The Nation goes out and says yes there was a war crime committed in Haditha and yes the guilty party was George W. Bush.
Enough details have emerged from survivors and military personnel to conclude that in the town of Haditha last November, members of the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment perpetrated a massacre. The killings may have been in retaliation for the death of a Marine lance corporal, but this was not the work of soldiers gone berserk. The targets (children from 3 to 14, an old man in a wheelchair, taxi passengers), the hours-long duration of killings, the number of Marines involved, the careful mop-up--all amount to willful, targeted brutality designed to send a message to Iraqis. As Representative John Murtha has pointed out, the patently false story floated afterward, blaming the killings on roadside bombs, and Marine payoffs to survivors imply a cover-up that may extend far up the chain of command. ...
What makes war crimes is criminal leadership. Whatever the responsibility of the unit commanders in Haditha, it is George W. Bush as Commander in Chief who has sent the clear message that human rights abuses and violations of international law are justified in the "war on terror."
Former Defense Undersecretary Jed Babbin, writing nearly simultaneously in Real Clear Politics, predicted that over the coming days "the left" would make every effort to set the agenda and would have near-total freedom to do it in.
We don't know what happened in Haditha, an insurgent stronghold in Anbar Province. Unverified press accounts allege that members of Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, First Marines, were hit by an improvised explosive device and one of them was killed. Others, according to these reports, went on an hours-long killing spree to revenge their comrade's death, leaving about twenty-four men, women and children dead. Navy and Marine Corps investigators are at work, and other reports indicate that at least three Marine officers, including the battalion and company commanders, have been relieved of duty. It's also reported that more than one enlisted man has been detained pending charges about to be brought. ...
It will be easy for the left to drive this story into a frothing political rage because they will have the field to themselves. If anyone in the military chain of command (including civilian leaders such as Secretary Rumsfeld) says anything about the case that could be interpreted as prejudging it or attempting to influence the outcome, the charges could be dismissed under the military law doctrine that prohibits "command influence."
None of it would matter if "the agenda" coincided with the facts which are presumably known, or sufficiently known, or known in a larger sense to the Nation. But the coverage of Katrina provides an interesting example of things that were "known" which were really not. Not that it matters now. One internal problem with the Nation's narrative, which will be invariant to any outcome of the investigation immediately jumps out. The assertion that it was all "willful, targeted brutality designed to send a message to Iraqis" is immediately contradicted by a recitation of how it was 'covered up' -- "the patently false story floated afterward, blaming the killings on roadside bombs, and Marine payoffs to survivors". Note to whoever is in charge of sending messages of terror to the Iraqis: terror is no good unless you publicize it; if you conceal your message with false stories, or blame roadside bombs and worst of all, if you pay money to survivors then you are missing the point. Any halfwit knows that the right way to sow terror is to leave corpses hanging from lampposts, skulls piled before the city gates or decapitate victims in a studio and distribute the video through Al Jazeera.
Sissy Willis raises the interesting question of how much rules of engagement have contributed to the context -- not to the justification -- but the context of any possible massacre that may have occurred. She cites a USA Today story to illustrate how restraint in combat is not always free.
Del Gaudio said he made a tough call after a roadside bomb killed four of his men in April. While securing the scene, he was shot at by a machine gun in a follow-up attack. When he aimed his weapon to return fire, he saw that the gunmen had a line of children standing in front of them and two men filming with video cameras. He held fire until the children moved out of the way but was shot in his hand, which was only inches from his face. "Restraint almost cost me my life," he said.
There are probably quite a few people in hospitals or six feet under the ground who were shot not in the hand as Del Gaudio luckily was but in the head; and for whom the actual price of restraint was their lives. But much more interesting is her link to a King 5 news interview with one of the survivors of the actual Haditha incident. Interesting because the roadside bomb which precipitated the incident may have ironically killed or incapacitated the very NCOs tasked with enforcing the payment of this restraint. (Emphasis mine in the excerpt below)
The incident began November 19 when the Humvee that North Bend, Wash. native Lance Cpl. James Crossan was riding in was blown up by a roadside bomb. He was seriously injured and one of his good buddies died. Lance Cpl. Miquel Terrazas, TJ, was killed by the blast.
"He was my point man and he was pretty much the guy that I went to if I needed anything," Crossan says now. Terrazas was so admired that Crossan tattooed his name on his leg as he recuperated from the broken back, shattered bones, and perforated eardrums he suffered in the blast.
Now some, including Crossan, believe the anger his colleagues felt over that attack may have driven them to kill innocent civilians. I know in my heart if I was there I possibly could've stopped what happened," Crossan said. But the military is now investigating whether other members of the close-knit unit expressed their grief in a more immediate and lethal manner.
A decapitated unit of enraged teenagers is context and not an excuse because if those Marines lost control than nothing: not grief, not anger, not the possibility their leaders were out of action will absolve them from a breach of discipline. Because that is what ignoring the rules of engagement consists of. Disobedience. Combat units follow rules not because they are recruited from angels or packed with ethical training; not because they overflow with kindness or knightly virtue. They follow the rules because even when bleeding, hurt, frightened, angry and grieving beyond the experience of any normal person, they are expected to obey orders. It's often forgotten that Leonidas and his 300 Spartans are remembered not so much for their bravery, though they were that, but for their obedience.
O xein', angellein Lakedaimoniois hoti têde
keimetha tois keinon rhémasi peithomenoi
Go, stranger, and tell the Spartans
That we lie here in obedience to their laws
Those laws are the work of both those who order men into combat and those who expect them to follow rules of engagement; and prevail at both whatever the cost. Those rules are supposed to embody the values of a nation balanced against the need of the Soldier or Marine to survive. And if the Marines fail at either they must pay and pay still. Captain del Gaudio points out in his USA Today interview that what Jed Babbin calls "the story" will also take its toll:
RAMADI, Iraq — Allegations that Marines killed civilians in the western Iraqi town of Hadithah last year could undo efforts to win the cooperation of locals in the volatile Anbar province, some Marines say. "All it does is make our jobs harder out here," said Capt. Andrew Del Gaudio, commander of Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment. "Every Iraqi will assume Marines will act like that. It's a perception that in this part of the world is hard to overcome."
Restraint isn't free; and men will pay for both observing and ignoring it. The Nation wrote that "what makes war crimes is criminal leadership", though I wonder whether they appreciated the irony. "That we lie here in obedience to their laws."