June 7, 2006
[Note to Tomdispatch readers: Make sure to check out the
"sidebar" -- "Talking about Haditha Talking Points," including
"Post-Haditha Math" and "Prejudgment at Haditha" -- at the bottom of
The "Incident" at Haditha
By Tom Engelhardt
First news stories about the My Lai massacre (picked up from an army publicity release), March 1968: The
New York Times labeled the operation a significant success: "American
troops caught a North Vietnamese force in a pincer movement on the
central coastal plain yesterday, killing 128 enemy soldiers in day-long
fighting." United Press International called it an "impressive
victory," and added a bit of patriotic color: "The Vietcong broke and
ran for their hide-out tunnels. Six-and-a-half hours later, 'Pink
Village' had become 'Red, White and Blue Village.'"
The New York Times, November 21, 2005: "The
Marine Corps said Sunday that 15 Iraqi civilians and a Marine were
killed Saturday when a roadside bomb exploded in Haditha, 140 miles
northwest of Baghdad. The bombing on Saturday in Haditha, on the
Euphrates in the Sunni-dominated province of Anbar, was aimed at a
convoy of American Marines and Iraqi Army soldiers, said Capt. Jeffrey
S. Pool, a Marine spokesman. After the explosion, gunmen opened fire on
the convoy. At least eight insurgents were killed in the firefight, the
Knight Ridder, March 21, 2006: "Questions
about the incident [at Ishaqi] focus on diverging U.S. military and
Iraqi police accounts of the raid, which happened around 2:30 a.m. on
March 15 on a house about 60 miles north of Baghdad. Both sides and
neighbors agree that U.S. troops were involved in a firefight with a
suspected member of al-Qaida in Iraq. But the U.S. account gave the
death toll as four and said the house collapsed from the heavy fire it
took during the fighting. The al-Qaida suspect was found alive in the
rubble and arrested, the U.S report on the incident said. Iraqi police,
however, contend that U.S. troops gathered 11 people in the house into
a single room and executed them, before destroying the house as they
left the area."
Charlie Company, which had suffered 28 casualties in its first months
in the area without ever seeing the Vietnamese enemy, was bent on
revenge when, on March 16, 1968, it entered the sub-hamlet of My Lai 4,
known to the soldiers as "Pinkville," on the Battambang Peninsula in
Quangnai Province. Looking for the reputed "headquarters" of the 48th
Vietcong Battalion, they found only women, children, infants, and old
men, none resistant, many finishing breakfast. Almost all were
slaughtered, upwards of 500 human beings.
At Haditha, we know that, in the phrase of the soldier who first
reported the My Lai massacre, "something rather dark and bloody" –-
and, it seems, criminal -- happened. It started with Kilo Company, 3rd
Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, a "feral" unit,
living in a "Lord of the Flies" encampment (as described by British
journalist Oliver Poole
who paid it a frightening visit), on its third tour of duty in Iraq. It
had already been in some of the darkest, bloodiest, most feral fighting
of the counterinsurgency war -- the destruction of much of the city of Fallujah
in November 2004. After watching a company member die from a roadside
bomb that November day a year later, some of the unit's soldiers
evidently massacred 24 Iraqi civilians who happened to be living nearby
in the town of 90,000 in the heartland of the Sunni insurgency. A My
Lai-style cover-up followed.
Other than revealing just how overstretched the American military is
in Iraq, such an "incident" (as American officials liked to call such
horrors back in the Vietnam era and still do today) is also a kind of
confession -- of failure. If, as a soldier, you feel you are protecting
anyone in an area, you do not simply slaughter random civilians, no
matter how you may "snap." To commit such acts, these Marines must have
concluded in the most visceral way that there simply were no Iraqis to
protect in Haditha, perhaps in the Sunni provinces of Iraq altogether,
perhaps in the whole country. You only slaughter the helpless
face-to-face when even small children have become aliens, the enemy, so
tainted by evil, by the killing of your people, that there's no hope
for them. Think of it as on-the-ground military democracy, the grimmest
sort of popular vote on whether you or the insurgents are winning the
It's a small enough step in such circumstances from the knowledge that
the enemy might be anywhere to the thought that the enemy is
everywhere, and then to the feeling that every Vietnamese/Iraqi is an
enemy -- or, as the slaughtered were termed in the initial military
indictment of My Lai's Lieutenant William Calley, every "Oriental human
being" a "VC." Even a baby sucking at its mother's breast might, as one
My Lai defendant claimed, be helping to conceal a hidden grenade.
