« Surely He Jests... | Main | Dear God in Heaven... »

May 31, 2006

No Rush To Judgment On Haditha

The LA Times has joined the long line of purple faced pundits and politicos led by that patron saint of lip-shooters, Representative Murtha (D, Outrage PA).

Apparently, "justice" cannot come swiftly enough for the Times. In their rush to get to the punch line, the editorial staff can't even wait for the body of the essay to begin the arm-waving, choosing instead (lest we Americans, being notoriously hasty folk, lose patience 4 seconds into a one-page essay), to cram their main point into the subtitle : The military needs to speed up its investigation into why civilians were killed last fall in Haditha.

Now that's efficiency.

Unfortunately, it is not necessarily good legal practice.

Good investigations take time and anyone who has ever completed an investigation of this type, let alone this magnitude, knows that investigators must sort through a bewildering array of conflicting facts and witness accounts, some of which are misleading or turn out to be irrelevant, many of which turn out to be false, and all of which must be thoroughly cross-checked for reliability and materiality. The early reports from Iraq indicate that despite their anger over the incident at Haditha, local villagers have been impressed with the thoroughness and professionalism of the three ongoing inquiries:

Belated as the investigation was, the residents of Hay al-Sinnani say they were gratified by its thoroughness. That there have been three separate enquiries suggests the U.S. military “want to get at the truth,” says Walid Abdel Khaliq, the doctor of the Haditha morgue where the victims' bodies were taken.

They were especially impressed by the NCIS investigators. “They must have visited the houses 15 times,” says Khalid Raseef, a spokesman for the victims' kin and uncle of Emaan and Abdel Rahman Waleed, the children who lost almost their entire immediate family in the massacre. The investigators “asked detailed questions, examined each bullet hole and burn mark, and took all sorts of measurements. In the end, they brought all the survivors to the homes and did a mock-up of the Marines' movements. It was a very professional investigation.”

Raseef also commends the investigators for the sensitivity to the families' concerns, reassuring them that the enquiries would not be swept under the carpet. “One of them said to me, 'I have been sent here personally by President Bush to make sure that justice is done,” he says.

Even so, few in the neighborhood expect the Marines to be adequately punished for their role in the massacre. They point to the Abu Ghraib trials, which many Iraqis feel have resulted in only light sentences for the offending guards. Asked what punishment would be appropriate for those who killed the 24 Iraqis on Hay al-Sinnani, Raseef responds angrily, “There's only one appropriate punishment: a bullet in the head.”

Thabet, the human rights worker, feels the same way. “These are people who didn't just kill individuals, they destroyed entire families,” he says. “In Islam, the punishment for such a crime is death.”

Interestingly, as with Abu Ghuraib, Iraqis have seen (if nothing else) that America displays far more concern for their rights than their own government:

If the families are skeptical of U.S. military justice, they have even fewer expectations of their own government. Thabet, Raseef and Khaliq all say they have not received a single enquiry from the Iraqi government in Baghdad. “In their eyes, we are nobodies,” says Raseef, bitterly.

And though some commentators like Rep. Murtha have, despite not having bothered to read the official reports, publicly branded the accused Marines as cold-blooded killers who intentionally and deliberately slaughtered helpless civilians who were no threat to them, a slightly more nuanced view of both the Marines and the day's events is beginning to emerge. Via Beth at Blue Star Chronicles, the Guardian paints a grim picture of conditions in Haditha:

The executions are carried out at dawn on Haqlania bridge, the entrance to Haditha. A small crowd usually turns up to watch even though the killings are filmed and made available on DVD in the market the same afternoon.

One of last week's victims was a young man in a black tracksuit. Like the others he was left on his belly by the blue iron railings at the bridge's southern end. His severed head rested on his back, facing Baghdad. Children cheered when they heard that the next day's spectacle would be a double bill: two decapitations. A man named Watban and his brother had been found guilty of spying.

With so many alleged American agents dying here Haqlania bridge was renamed Agents' bridge. Then a local wag dubbed it Agents' fridge, evoking a mortuary, and that name has stuck.

A three-day visit by a reporter working for the Guardian last week established what neither the Iraqi government nor the US military has admitted: Haditha, a farming town of 90,000 people by the Euphrates river, is an insurgent citadel.

That Islamist guerrillas were active in the area was no secret but only now has the extent of their control been revealed. They are the sole authority, running the town's security, administration and communications.

A three-hour drive north from Baghdad, under the nose of an American base, it is a miniature Taliban-like state. Insurgents decide who lives and dies, which salaries get paid, what people wear, what they watch and listen to.

