Eating our own

Posted: May 12, 2007 12:01 AM
Eating our own

On the 60th anniversary of VJ-Day in 2005, Marine Capt. Randy Stone, a military lawyer serving in Iraq, became a presidential poster boy. Capt. Stone's two grandfathers fought at Iwo Jima, so George W. Bush, in a celebratory speech, turned the whole family into a gold-braided rhetorical flourish to depict the continuity of American character and courage from one war to another.

"Capt. Stone proudly wears the uniform just as his grandfathers did at Iwo Jima," said Bush. "He's guided by the same convictions they carried into battle. He shares the same willingness to serve a cause greater than himself. ... Randy says, 'I know we will win because I see it in the eyes of the Marines every morning. In their eyes is the sparkle of victory.'" That was then. I wish the president would look into Capt. Stone's eyes now as the officer finishes up his first week of Article 32 hearings, the military's equivalent of a grand jury proceeding, to determine whether dereliction of duty charges against him will go to trial.

What would Bush see? I can only imagine that if I were Capt. Stone, in the uniform my grandfathers wore, with their convictions and willingness to serve, that "sparkle of victory" the 34-year-old Marine once talked about would be lost in the hard-eyed look of the betrayed.

Capt. Stone is the first of four Marine officers to be charged with dereliction of duty for failing to investigate "properly" 24 civilian deaths in Haditha in November 2005. Having reviewed the facts -- what you might call his politically correct job as battalion lawyer -- Capt. Stone determined no further investigation was warranted. In other words, he came to a politically incorrect conclusion. (So did his superiors, but he's the guy on trial -- another story.) Capt. Stone could get three years in prison. Three enlisted Marines are charged with unpremeditated murder. They could get life. At least eight other Marines may have been granted immunity to testify. The whole case exudes the terrible, rotting stench of eating our own. Described in the heavy-breathing press as "the biggest U.S. criminal case involving civilian deaths in the Iraq war," the incident sounds less like a war crime than, well, a war.

Here's what happened: A convoy of Marines trolling insurgent-riddled Haditha was hit by a huge IED. A Humvee was destroyed. One Marine was killed (split in two). Two other Marines were wounded (one grievously). There was a lot of shooting at an approaching Iraqi car. There was a lot of shooting at two nearby Iraqi houses where Marines heard, as The New York Times put it, "the distinct metallic sound of an AK-47 being prepared to fire." As one Marine witness explained, "the squad leader thought he was about to kick in the door and walk into a machine gun." In the end, no additional Marines had died, but 24 Iraqi civilians, including some children, had been killed.

And here lies a hunk of the politically correct outrage fueling prosecutorial fires. According to a leaked report chiding Marines for not investigating further, Army Maj. Gen. Eldon A. Bargewell was apparently appalled by "statements made by the chain of command" that "suggest that Iraqi civilian lives are not as important as U.S. lives, their deaths are just the cost of doing business. ..." Maj. Gen. Bargewell was also apparently exercised by the Marine consensus that "civilian casualties were to be expected" due to such insurgent tactics as hiding among civilians. "Although this proposition may accurately reflect insurgent tactics," he wrote, he heard it so often "that it almost appeared rehearsed."

Rehearsed? Notice the contorted way military brass disparages the exculpatory reality of the Iraqi battlefield.

Meanwhile, three cheers for the Marines. If only someone would mention to the Waughian-named Maj. Bargewell that when the "business" is war, the chain of command darn well better consider "U.S. lives" more important than "Iraqi civilian lives" (many "civilian" in name only), or guess what? Too many U.S. lives will be lost and the United States won't win.

Victory, however, isn't the objective of our increasingly PC military. This is becoming more and more apparent as the war continues. Which calls into question our very capacity -- not military, but psychological -- to wage war. It also calls into question our continuity with our forbears -- Capt. Stone's grandfathers, for instance. They might know the uniform but, watching their grandson's show trial, I doubt they'd recognize much else. Diana West is a columnist for The Washington Times. She can be contacted via Copyright 2007, Newspaper Enterprise Assn.