The process by which all human beings in a region transmogrify into the
hated and feared enemy works in reverse as well. As in the case of My
Lai, the dead by some strange process can change back into aunts,
grandfathers, children, babies. It can happen on the spot. As Ryan Briones,
the first Marine from Kilo Company to speak out (though evidently not
one of the killers), described the scene: "They ranged from little
babies to adult males and females. I'll never be able to get that out
of my head. I can still smell the blood. This left something in my head
Such "incidents" were far more common than we care to imagine in Vietnam
and are undoubtedly more common in Iraq as well. Think of this as an
endless feedback loop, the ultimate self-fulfilling prophesy. Scholar Juan Cole at his Informed Comment
blog speculates "that the number of Iraqis in Anbar Province who said
it was all right to attack US troops doubled to 80 percent in 2006 from
40-odd percent in January of 2004. Doubled. And Ishaqi and Haditha and
lots of similar such incidents are the reason for this doubling."
Just this week, the U.S. military concluded a rather hurried
investigation of the "rather dark and bloody" events in the town of
Ishaqi, also in the Sunni heartland -- and despite protests from the
Iraqi government that this represented an unreasonable "rush to judgment" -- described the "incident" in the following way:
"The [American] forces, upon arrival, began taking direct fire from the
building. As the enemy fire persisted, the ground force commander
appropriately reacted by incrementally escalating the use of force from
small arms fire to rotary wing aviation, and then to close air support,
ultimately eliminating the threat… The investigating officer concluded
that possibly up to nine collateral deaths resulted from this
engagement but could not determine the precise number due to collapsed
walls and heavy debris. Allegations that the troops executed a family
living in this safe house, and then hid the alleged crimes by directing
an air strike, are absolutely false."
Note that, under challenge, the al-Qaeda member and three "terrorist"
associates in the initial Ishaqi report multiplied. There are now nine
extra "collateral deaths," just as those "insurgents" in the initial
military report from Haditha, according to the Time Magazine
piece that broke the story, had already turned into civilian
"collateral damage" in the first Marine probe of what happened there.
("[T]he deaths were the result of 'collateral damage' rather than
malicious intent by the Marines…") The Iraqi police, who identified the
deaths in Ishaqi as execution-style murders beg to disagree with the
American conclusions, but let's leave aside the issue of criminal
intent. What else do the "incidents" at Ishaqi, Haditha, and My Lai
have in common?
"A Big Public Relations Problem"
As a start, you would never have learned about them from the U.S.
military. My Lai took almost a year to make its way out of elaborate
layers of cover-up via a then-unknown journalist named Seymour Hersh,
and into major newspapers as well as -- in full photographic horror -- Life Magazine. Abu Ghraib took months to make it into full digital-photo horror on Sixty Minutes II and into the New Yorker magazine, thanks again to Seymour Hersh. Haditha took almost four months to make it into Time.
(Knight Ridder -- a rarity -- reported the Iraqi and American versions
of Ishaqi at once.) Imagine what realities may lie behind all the other
news reports taken from military press releases or press conferences of
"insurgent" or "terrorist" deaths in places no western journalist can
venture in Iraq (or Afghanistan).
The American military's mode of response to any "incident" almost
invariably turns out to be a long journey from the truth. The dead are
always initially "insurgents" or "terrorists" (or "Vietcong" in the
Vietnam era). When, for instance, you see reports of the deaths of
"insurgents" in bombing attacks, whether on urban neighborhoods in Iraq
or villages in southern Afghanistan -- "Airstrike kills up to 80 Taliban,
U.S. officials say" -- there is every reason simply not to believe
them, not without knowing who counted and how they identified the dead
as the enemy.
Carnage is always portrayed by the military as justified and the death
of civilians, if finally admitted, invariably as "accidental" in
pursuit of the enemy; hence, "collateral damage." When Iraqis or
Afghans (or once upon a time, Vietnamese) claim otherwise, such claims
are invariably rejected on the spot by Pentagon spokesmen. On the face
of it, the natives are never reliable or objective witnesses to
killings in their own country -- the police in Ishaqi, to give but one
example, might be infiltrated by or working with the insurgents.