Not quite the picture we've been presented to date, is it? Yet this is the climate in which young Marines were expected to sort un-uniformed combatants from the civilian populace. And as I noted yesterday, contrary to Rep. Murtha's claims, radio traffic from that day may show that Kilo Company was under small arms fire.

But perhaps the most moving of all is this CNN reporter's bewilderment on realizing that she knew the accused Marines. You see, she had been embedded with them, right in Haditha, only a month ago:

I know the Marines that were operating in western al Anbar, from Husayba all the way to Haditha. I went on countless operations in 2005 up and down the Euphrates River Valley. I was pinned on rooftops with them in Ubeydi for hours taking incoming fire, and I've seen them not fire a shot back because they did not have positive identification on a target. (Watch a Marine's anguish over deaths -- 2:12)

I saw their horror when they thought that they finally had identified their target, fired a tank round that went through a wall and into a house filled with civilians. They then rushed to help the wounded -- remarkably no one was killed.

I was with them in Husayba as they went house to house in an area where insurgents would booby-trap doors, or lie in wait behind closed doors with an AK-47, basically on suicide missions, just waiting for the Marines to come through and open fire. There were civilians in the city as well, and the Marines were always keenly aware of that fact. How they didn't fire at shadows, not knowing what was waiting in each house, I don't know. But they didn't.

And I was with them in Haditha, a month before the alleged killings last November of some 24 Iraqi civilians.

This comment is especially interesting:

Haditha was full of IEDs. It seemed they were everywhere, like a minefield. In fact, the number of times that we were told that we were standing right on top of an IED minutes before it was found turned into a dark joke between my CNN team and me.

In fact, when we initially left to link up with the company that we were meant to be embedded with, the Humvee that I was in was hit by an IED. Another 2 inches and we would have been killed. Thankfully, no one was injured.

We missed the beginning of the operation, and ended up entering Haditha that evening. The city was empty of insurgents, or they had gone into hiding as they so often do, blending with the civilian population, waiting for U.S. and Iraqi forces to sweep through and then popping up again.

Now, all these months later, while watching the tapes, I found a walk and talk with one of the company commanders that was relieved of his duty as a result of the Haditha probe.

After being hit by an IED, his men were searching the area and found a massive weapons cache in a mosque.

What begins to emerge, contrary to the simplistic denunciations of politicians who can't be bothered to read reports, is a picture of a dangerous and unpredictable environment where it was hard to sort the innocent from the guilty. But a number of very disturbing questions remain unresolved, mostly because the official investigations are not out yet. As is so often the case, the incident has turned into a political football for those on both sides of the debate over the war on terror.

Those with an axe to grind rush to sensationalize the few facts that have leaked out in advance of the trials, poring over an admittedly incomplete and contradictory record for a few trophy facts they can use to proclaim the guilt or innocence of the parties involved. But that approach is the very antithesis of justice.

Those on the right should not condemn NCIS or the prosecutors for doing their duty. When allegations of this seriousness are made, they must be investigated with the utmost care and rigor. And if, in the end, it is shown that some or all of the accused Marines are guilty, even those who support the war and the military will have to consider whether justice does not demand, as the Iraqis involved have commented, a punishment commensurate with the crime.

Those on the left should not be over-hasty to condemn the Marines in advance of the trial. Though, as this NY Times piece details, there are some very disturbing aspects about the initial investigation, the media are also notoriously ignorant about military procedures for investigating incidents and determining accountability. And often the facts, like the oft-cited "evidence" of cover-up that the Marines paid compensation to the families of the victims, raise interesting questions the media baldly refuse to explore:

"I didn't say we had made a mistake," Major Hyatt said, describing what he had told the city council member who was representing the victims. "I said I'm being told I can make payments for these 15 because they were deemed not to be involved in combat."

Anyone with even a rudimentary grasp of math can subtract 15 from 24. If 15 of the victims were deemed "not to be involved in combat", then one might draw the inference that 9 of them were deemed to have been involved in combat. Or one might not be justified in drawing that inference at all, and this is the danger in poring over incomplete facts in advance of the trial.

The truth is, we do not know everything yet, and in an investigation of this importance, it is vital that we get a complete and accurate understanding of both the facts and the conditions on the ground that day. Rushing investigations to satisfy the prurient curiosity of the media or the public would be the worst possible course of action.

We owe more than that to everyone who died on that day. And to those who stand accused. We owe them the truth.

And sometimes, it takes time for the whole truth to come out.

Posted by Cassandra at May 31, 2006 07:32 AM


Wonderful essay, Cassandra! Especially considering your emotioal proximity to this issue, it's very impressive--a superbly-sensible, balanced and informative post. And thanks for pointing us to the article on day-to-day life in Haditha; I hadn't realized it was as bad as that.

