deaths of innocent civilians and will hurt the war effort. It’s unfair, of course–the enemy targets civilians as a central part of his strategy. But it is the reality of this war and those Marines knew that.

As a former military man, this saddens and sickens me. Every time a crime is committed by one or more of our troops, it reflects on all of us. Two or three sailors commit crimes off-base in Korea and the thousands who stand ready to protect that country get smeared for it. A small group of Marines commits very serious crimes in Iraq, and their actions will be used to smear the noble work and sacrifice being done throughout that country. But that, too, is the reality of this post-modern war, and those Marines knew that. The bottom line is or should be, they killed innocent civilians and made the war harder to win.

If what is being reported is true, the Marines responsible for the alleged atrocities deserve the harshest penalties possible.

Ed Morrissey:

This report will come from the Navy Criminal Investigative Service, not a board of inquiry. These people perform real criminal investigations just like any police department, and they’re pretty good at what they do. If the report recommends charges against these Marines, that has real weight.

I hope that this turns out to be false; I’m sure all Americans do. The men and women of our armed forces are real heroes, and my wife and I pray for them every day. If it turns out to be true, then we need to vigorously pursue justice for the victims — and we cannot remain on the sidelines and pretend the event never happened.

LGF adds context about the town of Haditha. Bob Owens is sickened by black hearts all around.

***

Dafydd at Big Lizards dissects the media coverage of what’s known and not known and concludes:

So it emerges that the investigation is centered around one or two rogue Marines who may have gone on a several-hour long rampage, and also upon several other Marines, probably to determine whether they tried to cover up the incident — which would of course depend on whether they knew (or reasonably should have known) that what they were reporting was false. Assuming, that is, that it was false.

If true, this is still an atrocity; but rather than indicting the entire Marine Corps, the investigation appears to have narrowed the focus.

I still believe that if this is true (we’re no further on that question), those convicted should be hanged and the rest of the Corps forced to stand at attention and watch. But we’re still going to wait for the results to be released, and they certainly will be released publicly, before leaping to either conclusion.

***

Just a reminder that a Marine has been unjustly accused of murdering Iraqis before: Remember Lt. Ilario Pantano.

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