On the 60th anniversary of VJ-Day in 2005, Marine Capt. Randy Stone, a military lawyer serving in Iraq, became a presidential poster boy. Capt. Stone's two grandfathers fought at Iwo Jima, so George W. Bush, in a celebratory speech, turned the whole family into a gold-braided rhetorical flourish to depict the continuity of American character and courage from one war to another.
"Capt. Stone proudly wears the uniform just as his grandfathers did at Iwo Jima," said Bush. "He's guided by the same convictions they carried into battle. He shares the same willingness to serve a cause greater than himself. ... Randy says, 'I know we will win because I see it in the eyes of the Marines every morning. In their eyes is the sparkle of victory.'" That was then. I wish the president would look into Capt. Stone's eyes now as the officer finishes up his first week of Article 32 hearings, the military's equivalent of a grand jury proceeding, to determine whether dereliction of duty charges against him will go to trial.
What would Bush see? I can only imagine that if I were Capt. Stone, in the uniform my grandfathers wore, with their convictions and willingness to serve, that "sparkle of victory" the 34-year-old Marine once talked about would be lost in the hard-eyed look of the betrayed.
Capt. Stone is the first of four Marine officers to be charged with dereliction of duty for failing to investigate "properly" 24 civilian deaths in Haditha in November 2005. Having reviewed the facts -- what you might call his politically correct job as battalion lawyer -- Capt. Stone determined no further investigation was warranted. In other words, he came to a politically incorrect conclusion. (So did his superiors, but he's the guy on trial -- another story.) Capt. Stone could get three years in prison. Three enlisted Marines are charged with unpremeditated murder. They could get life. At least eight other Marines may have been granted immunity to testify. The whole case exudes the terrible, rotting stench of eating our own. Described in the heavy-breathing press as "the biggest U.S. criminal case involving civilian deaths in the Iraq war," the incident sounds less like a war crime than, well, a war.