I have to admit, I've been heartened by some of the newer reports on this. It's a nice way to start the day. :)

Posted by: FbL at May 31, 2006 09:14 AM

I was initially very hesitant to comment on this at all.

What I really do NOT want to do is to seem to be taking sides, either for or against the accused Marines. I have watched enough investigations to know two things: it is much, much more difficult to determine what actually happened in cases like this than you might think. People's accounts never agree, and there are usually so many facts to sift through that it's a nightmare trying to figure out what to trust and what is garbage.

And there is ALWAYS too much pressure on the investigators, some of it not the kind you would think (i.e., pressure to cover something up). Often there is pressure to find someone to blame quickly, or to draw conclusions long before the facts are in.

That's why I'm wary of commenting, though Murtha's general jackassery proved to be more of a goad than I could resist in the end. People always want the easy answer, and all too often the answer proves to be a complicated one that few people have the time or patience to try to understand.

That troubles me, greatly.

Posted by: Cassandra at May 31, 2006 10:24 AM

Cassandra wrote:
And sometimes, it takes time for the whole truth to come out.

But... but... on CSI Grissom and crew find the truth by the time the episode ends!

(Okay, not really... sometime's it's a two-part episode!)

Posted by: Patrick Chester at May 31, 2006 10:28 AM

I love your blog. The writing, the thinking, all of it serves to give a better picture of what is going on and what lessons should not be repeated. You really need to shop this stuff around, girl.

Posted by: Cricket at May 31, 2006 11:10 AM

Sure, a lawyer would pore over all this procedural and evidentiary crap, but a leader would glance at the current information we have today and make a damned call already. Hang 'em or let 'em go.

All the NYTs is asking for is leadership. :)

Really - :-P

Posted by: KJ at May 31, 2006 11:41 AM

Oh, and you find the craziest videos. If that song sticks in my head today, I will drive to the east coast and blow up your computer.

Posted by: KJ at May 31, 2006 11:42 AM

Admit it KJ.

You love me.

Posted by: Cassandra at May 31, 2006 11:50 AM

so after looking around for awhile i've found a pro-war blog willing to stick their head above the parapet on this most contentious issue.. so "..it was hard to sort the innocent from the guilty"?. For example, the 2 year old child who was shot at close range in the face? children of this age are known in savvy military circles for their sniper and IED making skills, without a doubt..
the facts will emerge in this, but reading the tone of your piece, i'm guessing you'd support these crazies no matter what they did.. after all, they're just arabs right? and the only good arab is a dead arab

Posted by: billy skills at May 31, 2006 01:17 PM

Do you have trouble reading, Billy?

Exactly what part of this taxed your apparently weak reading comprehension skills?

Those on the right should not condemn NCIS or the prosecutors for doing their duty. When allegations of this seriousness are made, they must be investigated with the utmost care and rigor. And if, in the end, it is shown that some or all of the accused Marines are guilty, even those who support the war and the military will have to consider whether justice does not demand, as the Iraqis involved have commented, a punishment commensurate with the crime.

Posted by: Cassandra at May 31, 2006 01:22 PM

billy, really how can you say that if you actually read the post with an honest effort of seeing what the reader said. Is the only proper reaction a prejudgment demand to hang the Marines, or else you hate arabs and shoot babies? I'm sure that one of the bad guys in this war has never used civilians as cover either, right billy? That has never happened in this war has it? Or have you forgotten the hundreds of reports that exactly that has happened, and often. And why? B/c it works. Rarely do we shoot through civilians to get the bad guys if we can help it.

There are a range of posibilities in this mess. None of the regulars here hate arabs. We hate the terrorists. And terrorists try to make civilians the targets, their targets and our collateral damage.

The "tone" of the article does not overcome its actual words. Cass said:

"Those on the right should not condemn NCIS or the prosecutors for doing their duty. When allegations of this seriousness are made, they must be investigated with the utmost care and rigor. And if, in the end, it is shown that some or all of the accused Marines are guilty, even those who support the war and the military will have to consider whether justice does not demand, as the Iraqis involved have commented, a punishment commensurate with the crime."

In prior posts, she said that if they were guilty, they should be brought to justice.

Saying what you said billy is simply defamation. Of course, you knew that. That was your goal.

Posted by: KJ at May 31, 2006 01:29 PM

Thanks KJ, but you do realize my actual words are completely irrelevant here? There is a larger emotional truth at stake: anyone who supports sending our young Marines half-way across the world, who doesn't want to bring them home where they would be safe from IEDs and snipers (despite the fact that we successfully deposed Saddam) must really, really hate the Iraqis.