American reporters, once they cross certain lines, are no less
unreliable. "Time Magazine,
which first began making inquiries about the [Haditha] incident in
January, reported that when one of its staff members asked [Marine
spokesman Jeffrey S.] Pool about the allegations, he accused the
journalist of being duped by terrorists. 'I cannot believe you're
buying any of this,' the magazine said the officer wrote in an e-mail.
'This falls into the same category of any aqi [al-Qaeda in Iraq]
propaganda.'" Pool was the Marine spokesman who made the initial,
fraudulent announcement about Haditha in November 2005.
In fact, to the Pentagon, there is only one objective, reliable
investigator of potential U.S. military crimes to be called upon -- and
that's the military itself. No genuine outside investigators can ever
be brought into such a case. (Recently, the Iraqi prime minister demanded
that the U.S. turn over its "investigative files" on the Marines in
Haditha, so that his people could pursue their own investigation. Small
piece of advice, Mr. Maliki: Don't hold your breath.)
Having rejected on-the-spot claims by locals and asserted that nothing
out of the ordinary has happened, should challenges nonetheless
persist, official military spokesmen fall back to secondary positions,
conforming, at least minimally, to whatever embarrassing information is
emerging. If the problem threatens to settle in, an "investigation"
will be announced and then allowed to fade into the woodwork. Who, for
instance, remembers the results of the investigation into the bombing of a wedding party
in the village of Mukaradeeb near the Syrian border back in May 2004
which resulted in 42 deaths, including (according to those who were
there) 27 in one extended family, 14 children in all? The U.S. military
claimed initially that a "suspected foreign fighter safe house" had
been hit. Later, Major General James Mathis asked: "How many people go
to the middle of the desert ... to hold a wedding 80 miles from the
nearest civilization?" Baghdad military spokesman Brig. Gen. Mark
Kimmit finally admitted festivities were ongoing in this fashion:
"There may have been some kind of celebration. Bad people have
If the "incident" or "incidents" won't go away, then not one, but
multiple military investigations ensue; the fatter their findings, the
better. There have already been three on Haditha, two still underway;
perhaps twelve on Abu Ghraib. The affair then drags out, growing ever
more detailed and
murkier until, once again, attention fades or the spotlight shifts
elsewhere. Already on Haditha, we are being told by all and sundry in
official positions not to "prejudge," but to wait until the Naval
Criminal Investigative Service finishes its investigation sometime this
summer. This is American fairness in action -- though nobody mentions
that the whole investigatory process is the equivalent of a corrupt
police department being empowered to investigate, charge, and try
If an incident simply won't go away, as at Abu Ghraib, then small fry
are generally indicted and, under pressure, prosecuted. (Indictments
for My Lai only made it up to First Lieutenant Calley; at Abu Ghraib, a
single Lieutenant Colonel is finally to be charged in military court.) These are, of course, the "few bad apples," as President Bush termed them.
Another similarity between the My Lai moment and today is the degree to
which language is policed by those in authority in order to separate
whatever atrocity is under investigation from the war-fighting around
it. So President Nixon was quick to call My Lai an "isolated incident,"
particularly when compared to the "250,000 churches, pagodas, and
temples" he claimed the Marines alone had built "for the people of
Vietnam" (just as the Bush administration cites those schools we've
constructed or repainted, and other kinds of "good news" the media
supposedly refuses to report). When, back in My Lai days, General
William R. Peers, heading the official Army investigation of the
killings, had a press conference to present his findings, the Pentagon
ordered him not to use the word "massacre"; only on threat of walking
out was he allowed to refer to a "tragedy of major proportions." After
that, the common term, as with Haditha today, would simply be
Back then, Army Secretary Resor claimed My Lai was "wholly
unrepresentative of the manner in which our forces conduct military
operations in Vietnam," sentiments regularly seconded by the media. In
the case of Haditha, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Peter Pace commented:
"Clearly the individuals involved -- if they are responsible for the
things they are being accused of -- have not performed their duty the
way that 99.9% of their fellow marines have." And that figure of 99.9%
has been repeated across the spectrum of the American high command,
civilian and military.
