Friday, June 02, 2006


Haditha and John Murtha

Sincere apologies to both of my regular readers. I've been busy, with work and home life and a summer cold that knocked me for a loop, among other things.

I will write more when I have time and something to say, I promise. In the meantime, let me just say this: Rep. John Murtha makes me sick.

As many have pointed out, it's not that he had nasty things to say about U.S. Marines; that's not new. It's not that he said things that are demonstrably untrue; the investigation into events at Haditha are still ongoing, and we don't know yet exactly what happened there.

But that's precisely the point. By making brazen accusations and making them to the press, Murtha is subverting the judicial process. He is making bold accusations, with nothing to substantiate them, against people who cannot answer him... and he is causing brave men to be tried and convicted by the "court of public opinion". Indeed, Murtha has already pronounced them guilty.

(Update: in response to a comment, let me amend my phrasing above. Since I don't live in Rep. Murtha's head, I don't know for a fact that he cannot substantiate his accusations. I do know that he has not substantiated them. He has given us his conclusions -- that several U.S. Marines at Haditha committed murder in cold blood -- and given us no facts with which to back them up. It has been left up to others to separate the knowns from the unknowns.)

That would be bad enough under ordinary circumstances. It's far worse that the accusation is of "cold blooded murder", in his words... and that the accusation comes from a U.S. Congressman.

But worst of all, in the eyes of some, is that a former Marine is slandering his own in this fashion. As an American Thinker columnist noted yesterday:
It has taken over half a century, but the Democrats have achieved a historic landmark. They have produced a politician beneath the standards of Joe McCarthy.
(Sen. McCarthy, a former Marine himself, refused to slander a fellow Marine -- even one who was, by all accounts, very much a Communist sympathizer. Murtha seems to have forgotten where he comes from... but then, we knew that, didn't we?)

For a more reasonable take on what happened at Haditha, check out Jeffrey Barnett, writing on Michael Yon's blog, on what our young men and women in uniform have to endure every day.

It's possible that an atrocity did indeed occur here. (On the other hand, if this is merely overblown mythology-in-the-making -- the American Jenin, as someone recently called it -- it isn't the first time.)

But let's wait and let the process run its course, shall we? Even if that means a minor setback in the political ambitions of a certain Pennsylvania loudmouth.

UPDATE: Smash says much the same, but says it better:
As a veteran, I really don't like where you're going with this.

First, let us acknowledge that there are two official investigations underway, the results of which have not yet been released to the public. If any charges are to come out of this (as appears likely from all the leaked reports), there will be a legal process that must be followed according to the Uniform Code of Military Justice. There will be Article 32 hearings (the military equivalent of grand jury indictments), after which the accused will be formally charged by a military judge, and face courts martial.

Just like in the civilian world, the accused will have certain rights, including the presumption of innocence. Let us not assume that we know everything, or that the Marines (who have yet to be formally charged) are automatically guilty.

Having said that, if they are eventually declared guilty by a jury of their peers, they will have nobody to blame but themselves. Hundreds of thousands of military personnel (including myself) have served in the Iraq theater since March 2003. Most of us managed to escape with our lives, bodies, and honor intact.

Don't you dare paint us all with the same broad brush. Don't you dare excuse dishonorable and murderous behavior by blaming it on "the system."

We are all adults. We all know the rules of warfare. And we are all accountable for our own actions.

Let justice be done, the innocent be exonerated, and the guilty be punished.

Cox & Forkum, on the other hand, say it more concisely:

UPDATE II: The blog Sweetness & Light has been doing yeoman's work, tracking down the various narratives of atrocities in Haditha and debunking them. Clarice Feldman, writing for The American Thinker, has summarized those arguments, for people who want to find them in one place. (Later: Mary Katharine Ham has a good summary here as well.)

Personally, while I find such work extremely valuable, I don't think it affects the main point. Deliberately perverting the cause of justice, by pronouncing someone guilty before a preliminary investigation has even been completed, is reprehensible in the extreme. It also goes against the principle of "innocent until proven guilty" that is a cornerstone of our criminal justice system.

The only reason I can think of, that might possibly justify such behavior, is if there's significant evidence of a cover-up. But the Marine Corps is still investigating, for God's sake! If their results are released and they smell fishy, then, by all means, call for further investigations. But I'd be reluctant to announce a guilty verdict even then. That's for a judge to decide.

It is not up to us to judge them; we were not there, and we don't know all the details of what happened. It is not up to John Murtha either.

UPDATE III: Hmm, interesting. Did he actually say "Okinawa?"

UPDATE IV: I wonder if this will take any of the wind out of his sails:
The American Civil Liberties Union on Friday released a heavily redacted version of a military report on detainee abuses by special operations forces in Iraq. The report concludes that a series of sensational allegations by detainees could not be substantiated.

The report, compiled by Army Brig. Gen. Richard P. Formica, was completed last year, but a declassified version was not prepared until this month. It says some of the minor accusations — such as that detainees were fed only bread and water for more than two weeks — had merit. But it found there was no evidence for most of the more controversial allegations.
It is still possible that the Haditha Marines simply did what they had to do -- for example, by shooting back at insurgents who were attacking them from behind civilian human shields. I have seen no authoritative reports yet that contradict this. It is also possible that the Haditha Marines made a tragic mistake, for which they should be tried according to the law and punished as appropriate. But it is looking increasingly clear that there was no deliberate massacre here, no "shooting in cold blood"... nor a deliberate cover-up, which Murtha claims was his reason for speaking up in the first place.


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