After all, what other reason could we possibly have for wanting to keep our own in harm's way? Surely you don't believe all that drivel about the Iraqis having the right to vote and select their own leaders, like we do here in America?

I must admit that on my gloomier days when US casualties mount up, it is only the comforting thought of spitting naked Iraqi children on pikes that keeps me cheery and upbeat.

Posted by: Cassandra at May 31, 2006 01:37 PM

I think your reading of the 'emotional truth is close:

"...anyone who supports sending our young Marines [those vermin] half-way across the world, who doesn't want to bring them home where they would be safe from IEDs and snipers [but probably vote for Bush, the fascist scum -- perhaps Al Gore can think of a way to throw out their ballots when they're home, too] must really, really hate the Iraqis."

Posted by: Grim at May 31, 2006 02:09 PM

Cass, this post has been linked by Hugh.

Get ready for the Hughalanch.

Posted by: KJ at May 31, 2006 02:15 PM

billyskills, the strawman side issue of them being arabs whichishwytheywerekilled is totally irrelevant. In case you haven't noticed, we are not kneejerking and calling for their heads. We want the TRUTH which is something liberals love to taint, color or force into their narrow set of preconceptions. Don't make that mistake. Believe me, if there was wrongdoing and it could have been prevented, the perpetrators will get punished.

Unlike the brave insurgents who hide behind the innocent and have no qualms about wiring Down's children to a bomb...

Posted by: Cricket at May 31, 2006 02:32 PM

Out of the mouths of babes...grown up.

My youngest son, veteran of two trips to Iraq (including the first fight for Fallujah) calls from the road while searching for a job and says "You been keeping up with Haditha".

I reply..."Well, yup. What're you thinking?"

No hesitation, He says, "They knew the rules. We all do. If they did it, they should pay. We held our fire when we getting heavy incoming from 360 degrees. Marines know the drill. They literally pound it into you all the time in the sandbox...rules of engagement haven't changed since I hit Um Qasr, Nasiriyah, Fallujah. No excuse, dad."

My older son, just back from his second tour said "That's f*****D-up, Dad. Those dudes knew the drill. If they did it they let us all down."

I believe the Corps will work through this and get where it needs to be at the end of the day. They have to do so in order to insure the future of the Corps.

Semper Fi, find the truth, take action, continue with mission.

Posted by: Nolan School at May 31, 2006 03:27 PM

Mr. School,
So again it seems that +99% of the Marines and Army GI's will have to shoulder the (possible) blame, scorn, and ridcule (ala Abu Ghraib incidents, etc.) because of the actions of a few, who (may) have greivously run afoul of the rules of war, which most of our guys try to follow (as both your honorable sons attest to-thank them for their service to us, please).

Sounds about right. I'm sure all those Marines around Haditha got secret orders written in disappearing ink from Rumsfeld the Terrible to do just those monstrous things ascribed to them.
That will make it "morally" acceptable to spit on any soldier/Marine that has served in Iraq, too, which I guess is the point of all the moral posturing.

War is Hell, and Ignorance is bliss, or so I have heard.

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at May 31, 2006 04:03 PM

That sounds like the kind of Marines I know. They are usually more disappointed and pissed off than anyone else when someone makes the Corps look bad. That, in a nutshell, is why my husband became a Marine - it was a place where rules still meant something no matter what rank you were or who you knew.

Good on them :)

Posted by: Cassandra at May 31, 2006 04:08 PM

Okay, time for some cheerier stuff. Saw my son over Memorial Day weekend. He returned in March from 6 months in Iraq, and is probably going over again in September. At any rate, he gave his mother and me an American flag along with a citation that certified the flag was the flag flown at Camp Blue Diamond on 10 November 2005. Some things still choke me up.

Posted by: Rex at May 31, 2006 04:27 PM

Hey Nolan. What BN was your son with? My son was with him in that 1st Battle of Fallujah. 2/2 G. He's got the same take on it that your sons do (even down to the &*(^%$(# heh!) but he wants to know the facts first. There's a lot of talk about the size of the firefight going on at the time, the amount of ordinance being used, and the large number of muj moving through that area also. Including controlling that entire end of town. You know what that means and I'm damned glad forensics were used. If there was anything left to tell the tale. We'll see when the investigation is complete.

Posted by: JarheadDad at May 31, 2006 07:49 PM

Rex, our son, Da Grunt, just walked in the door! Woo-Hoo! His leave got cancelled over the weekend but we've got him 'til Sunday. Boy looks good. All tanned up and stuff. Onslow Beach heh! :-)

Dammit, I have to work tomorrow. Oh well, it'll be Miller Time tomorrow night. ;-)

Posted by: JarheadDad at May 31, 2006 08:16 PM

(1) Can someone explain to me briefly (or at length)why so many seem to be so het up about Murtha's statements following the Time article ? I do not understand why Murtha has engendered so much hostility on this.