Another then-and-now similarity: Responsibility never goes far up the
chain of command, since all investigators are functionally sent down
from that same chain of command. In fact, we know from My Lai that
trials, if necessary, are well-planned out with media impact in mind.
After all, cases like these are, as the Washington Post recently quoted a congressional aide saying, "a big public relations problem."
In the My Lai case, the military command, with many potential
defendants, made every effort to avoid the spectacle of "two dozen or
more American soldiers, including generals, lined up in the dock like a
little Nuremberg." In discussions with the Justice Department, Pentagon
officials emphasized that a "mass trial" was not an option. Instead,
the accused were assigned to bases across the country where trial
decisions would be made locally by each base commandant. A similar
approach seems to have been taken for the scattered Abu Ghraib
prosecutions. Above all, in the damage-control phase of such
"incidents," what is being avoided is the phrase "war crimes."
The Language of Noncombatant Death
Perhaps, however, what the "incidents" have in common -- and what they
really tell us about the war in Iraq (as in Vietnam long ago) -- is
this: In both Haditha and Ishaqi, the dead were largely or all civilian
noncombatants: an aged amputee
in a wheelchair holding a Koran, small children, grandparents,
students, women, and a random taxi driver all died. These were the
"collateral deaths" and what they held in common was simply their
civilian-ness, and how civilian -- and so criminal -- war itself has
We need a new language for this. "Collateral damage" is, of course, a
Pentagon euphemism for unintentional or incidental destruction of
property, facilities, or noncombatants that crept into our language in
the Vietnam years and never left. Collateral means "of a secondary
nature" or "subordinate," and "damage" is a description you would apply
to wrecked or destroyed property, but not normally to the human body.
Who, after all, would say, as a woman lay on the ground, shot through
the head, that she had been "damaged."
But there's a far deeper problem with the term. Since March 2003, almost 2,500 American soldiers,
just over 200 troops from allied forces, and several hundred private
contractors or mercenaries have died in Iraq. We have no idea how many
insurgents, Iraqi soldiers, or militia members have died in that same
period, though the number must be large indeed. But we do know one
thing. In modern wars, especially those conducted in part from the air
(as both Iraq and Afghanistan have been), there's nothing "collateral"
about civilian deaths. If anything, the "collateral deaths" are those
of the combatants on any side. Civilian deaths are now the central
fact, the very essence of war. Not seeing that means not seeing war.
The lack of decent media coverage
of the use of air power in Iraq and Afghanistan -- as in South Vietnam
-- as well as artillery, tanks, cluster bombs, and the like, helps
obscure both the widespread nature and the centrality of indiscriminate
civilian death. At least we do see something of the odd brutal Haditha
or My Lai or Ishaqi, when, sooner or later, it rises to the level of
media attention. Killing civilians from the air, which automatically
seems to fall into the category of "collateral" or "accidental," and
never the criminal (no matter how often civilians die from it), is
actually far more destructive and so far worse. It should, of course,
be obvious that, if you are going to destroy what you believe to be a
"terrorist safe house" in the middle of an urban neighborhood,
noncombatants who just happen to be living in the environs will be
The massacre at Haditha, which just made the covers of Time and Newsweek,
is one of those singular stories of our 24/7 moment that briefly fills
the frame of the screen (and the cover), sucking up all attention. In
this way, the needs of our media, as presently organized, fit with the
damage-control efforts of the Pentagon (although Donald Rumsfeld and
his associates would surely be a good deal happier if the "incidents"
at Haditha and Ishaqi had never surfaced in the first place).
If those horrific murders in Haditha become the mother of all
"incidents," however, Iraq may not make more sense, but less. So let's
widen the Iraq frame and take another look. Those 24 dead noncombatants
are not, in fact, an "incident" at all, nor "isolated," nor -- another
of those then-and-now terms -- an "aberration." Make no mistake, they
are the essence of this war. From the beginning, the continual
slaughter of civilians, as well as the destruction of civilian property
and livelihoods, has been the modus operandi
of the American invasion and occupation of Iraq. That most of it didn't
happen eyeball-to-eyeball with revenge on the brain certainly made
little difference to the many victims, nor should it make too much
difference to us.
