A major story of 2007 was the progressive unraveling of the case against the seven Marines and one Navy corpsman charged in connection with the Nov. 19, 2005, killings of Iraqi civilians in Haditha during a day of intense action. To date, charges against four of the men have been dismissed altogether. Two men have been ordered to a court martial. Two cases are pending.
What a difference a year has made since charges came down at the end of 2006. The New York Times in October mourned -- I mean, noted -- the shift: "Last year, when accounts of the killings of 24 Iraqis in Haditha by a group of Marines came to light, it seemed that the Iraq war had produced its defining atrocity, just as the conflict in Vietnam had spawned the My Lai massacre a generation ago."
No "defining atrocity"? Gee, that's too bad. The Times went on to lament that the presiding military investigator recommended that murder charges against the ranking enlisted Marine, Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich, be dropped. And this, the newspaper bellyached, "may well have ended prosecutors' chances of winning any murder convictions in the killings."
No murder convictions? Well, boo -- the heck -- hoo.
This isn't to suggest that the four remaining Marines facing legal proceedings are in the clear. Quite the contrary. Consider the two cases going to military court. The court martial of Lance Cpl. Stephen Tatum, charged with aggravated assault and reckless endangerment, is scheduled for March 28. He could face up to 19 years in prison, a dishonorable discharge and loss of retirement benefits. The court martial of Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani, charged with failing to properly report and investigate a possible "law of war" violation, is scheduled for April 28. He could face more than two years in prison, a dishonorable discharge and loss of retirement benefits.
Having survived their war in Iraq, the lives of these American soldiers remain very much in jeopardy. But the most sensational charges against them have fallen apart. Who can forget the March 19, 2006, Time magazine story by Tim McGirk entitled "Collateral Damage or Civilian Massacre in Haditha?" The story answered its own question by describing a vengeful, Marine "rampage."
On May 17, 2006, Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., piled on to say what happened at Haditha was actually "much worse" than the Time story. Official investigations were still underway, but the ranking member of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee repeatedly condemned the Marines for having "killed innocent civilians in cold blood."
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