(2) Cassandra, in fairness, the LATimes subheadline was the only place in that editorial where there was a call for a speeded up investigation. Not that you were unfair in commenting on subheadline, but you might have mentioned that fact. What I find more questionable is the headline itself. While obviously an analogy presents itself as to My Lai (yes, yes, subject to the obligatory acknowledgement that we don't know all the details , and innocent until proven guilty) if, as it appears likely, there was a massacre and a criminal conspiracy at some levels at least in covering it up, My Lai (as I recall it anyway) was much more horrific, in the numbers of innocents killed (and quite possibly the number of killers-of-innocents), and in perhaps the broader context (Haditha, apparently, being an exceptionally soul-crackingly hard place to be for Americans)

Thanks in advance.

-- Regards

Posted by: DGF at May 31, 2006 10:10 PM

I don't
want hear anymore of this phony jive coming from the mouths of the left!They sure as hell can't be trusted to fight no war?!too cowardly and stupid and would employ maneuvers that would get our guys killed.And besides,with their track record why do they think they can be trusted.Since 9-11 they have proven over and over that they aren't mature enough to handle real world crises.Anybody,with the kind childish and immature thinking and understestimating your enemies thinking you can spout mindless twaddle to them and think they like you,face the music;they don't!You all would be the first to be killed because of your stupidity!Between what the media has willfully done and what Murtha and the other opportunistic lazy whores in Washington it is a wonder we still have people willing to fight to protect worthless lefists like billyboy here.Also,for my last dig at the left,who are they to talk about the military taking to long,who these idiots to talk and in California no less?!If we examine some of the high profile cases that have taken place over the years,there with crazy activists judges on the nineth circus court of appeals out there and all that moral depravity that the left has been successful at shoving done the people's throats,at a severe cost of tax payers money.What is so damn honorable about that?Why don't you all straighten your own houses first since you all have been the judicial and cultural wreckingballs that have detroyed that state,it is an absolute mess out there.You are the biggest phonies that I've ever seen and now even the Iraqi's are seeing how weak many of our citizens are!Cassandra I've had it with this stituational ethics of these people,they have detroyed Europe and now they're trying to destroy us too.

Posted by: Lisa Gilliam at May 31, 2006 10:26 PM

Here you go DGF:

In cold blood

By W. Thomas Smith, Jr.

May 25, 2006

Retired Marine Colonel and serving Congressman Jack Murtha (D-PA) has sold his soul: Not to the devil, but to his constituency. And as a former Marine, I urge him now to do the only honorable thing: relinquish his sword and his Eagle, Globe, and Anchor. At the very least, he should apologize to the Marine Corps and the American people for making an utterly outlandish statement in an attempt to keep the fire hot in the cut-and-run camp, of which he is a primary stoker.

At a press conference earlier this month, Murtha stated, “they [a squad of U.S. Marines from Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines operating in Iraq] killed innocent civilians in cold blood. And that's what the report is going to tell.” He was referring of course to the November 2005 action at Haditha, a remote farming community in Iraq’s Al Anbar Province, where Marines allegedly killed a number of innocent Iraqi civilians – including women and children – following an ambush launched against the Americans.

Keep in mind, “in cold blood” means “deliberately or cruelly; ruthlessly, showing no concern or passion, a complete lack of emotion.” In other words, killing without heart or mercy. How Murtha, who was not present with the Marines at the time of the action, purports to know how the men involved felt or what they actually did is beyond me.

Here’s what we know for a fact:

On the morning of November 19, a Marine Humvee was struck by a roadside bomb, killing Lance Corporal Miguel Terrazas. Then, insurgents are said to have opened fire on the Marines from several directions. The Marines counterattacked. Several enemy combatants were killed, and apparently innocent civilians were, as well.

Within hours, I received an e-mailed press release from Multi-National Force West at Camp Fallujah, Iraq, stating: “A Marine assigned to Regimental Combat Team 2, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward), was killed in action when his vehicle was attacked with an improvised explosive device attack while conducting combat operations against the enemy in the vicinity of Haditha.”

The following day, I received a second release from the 2nd Marine Division at Camp Blue Diamond in Ramadi, a portion of which reads: “A U.S. Marine and 15 Iraqi civilians were killed yesterday from the blast of a roadside bomb in Haditha. Immediately following the bombing, gunmen attacked the convoy with small arms fire. Iraqi Army soldiers and Marines returned fire killing eight insurgents and wounding another.”