In the Line of Fire
To be even more accurate, Iraqi civilians were dying long before the
invasion of Iraq. Though exact numbers have been much argued about,
there can be no question that the unsuccessful American (and British)
strategy of strangling Saddam Hussein's regime via severely imposed UN sanctions caused the death rates of Iraqi children to soar before 2003.
On March 20th of that year, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld chose to
begin the invasion of Iraq with a "shock and awe" campaign of American
missile and air wizardry over Baghdad. He meant to shock and awe a
waiting world of potential enemies with the news that we were to be the
dominatrix of all history. At the same time -- all things for all men
-- in one fell swoop the U.S. would also "decapitate" Saddam's regime
in downtown Baghdad (and elsewhere). The results: Of fifty
"decapitation attacks," as the slaughter that passed for war began, not a single one killed an Iraqi leader of even the most minor sort, but scores of Baghdadi civilians died. In just four of these attacks that Human Rights Watch
was able to investigate, 42 noncombatants were killed and many more
wounded. One early missile attack was on "a civilian Baghdad restaurant
where faulty U.S. intelligence suggested that Hussein might be having
dinner," reports journalist Robert Parry.
"As it turned out, Hussein was not there, but the attack killed 14
civilians, including seven children." Not quite Haditha numbers, but
close enough; and this would set the tone in "accidental" death for the
"liberation" of Iraq that was to follow. It simply never ended.
The invasion itself was largely a military slaughter (as, for anyone
who remembers the Highway of Death out of Kuwait, Gulf War I was too).
Cluster bombs and depleted-uranium weaponry were left in our wake. We
took Baghdad and then let Iraqis loot the city's infrastructure without
raising a finger except to guard the Oil Ministry. American troops
stood idly by while, at the National Museum
and Baghdad's grand libraries and archives, untold national treasures
burned to a crisp and art work of every sort from the origins of
humankind was stolen or destroyed. (This represented, of course,
Before the invasion was over, civilian journalists
started dying from coalition "accidents." From early on, checkpoints
were set up, manned by jumpy, ill-trained American troops, convinced
that Iraq was indeed a land of al-Qaeda terrorists -- talk about
self-fulfilling prophesies -- and Iraqi civilians started dying at
them. Just last week at a checkpoint in Samarra,
Nahiba Husayif Jassim, pregnant, in labor, and being rushed to a
hospital by her brother, as well as her cousin Faliha Mohammed Hassan
were shot and killed at such a checkpoint. "The U.S. military is
investigating..." Each "incident," another "accident."
As the President prepared to land on the deck of an aircraft carrier
off San Diego and declare "major combat operations ended," American
soldiers occupying a school in Fallujah,
fired into an angry crowd, killing 10 to 13 people and wounding perhaps
75. Another "incident." (The Americans claimed they had been fired
upon.) Just last week, American troops in our other war in the capital
of Afghanistan fired into a similarly angry crowd after an
out-of-control American vehicle ploughed into cars and killed at least
one Afghan. (Typically, American spokesmen first claimed
that the Americans had fired over, not into, the crowd in Kabul; then,
under the press of evidence, reversed themselves.) From 2003 to now,
it's been all accidents all the time.
Soon enough, American troops launched extensive urban raids to root out
a growing insurgency in which doors were busted in and civilians
killed. All of them unfortunate "incidents." Tens of thousands of
liberated Iraqis were soon arrested, put into squalid jails, some
tortured and humiliated in especially gruesome ways; a few were
murdered -- by oversight or accident.
We destroyed three-quarters of the city of Fallujah and regularly
loosed our air force on the downtowns and neighborhoods of largely
Sunni cities from Ramadi to Samarra as well as the Shiite city of Najaf
and Sadr City, the vast Shiite slum in Baghdad. Sometimes these were
proclaimed "targeted" strikes, with smart bombs being used on
"terrorist safe houses." Civilians who nonetheless insisted on dying
did so accidently.
We reconstructed the country by deconstructing it. We were unable to
deliver potable water, or significant electricity, or repair sewage
systems already badly damaged by Gulf War I and the sanctions that
followed. More civilians got sick, more died. We couldn't deliver jobs
and tried to cut down on Saddam-era state-delivered rations. More childhood malnutrition, more deaths. Unemployment remained sky-high. Less money, less ability to care for families, more deaths.
