Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Battle at Haditha

There was no massacre at Haditha:

At Haditha, did the Marines act reasonably and appropriately based on their training? They were in a hostile combat situation where deadly force was authorized against suspected triggermen for the IED, and were ordered to assault a suspected insurgent hideout. In retrospect, the men in the car had no weapons or explosives; in retrospect, the people in the house were not insurgents. No one knew at the time.

Innocents were killed at Haditha, as they inevitably are in all wars--though that does not excuse or justify wrongdoing. Yet neither was Haditha the atrocity or "massacre" that many assumed--though errors in judgment may well have been committed. And while some violent crimes have been visited on civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan, overall the highly disciplined U.S. military has conducted itself in an exemplary fashion. When there have been aberrations, the services have typically held themselves accountable.

The same cannot be said of the political and media classes. Many, including Members of Congress, were looking for another moral bonfire to discredit the cause in Iraq, and they found a pretext in Haditha. The critics rushed to judgment; facts and evidence were discarded to fit the antiwar template.

Most despicably, they created and stoked a political atmosphere that exposes American soldiers in the line of duty, risking and often losing their lives, to criminal liability for the chaos of war. This is the deepest shame of Haditha, and the one for which apologies ought to be made.

Yet one officer will be prosecuted:

The highest-ranking U.S. serviceman to face court-martial involving combat since Vietnam was due to answer charges Friday of failing to investigate the killings of 24 Iraqis, including women and children.

He failed to look into the incident when early indicators were that something might have been done wrong. He didn't order the killings. He didn't cover it up. He failed to investigate.

Like I suspected as the massacre story began to fall apart, while our Marines made some errors there, it was never a deliberate murder spree. And the mistakes were fatal to Iraqi civilians because of the enemy's decision to fight among civilians and use civilians as shields.

For all those anti-war people who claim to support the troops nonetheless, a little less of the natural reflex to condemn our people would be nice.

Our military really can be trusted to punish those who actually commit crimes or violate the rules of war. I wish our enemies were held to similar standards.