You'd hardly know it if you relied on the mainstream media, but the government's case against the Haditha Marines took another body blow last Friday that may be the beginning of the end for this whole sorry attempt to severely punish eight heroic United States Marines for doing what they are trained to do.
In a surprise development on the day Lance Cpl. Stephen Tatum's court martial was scheduled to begin, all charges against him were dropped without explanation.
Tatum, facing charges of reckless endangerment and aggravated assault that could have sent him to prison for 18 years, was the fifth Marine -- and the second of three enlisted men -- to be exonerated, leaving only one enlisted Marine still facing court martial.
Tatum's exoneration should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the real facts in the case. During an ambush by insurgent forces in Haditha, 15 civilians and nine insurgents were killed by Marines of Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines. The incident began when an IED explosion killed a Marine and wounded two others. In the wake of that explosion, a squad of Marines came under insurgent gunfire.
The 15 civilian deaths, which came during house-clearing operations, were the result of a time-honored insurgent tactic of hiding themselves among civilians when ambushing U.S. forces, hoping to score a propaganda coup when the civilian shields are killed in the ensuing crossfire.
Full details of the incident on November 19, 2005 were supplied in great detail to the entire command structure the very night of the engagement, and the incident was regarded for what it was -- a tragic result of an enemy ambush. No further action was required or taken.
Months later, however, Time magazine published a story reporting that the Marines had gone on a rampage, wantonly killing innocent civilians to avenge the death of their fellow Marine killed in the IED explosion.
Using Time magazine's fallacious account of the civilian deaths, Pennsylvania's Democratic Rep. John Murtha went on a rampage of his own, telling every media outlet that would listen that the Marines had committed "cold-blooded murder." He first claimed that his information came from a briefing from the Marine Corps Commandant, but when that claim was disproved he admitted that his source was Time magazine.
Murtha's charges were broadcast far and wide, and before any investigation of the incident could get underway, the media joined Murtha in finding the Marines guilty of a massacre.
In the ensuing media firestorm that broke out, many news reports here and abroad compared the Haditha deaths to the infamous My Lai massacre during the Vietnam War.
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