In the process, a raging insurgency as well as a jihadi
car-bombing campaign of Zarqawi-style terrorism grew in Sunni areas,
while death-squad-style torture-and-execution murders of vast numbers
of Sunnis and Shiites signaled a growing civil war.
This finally brings us to the 24 dead noncombatants in Haditha (and any
of the other Hadithas that haven't made it into the news). Yet more
"incidents," yet more death.
Civilian Casualty Counts
The upshot of all of this is the central fact of the war: a staggering
civilian death toll impossible to calculate. Early on, a group of Iraqi
academics and political activists tried to study the question of
civilian casualties, consulting with hospitals, gravediggers, and
morgues, and came up with the figure of 37,000 civilian deaths just between March 2003 and October 2003.
A careful study published in the British medical journal the Lancet in October 2004 suggested a figure of 100,000 or more civilian "excess deaths." Iraq Body Count,
an organization which relies largely on Western media reports of
civilian casualties for its count, now offers 38,000-42,000 as a
conservative but confirmed range of noncombatant deaths ("civilians
reported killed by military intervention in Iraq" including in
"insurgent and terrorist attacks").
But what does any of this mean when most of Iraq is beyond the view of
the media, when many deaths may never be reported at all. Louise Roug of the Los Angeles Times,
for instance, reports that this May, "1,398 bodies were brought to the
central morgue [in Baghdad], according to Ministry of Health
statistics, 243 more than April." In other words, the two-month total
for Baghdad's central morgue alone was 2,553 victims of "shootings,
stabbings and other violence." And note that this doesn't include
either dead Iraqi soldiers or dead civilians who were victims of
explosions (including suicide bombings)! Put another way, "since 2003,
at least 30,240 bodies have been brought to the morgue, the vast
majority of them shot by gunmen who are seldom caught or prosecuted."
And remember, that's just certain categories of death in Baghdad.
Though there is no way to know the real figures on invasion and
occupation-related civilian deaths in Iraq, they are the essence of
what's happened. They are both modern war and a crime. Given the
history of war (and of American warfare) in the last half of the last
century, they were largely predictable. They represent neither a set of
isolated incidents, nor collateral damage, nor -- over three years
later -- can they be ascribed to accident. Neither can Haditha.
Under the pressure of a strengthening Sunni insurgency which has
gained some control over large parts of al-Anbar province, the Bush
administration, instead of drawing down American forces, has just called in reinforcements
-- the 1,500 troops of the 1st Armored Division, kept in reserve in
Kuwait. Let me suggest that, if these troops garrison Ramadi or move on
Haditha or Ishaqi or Tal Afar or any other rebellious community,
certain things are predictable -- and there will be nothing accidental
about them: More IEDs will go off under American vehicles; more
Americans will die without eyeballing the enemy; more angry,
frustrated, increasingly feral troops on their third, fourth, or fifth
tours of duty, with a sense that every Iraqi anywhere in sight is an
enemy, will act accordingly. We already know what will happen. More
civilian bodies, more atrocities, more horrors, and Ramadi, Haditha,
Ishaqi and other such communities will not be subdued in the process.
The only thing that can possibly alter this course of events isn't to send our soldiers back to morals school
for Intro 101B in "core warrior values" -- at the next Haditha, maybe
they'll just send in the planes -- but to begin to end the hapless
American occupation of Iraq, to ratchet the war down, not up.
Our President, in March 2003, just couldn't resist opening the
Pandora's Box of Iraq. Since then, from that box has emerged every
horror with which we are now familiar. Unlike in Greek myth, however,
at the bottom of the box wasn't Hope, but another H-word: Haditha.
Sidebar: Talking about Haditha Talking Points
The Bush administration ran its numbers quickly after the Haditha
story broke big-time in the media -- and word of those numbers went
around fast. In fact, in the last week, was there a major military or
civilian Pentagon figure who didn't manage to use them? Here's a
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld:
"We know that 99.9 percent of our forces conduct themselves in an
exemplary manner. We also know that in conflicts things that shouldn't
happen, do happen."
Army Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli,
commander of multinational forces in Iraq: "The allegations of Haditha
are troubling to all of us… [but] out of those 150,000 soldiers, I'd
dare to say that 99.9 percent of them are doing the right thing."
