The men are in solitary confinement, locked in 8'x8' cells at San Diego's Camp Pendleton, as investigators probe an April 26 incident involving the 3rd Battalion, 5th Regiment, 1st Marine Division. They are behind bars 23 hours a day; family members can only see them through inch-thick Plexiglas. Military blabbermouths have told the press that the service members are suspected of kidnapping and shooting a man in the Iraqi town of Hamdaniya. The Iraqi man's family reportedly came forward seeking payment for his death as media hysteria set in over the separate alleged atrocity in Haditha.
These men -- our men -- may be innocent. They may be guilty. Charges may or may not be filed this week. But this much is certain: The media leaks and the Murtha-fication of the case are already taking a heavy toll on the troops and their families. The headlines have already convicted them: "Iraqi's Slaying Planned By Marines, Official Says." "Marines Planned to Kill Iraqi Civilian, Then Planted Evidence."
The national media ignored a protest by supporters outside Camp Pendleton over the weekend. "I want the Marines to know that they are not forgotten, that people are out here thinking of them," said one attendee. The father of one of the men in custody, Pfc. John J. Jodka, worried: "It appears to me that this is the reaction of some senior people to show 'We're in charge; we're cleaning up our act.'"
Not a peep heard yet from the American Civil Liberties Union. The website of the self-anointed crusaders for individual rights contains hundreds of articles on the rights of al Qaeda suspects and an indignant press release on the suicides of Guantanamo Bay detainees. But no mention of the Camp Pendleton Eight. For their part, human rights groups were too busy shedding tears for the Gitmo terrorist suicide squad and lionizing them as "heroes" in the words of William Goodman of the Center for Constitutional Rights. Editorial cartoonists have been preoccupied desecrating the Marine Corps logo and tarring troops as baby-killers.
A clarion voice stepped into the fray this week to push back against the global rush to judgment against our troops. Ilario Pantano, a Desert Storm vet-turned-Wall Street banker and new media entrepreneur-turned-reenlisted Marine from Hell's Kitchen, launched his gripping book "Warlord: No Better Friend, No Worse Enemy" this week, which recounts his harrowing ordeal as a Marine smeared and cleared. Last spring, he faced the death penalty for defending himself and his men in the heat of battle and killing two Iraqi insurgents. He was accused then, as Marines are being accused now, of wantonly executing Iraqis to send a message. His family and friends' defense of Pantano was met, as those of Marines are being met now, with incredulity or apathy.
There were no pleas to withhold judgment against Pantano from the New York Times then. No Oprah sit-downs now with the wives and children of accused troops.
As an agitated, condescending Ann Curry of NBC's "Today Show" tried to paint Pantano Monday as a callous thug, he replied with quiet dignity: "I don't think it's helpful to national security to have this kind of self-flagellation before the facts are actually disclosed."
Innocent until proven guilty? Justice for all? Benefit of the doubt? These are apparently foreign concepts when it comes to Americans in uniform being held on American soil. Perhaps if our troops proclaimed themselves "conscientious objectors" and converted to Islam, they might start getting some sympathy.
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