“In cold blood”

W. Thomas Smith, Jr
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Posted: May 25, 2006 2:35 PM

Retired Marine Colonel and serving Congressman Jack Murtha (D-Penn.) has sold his soul: Not to the devil, but to his constituency. And I urge him now to do the only honorable thing: relinquish his sword and his Eagle, Globe, and Anchor. At the very least, he should apologize to the Marine Corps and the American people for making an utterly outlandish statement in an attempt to keep the fire hot in the cut-and-run camp, of which he is a primary stoker.

At a press conference earlier this month, Murtha stated, “they [a squad of U.S. Marines from Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines operating in Iraq] killed innocent civilians in cold blood. And that's what the report is going to tell.” He was referring of course to the November 2005 action at Haditha, a remote farming community in Iraq’s Al Anbar Province, where Marines allegedly killed a number of innocent Iraqi civilians – including women and children – following an ambush launched against the Americans.

Keep in mind, “in cold blood” means “deliberately or cruelly; ruthlessly, showing no concern or passion, a complete lack of emotion.” In other words, killing without heart or mercy. How the Congressman, who was not present with the Marines at the time of the action, purports to know how the men involved felt or what they actually did is beyond me.

Here’s what we know for a fact:

On the morning of November 19, a Marine Humvee was struck by a roadside bomb, killing Lance Corporal Miguel Terrazas. Then, insurgents are said to have opened fire on the Marines from several directions. The Marines counterattacked. Several enemy combatants were killed, and apparently innocent civilians were, as well.

Within hours, I received an e-mailed press release from Multi-National Force West at Camp Fallujah, Iraq, stating: “A Marine assigned to Regimental Combat Team 2, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward), was killed in action when his vehicle was attacked with an improvised explosive device attack while conducting combat operations against the enemy in the vicinity of Haditha.”

The following day, I received a second release from the 2nd Marine Division at Camp Blue Diamond in Ramadi, a portion of which reads: “A U.S. Marine and 15 Iraqi civilians were killed yesterday from the blast of a roadside bomb in Haditha. Immediately following the bombing, gunmen attacked the convoy with small arms fire. Iraqi Army soldiers and Marines returned fire killing eight insurgents and wounding another.”

Just how the civilians were actually killed has been the subject of a series of investigations. Some published reports indicate there were more than 15 civilians killed, including a three-year-old girl, and that they were killed as a result of raids on at least three houses – believed to be harboring insurgents – during the Marine counterattack. A preliminary investigation was completed in March, and three Marine officers have since been relieved of command.

What we do not know are the particulars of what actually happened and why: and we won’t know until a more thorough investigation is completed in the coming weeks, followed by possible courts martial of those involved.

A recent editorial in National Review Online pegged the Murtha condemnation accurately: “The military’s investigation of those claims isn’t finished yet, but Murtha apparently can’t wait for all the facts to emerge before damning the accused.” And an editorial in The Washington Times says the accusation is “not only irresponsible, but an egregious violation of ethical conduct by a sitting congressman.”

Indeed, but how could he? How could a retired Marine officer possibly forget, not only from whence he came, but that all Americans – including his fellow Marines who are performing the most dangerous missions on the ends of the earth – are innocent until proven guilty.

Now, this is not easy for me to write. After all, Murtha spent 37 years in the Corps, starting out as an enlisted rifleman, becoming a drill instructor, later an officer. He served in Vietnam, was highly decorated, and ultimately retired as a Reserve colonel.

The Congressman’s service to our country should be respected. But, unless he retracts his statement and issues a public apology to the Corps, perhaps his title (Marine) should be stripped, even if the Marines involved are ultimately found guilty.

This has nothing to do with blind obedience to a cause on either side of the political fence, or lemming-like fealty to either party. It has everything to do with being “always faithful” to the Corps, respecting our Marines in the field, and above all acknowledging the fact that the Marines involved are accorded the presumption of innocence until the Uniform Code of Military Justice deems otherwise.

I’m not making excuses for those who may have done something incomprehensibly dark in the heat of battle. I pray they did not. If anyone is found to be guilty of committing war crimes, they should be punished; and if found guilty I am confident they will be.

But that is not the case as of this writing. It was not the case when Murtha accused unconvicted Marines of killing “in cold blood.”

When I was a young Marine-recruit, I was taught there is no such thing as an ex-Marine: Marines are either active, reserve, retired, former, or dead; thus the adage, “Once a Marine, always a Marine.”

The only ex-Marines were those whom did not make it through boot camp; or as we liked to say those not packing the gear to serve in the Corps. The only other way for a Marine to become an ex-Marine would be to shame or denigrate the Corps in such a way that he would essentially be excommunicated, which – it pains me to say – is what Colonel Murtha should be.