Army Brig Gen. Donald Campbell,
chief of staff for Multi-National Corps-Iraq: "While the bulk of our
forces, 99.9 percent, serve with honor, there are a small number of
individuals who sometimes choose the wrong path."
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
Gen Peter Pace: "Clearly the individuals involved -- if they are
responsible for the things they are being accused of -- have not
performed their duty the way that 99.9% of their fellow marines have."
Marine Commandant Gen. Michael Hagee: "Praised the '99.9%' of Marines who follow their training not to fire on civilians."
MNFI (Multinational Forces) spokesman
in Iraq: "Defended the record of the US-led troops in Iraq, saying that
'99.9 per cent of all men and women' in the forces adhere to the
highest standards and any violations will be punished."
Okay, but that's where they all stop. Now, let's do the rest of the
math for them. If Rumsfeld and others are right, then only .1% of
American forces in Iraq have not conducted themselves in "an exemplary
manner," did not do "the right thing," serve "with honor," or "adhere
to the highest standards." Let's assume, despite Lt. Gen. Chiarelli's
figure above, that there are actually about 135,000 American troops in
Iraq at the moment. That means that only 135 of them are not doing "the
right thing," etc. If it's only the Marines, who make up less than
one-quarter of our troops in Iraq, the figure is obviously far lower.
It seems the military won't need to invest in many teachers for that
"core warrior values" retraining of theirs, given such numbers.
Prejudgment at Haditha
"[T]he Marine Corps
issued a directive to its generals telling them not to discuss details
of the Haditha case because such comments could compromise 'the
integrity of the investigative and legal processes…'"
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
Gen Peter Pace: "I understand it's going to be a couple of more weeks
before those investigations are complete and we should not prejudge the
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld:
"We don't know what -- quite what happened there [at Haditha] yet, and
it strikes me that it's appropriate to get the facts and see what took
place. We in the United States hold our forces to a very, very high
standard, and it's proper that we should. And General Hagee is out
meeting with the Marines and talking to them about this subject. And I
don't know that I could add anything else. Furthermore, it's not proper
for me to discuss these types of things since I'm in the chain of
command, and there is a legal phrase called 'command influence,' which
if I say something by mistake, it could adversely affect the outcome of
a trial, for example, in one way or another, either favorably to a
defendant or unfavorably to a defendant. And I wouldn't want to be
involved in anything like that, so I am not going to get beyond what
White House spokesman Tony Snow:
"Because the Marines are actually conducting an inquiry and it's a very
vigorous one. I would ask you to suspend any judgment about what
happens. I mentioned this morning that there are two tracks. Number one
is what happened with the reporting of the incident, and what happened.
And the Marines are taking both of those very seriously and they're
proceeding very aggressively. So I think rather than trying to prejudge
it -- the second thing, and this is equally important, is that when you
have an ongoing criminal proceeding, to try to characterize it on my
part or anybody within the chain of command within the Department of
Defense could very well prejudice and injure any attempts to engage in
a prosecution should it be necessary. So you've got to be very careful
about how you do this."
a military expert at the Heritage Foundation. "If soldiers [or Marines]
are acting inconsistently with these requirements, there's no doubt the
military will take disciplinary action…. It's always wrong to prejudge
the outcome of this procedure."
This sampling of restatements of essential American fairness in the
face of a judicial process should actually be amended for the sake of
accuracy to read in the following way: When any "incident" is first
reported, American military spokespeople should always immediately
prejudge the outcome by denying in the strongest possible terms that
any account other than the military one is in any way accurate. The
fallback position, once that "incident" won't go away, is that judgment
should be suspended and no prejudging should go on until, hopefully, it
fades from sight.
The Commander-in-Chief Presidency Takes a Walk
George Bush wanted to be "commander-in-chief" and, with the help of his
Vice President and fervent followers, to create a commander-in-chief
presidency. Now he has something approaching that and, it seems, he
wants out of the mix.
"Q Have you gotten updates on the [Haditha] situation?
"THE PRESIDENT: Well, I'm not involved with the investigation, and you
shouldn't expect me to be. I expect this investigation to be conducted
independent of the White House, with a full and thorough
Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a
regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The End of Victory Culture, a history of American triumphalism in the Cold War. His novel, The Last Days of Publishing, is now out in paperback.
Copyright 2006 Tom Engelhardt