Just how the civilians were actually killed has been the subject of a series of investigations. Some published reports indicate there were more than 15 civilians killed, including a three-year-old girl, and that they were killed as a result of raids on at least three houses believed to be harboring insurgents. A preliminary investigation was completed in March, and three Marine officers have since been relieved of command.

What we do not know are the particulars of what actually happened and why: and we won’t know until a more thorough investigation is completed in the coming weeks, followed by possible courts martial of those involved.

A recent editorial in National Review Online pegged the Murtha condemnation accurately: “The military’s investigation of those claims isn’t finished yet, but Murtha apparently can’t wait for all the facts to emerge before damning the accused.” And an editorial in The Washington Times says the accusation is “not only irresponsible, but an egregious violation of ethical conduct by a sitting congressman.”

Indeed, but how could he? How could a retired Marine officer possibly forget, not only from whence he came, but that all Americans – including his fellow Marines who are performing the most dangerous missions on the ends of the earth – are innocent until proven guilty.

Now, this is not easy for me to write. After all, Murtha spent 37 years in the Corps, starting out as an enlisted rifleman, becoming a drill instructor, later an officer. He served in Vietnam, was highly decorated, and ultimately retired as a Reserve colonel.

Murtha’s service to our country should be respected. But unless he retracts his statement and issues a public apology to the Corps, perhaps his title (Marine) should be stripped, even if the Marines involved are ultimately found guilty.

This has nothing to do with blind obedience to a cause on either side of the political fence, or lemming-like fealty to either party. It has everything to do with being “always faithful” to the Corps, respecting our Marines in the field, and above all acknowledging the fact that the Marines involved are accorded the presumption of innocence until the Uniform Code of Military Justice deems otherwise.

I’m not making excuses for those who may have done something incomprehensibly dark in the heat of battle. I pray they did not. If anyone is found to be guilty of committing war crimes, they should be punished; and if found guilty I am confident they will be.

But that is not the case as of this writing. It was not the case when Murtha accused unconvicted Marines of killing “in cold blood.”

When I was a young Marine-recruit, I was taught there is no such thing as an ex-Marine: Marines are either active, reserve, retired, former, or dead; thus the adage, “Once a Marine, always a Marine.”

The only ex-Marines were those whom did not make it through boot camp; or as we liked to say those not packing the gear to serve in the Corps. The only other way for a Marine to become an ex-Marine would be to shame or denigrate the Corps in such a way that he would essentially be excommunicated, which – it pains me to say – is what Colonel Murtha should be.

W. Thomas Smith, Jr. is a Townhall.com columnist who has written four books and penned over a thousand pieces for a variety of publications including USA TODAY, George, and U.S. News & World Report.

Copyright © 2006 Townhall.com


Find this story at: http://www.townhall.com/opinion/columns/WThomasSmithJr/2006/05/25/198678.html

Posted by: JarheadDad at May 31, 2006 10:29 PM

Lisa Gilliam --

That wasn't very helpful, frankly. It was rude and unfair to boot. I asked an honest question and got from you something . . . well, I guess dialogue between you and me has very little chance of being fruitful, so I'll just let it lie.

Jarhead Dad -

Much appreciated.

If I've got the gist of the complaint down, it seems to hinge on principally on the "innocent until proven guilty" doctrine, together perhaps (?) with the fact that he's a congressman and perhaps also that he's a former Marine which rendered his remarks so objectionable ?

I'm not trying to convince anybody of anything, nor do I enjoy being treated poorly; I just want to understand something that I really frankly don't. To me, for example, the fact that Murtha had been told (by high-level officers in the Corps) that a massacre had in fact occurred on the basis of the military's own investigation covers the most important potentially objectionable point - that is not speaking falsely, and speaking from a position of knowledge about a matter which has become a public one.

Anyway, I appreciate the response, Jarhead Dad.


Posted by: DGF at May 31, 2006 10:55 PM

Regardless of the fact of what Murtha knows he is using a bad situation as a political football. He's throwing Marines under the bus for a political agenda. Plain and simple. The Marine Corps is all about Brotherhood, Honor, Duty, God, Country, and Corps. By politicizing this situation for his own personal gain and the gain of his political party he has broken the trust of his brother Marines. Now they have excommunicated him for it. Was it worth it to make political points? You'll have to ask him because no one in the Corps or their families will have anything to do with him. Some things just simply should not be politicized. They should transcend politics. Murtha screwed the pooch in the way he handled intel given him in trust. What do you think the chances of Murtha getting "briefed" again are?

What if you were a family member of one of these young Marines? How would you feel about having your son called a murderer even though the investigations are incomplete? No charges filed at the time? For political gain? Again, regardless of the outcome, Murtha has proven himself a seditious bastard to anyone wearing a E,G,& A.

