I can't believe I'm writing these words: Marine Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins III is going on trial -- again.
Twice, Hutchins' conviction by a military court martial for unpremeditated murder in Iraq has been overturned due to factors precluding a fair trial. That means that twice, following Hutchins' initial conviction in 2007, he has been released from the brig a free man.
After his conviction was overturned the first time, there were eight months of freedom in 2010. Then, on the day his wife Reyna found out she was pregnant with their second child, Hutchins, a third-generation Marine, returned to prison. Last summer, the military's highest appeals court overturned his conviction a second time. For the past six months, Hutchins has been living with Reyna and their two children, Kylie, 8, and Aidan, 2, while teaching marksmanship at Camp Pendleton. A new baby is on the way. Now, he -- and they -- must prepare for a new trial, his third. Why?
This twisting story with serial breaking points goes back to the night of April 26, 2006, somewhere in the Sunni Triangle west of Baghdad. Remember the Sunni Triangle? This was the pre-"surge" center of insurgent operations against our forces, who were daily coming under attack, usually by roadside bombs, or IEDs. They were also daily encountering the insurgents behind these IED attacks, capturing "high-value targets," and then being ordered to set them free again. Sometimes there was insufficient "evidence" to hold them. Often, there was no jail space. Remember the bad old days of "catch and release"?
Saleh Gowad was one such official "high-value target," the mastermind behind a series of IED attacks decimating U.S. ranks. According to previous court testimony, Gowad had been caught and released three times by that April night in 2006 when Hutchins' eight-man squad was on the hunt for him. The plan to kill him, according to the Los Angeles Times' recent recap of Hutchins' case, was "developed as a warning to other Iraqis not to attack Marines with sniper shots or buried roadside bombs." The squad, later known as the Pendleton 8, kidnapped and killed the wrong Iraqi man, and then faked evidence that he had been caught digging in an IED. Nonetheless, the Times points out, in the months following the incident, "attacks on Marines in the region dropped."
Strange. Or not strange. The identity of the killed Iraqi remains contested, along with a shocking number of other clues to this "crime scene." Or maybe not shocking. This was, of course, a battlefield. And it was a battlefield gone wrong, spinning out of U.S. control due to the fundamentally flawed, ultimately failed Bush counterinsurgency strategy of "nation-building" in Iraq.