Clear it up any?

Posted by: JarheadDad at May 31, 2006 11:15 PM

JarheadDad -

Ok, that's an additional reason - an alleged "political agenda"(I do not see the political angle being discussed or even suggested in the Smith piece)

You believe Murtha spoke for "political gain", and maybe he did and maybe he didn't -- I don't know, but I doubt that if he did, that it was for "political gain" of the Democratic Party; so far as I'm aware, Murtha's found very little support among fellow Democrats in the position which he is most known for - that of believing the war to be unsalvageable as it's now being fought and for a pullout of US troops from Iraq ...

And what personal or political gain do you suggest was motivating him ? Don't you imagine that he knew he would get a whole raft of sh*t ? Is he a masochist, or do you really think he hates the Corps ?

What do you think the chances of Murtha getting "briefed" again are? I don't know. I don't have any data, substantial or otherwise, really, as to how his relations are at present with the folks he's apparently had very good relationships with before. The only thing I can say in this regard, is that (as I understand things, this is what Murtha said) the Commandant was in his office last week, and they talked about Haditha (http://thinkprogress.org/2006/05/30/murtha-haditha/
i.e., "murtha and haditha" via google news - first return as of this moment; I think it actually does mean last week - but maybe not). If so, then maybe Murtha isn't on the outs with his friends on active service. I really don't know.

How would you feel about having your son called a murderer even though the investigations are incomplete? Terrible, whether the investigations were complete or not; whether charges had been filed or not; whether trial had commenced or not; whether convicted or not; my life would never be the same, nor would my son's or his mother's. That's life tho, full of terrible stuff; and so far as I know Murtha hasn't identified any soldier; and it isn't as if this affair is not important and newsworthy and reported on, Jack Murtha or no Jack Murtha.

Anyway, I think I know better now where you're coming from, and I appreciate your response.

- Regards

Posted by: DGF at May 31, 2006 11:53 PM

I don't even know what the report that Murtha got contains...just his take on it. He says that that is what the report will show. Is that the one he was given by the Marine PAO or the one he will give to his constituency?

What has me galled about this is that there are naysayers in the retired Army general officers who have done the same thing, screeching for Rumsfeld's job because they think he is abrasive.
They want a clean war, one without any errors at all and perfect leaders.

As I see it, the military is damned if they do and damned if they don't, forever caught between a rock and a hard place. That is why you will find most of us who have had some experience with the military a tad hardnosed when there is criticism
within and without of the services, whether it comes from those on active duty or not.

I don't think Lisa was directing her comments at you. One billyskills comes to mind...

Posted by: Cricket at June 1, 2006 02:39 AM


Being "told" by "high-level officers" anything off the record and then using those remarks to make inflammatory public statements that prejudge an ongoing investigation ought to be objectionable, DGF.

I can understand why you might not be familiar with military procedures, but I can assure you that Rep. Murtha is not. He knows, as an officer, that officers are not supposed to comment "off the record", nor should their informal comments, if they do occur, be taken with the same seriousness as the official report, which Murtha freely admits he has not bothered to read.

Anyone in the military views the constant barrage of media quotes from "unnamed military officials" with a great deal of suspicion for several reasons:

1. Since they're not named, we have no idea who they are.

2. They know darn well they are not supposed to comment to the media or politicians, which puts a whole 'nother construction on the reliability of what they have to say, to say nothing of the motive. My husband has plenty of political opinions too, but he is prohibited from expressing them. He also happens to know quite a bit more about this, I can guarantee, than Rep. Murtha, but you don't see him shooting his mouth off before the report is released to the public, nor telling the American people these Marines are guilty without so much as bothering to go through the troublesome hassle of a trial.

So much for innocent until proven guilty. Murtha knows better.

3. We don't actually know WHAT Murtha was told, or by whom, do we? We only know what he SAYS he was told, and that he says he was told it by "high-ranking officers". You are treating hearsay and supposition as fact.

Why not just wait for the inquiries to be completed?

If these guys are guilty, everyone in the Marine Corps is going to want their hides. It doesn't help to create the impression that they're being railroaded or their guilt has been prejudged before they ever get to trial.

And if this is so important that Murtha has been making daily statements about it, why in the heck hasn't he read the report Congress was briefed from?

It's an interesting question, but one the press never seems to ask him.

Posted by: Cassandra at June 1, 2006 05:45 AM


I am a bit confused about your objection to my not having told readers the LA Times only called for a speeded-up investigation in the title of a short, one-page editorial... when I both linked to the piece so they could read it themselves (something I would hope anyone would do) and even told readers where the call for a speeded-up investigation was placed: in the title, the most prominent place in the whole piece.

If that same sentence had appeared just once elsewhere in the article, would you have voiced the same objection? And how many times do they need to say something in a one-page editorial for me to comment on it?

I'm a bit puzzled by your reasoning. You say I wasn't unfair to comment on the sentence, but then take me to task for not counting the number of times they said it? I guess it didn't seem relevant to me, to be honest. They did say it, and not only did they say it, but as I pointed out, they placed it in the most visible part of the editorial: the title, where it would be picked up on search engines and summaries.

I'm not sure why that makes it not fair game, but perhaps I misunderstood your comment.

Posted by: Cassandra at June 1, 2006 06:21 AM

Cassandra -

Re: the LA Times Editorial and my comments on your comments, it's not a tremendously big deal. My point, perhaps inartfully expressed, was simply that no-where in the editorial itself did they otherwise mention or call for (much less argue for) a speed-up of the investigation. I think that it is at least somewhat inaccurate and unfair to have characterized the editorial's "main point" as being a call for an (ill-advised and precipitous) speed-up of the investigation.

As you suggest, any reader can decide for him or herself, what it is that the Time's editorial writer(s) have written (and what the piece's points, "main" and otherwise are), and maybe the vast majority of readers on this blog *would* click on through to educate themselves further (human nature (and time constraints) being what they are, however, I have my doubts . . . )

-- Regards (and always appreciative of an opportunity to have a worthwhile civil discussion)

Posted by: DGF at June 1, 2006 02:19 PM

Cassandra -

(With respect to your post of 5:45 this morning)

3. We don't actually know WHAT Murtha was told, or by whom, do we? We only know what he SAYS he was told, and that he says he was told it by "high-ranking officers". You are treating hearsay and supposition as fact. [emphasis mine, DGF]

Why not just wait for the inquiries to be completed?

Yes, we only know what he says he was told by high-ranking officers. If it turns out he's mis-represented those conversations in any material way, my perception (for but one example) of Murtha will, I have no doubt, be radically and justifiably altered. "Why not just wait for the inquiries to be completed?" I do not see anything particularly magical or legally significant about the conclusion of the investigation, as regards the question originally posed (which was, "Why are folks so upset with Murtha ?"). If the objection is the truth or falsity of Murtha's recounting of what he was told, well, we've covered that point; if the objection is the "innocent until proven guilty" principle, the close of the investigation is as essentially irrevelant a point as any other prior to the conclusion of any trial.

Again, thank you for your responses. As I said when I posted originally, I did not come in here to sway anyone's views, but rather to get a better feel for something I did not understand. This discussion has been helpful to me in this regard, and perhaps fruitful to others as well.

- Regards

Posted by: DGF at June 1, 2006 02:46 PM

Thanks for the clarification.

I guess my take on reading it was that authors generally summarize their main point in the title. Additionally, I took this:

If the allegations of a massacre are corroborated — and a full disclosure is overdue

as a re-statement of the call to speed things up. But I can see your point of view also :)

Posted by: Cassandra at June 1, 2006 02:48 PM

For what it's worth, I posted a response to your question (because I thought it was a good one) this morning.

As you say, it wasn't written with the expectation of changing anyone's mind, but rather to explain some of the reasons why conservatives find Murtha's comments so distressing. A lot of disagreements between right and left-leaning folks hinge more (in my view) on how much we value particular concepts. If our basic values are different, that colors everything we hear and see to some extent, as is natural.

I purposely left out a few of the more emotional reasons and tried to stick to what are essentially my objections. At any rate, you may or may not be interested.


Posted by: Cassandra at June 1, 2006 02:53 PM

I just read that a 12 year old child whos family was killed in the so called masacure by the marines knew that a bomb had been planted and new it was meant to kill these marines. Knowone in her family or even herself warned the marines of the bomb. They just watched as the marines drove by their house heading for their deaths. This town has been known for harboring insurgents and I for one have a hard time believing the accusations of people who would allow another human being to walk into a death trap without any warning. I would call this aiding and abetting in murder. I would say that this damages the credibitly of those accusing our marines of murder. I for one choose to see the marines in quetion of have more crediblity than those who would aide the insurgence in the murder of our marines. Unfortunitly, Murtha chooses to support the enemy over the marines and turn his back on his brothers. This man has no right to call himself a marine. He's a total discrace to the marine corp and all it stands for. He has know honor and should be stripped of any pension he might be recieving from his so called days as a marine. Semifi my ass Mertha you are a not a honorable man, you are no marine.

Posted by: connie at June 14, 2006 03:15 PM

Post a comment

Remember Me?

(you may use HTML tags for style)