Haditha Catch-Up

Mary Katharine Ham
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Posted: May 30, 2006 5:30 PM

I was offline for a couple days, and while I was gone, Haditha coverage picked up considerably.

Rep. John Kline got ahead of the verdict on the guilt of the Marines Saturday:

Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), a retired Marine helicopter pilot, said in an interview he thought Hagee was doing the right thing.

"I was saddened, surprised and outraged that this could happen," Kline said. He said he thought the incident would be regarded as "a horrific aberration" for the Marines.

And, here:


"This was a small number of Marines who fired directly on civilians and killed them," Representative John Kline, a Minnesota Republican and former marine who was briefed by Marine Corps officials, told Time magazine, which first reported details of the killings in March. "This is going to be an ugly story."

The Post ran an analysis. The formula for the average MSM news analysis is simply to write down the perfect-scenario liberal wishlist of what could happen in relation to a given story. This analysis follows the formula:

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- The U.S. military is bracing for a major scandal over the alleged slaying of Iraqi civilians by Marines in Haditha _ charges so serious they could threaten President Bush's effort to rally support at home for an increasingly unpopular war.

And while the case has attracted little attention so far in Iraq, it still could enflame hostility to the U.S. presence just as Iraq's new government is getting established, and complicate efforts by moderate Sunni Arab leaders to reach out to their community _ the bedrock of the insurgency.

I have long thought news analyses were a really dishonest way of slapping opinion on the front page without designating it as such.

Both the Post and the NYT ran accounts from alleged Haditha witnesses. In the Post version, this was the 11th graf:

The descriptions of events provided to The Post by witnesses in Haditha could not be independently verified, although their accounts of the number of casualties and their identities were corroborated by death certificates.

The Times provided that caveat in the 3rd graf:

The four survivors' accounts could not be independently corroborated, and it was unclear in some cases whether they actually saw the killings. But much of what they said was consistent with broad outlines of the events of that day provided by military and government officials who have been briefed on the military's investigations into the killings, which the officials have said are likely to lead to charges that may include murder and a cover-up of what really happened.

While Sen. Warner talked about his plan to hold hearings on the incident...

"I can assure the American public ... as chairman of the Armed Services Committee, I'll do exactly what we did with Abu Ghraib," Warner told ABC TV, referring to a Senate probe of abuse of inmates at an Iraqi jail by U.S. guards.

And here:


"There is this serious question, however, of what happened and when it happened and what was the immediate reaction of the senior officers in the Marine Corps when they began to gain knowledge of it," Warner said.

Thank you, Sen. Warner.

In the same story, the MSM created its own meme:

Senior U.S. Republican Senator John Warner vowed to hold hearings on atrocity allegations against Marines in the killings of up to two dozen Iraqi civilians last November -- a case some U.S. media have compared to the 1968 My Lai massacre in Vietnam.

Now, that's just silly. Within a couple days, it will be "a case some in the U.S. have compared to the 1968 My Lai massacre in Vietnam," and then "some have compared to the 1968 My Mai massacre." Soon, no one will remember it was the press that started it, and it's quite an incendiary comparison given that the investigation is not yet over.

The AP reported that the three commanders sacked in the immediate aftermath of the incident may not be targets of investigation:

The troops are from Kilo Company, part of Camp Pendleton's 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment. Hackett represents Capt. James Kimber, one of three battalion officers relieved of command last month.

''My purpose is to separate his name from the alleged war crimes that took place,'' Hackett told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. ''He's not under investigation for anything related to what has played out in the press.''

Kimber, who was nominated for a Bronze Star for valor in Haditha, was relieved of command because his subordinates used profanity, removed sunglasses and criticized the performance of Iraqi security services during an interview with Britain's Sky News TV, according to Hackett.

The Pentagon has named two others who were relieved of command: Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani, the battalion's commander, and Capt. Lucas McConnell, who commanded Kilo Company. Hackett does not represent either man but said neither was present for the shootings and he believes neither man is a target of the investigations.

Congressman Murtha kept talking about the incident, and the press kept using his quotes as headlines:

"Murtha: New Scandal Worse Than Abu Ghraib"

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Pace said "it would be premature to judge the situation," while Murtha claimed on ABC's "This Week":

"We don't know how far it foes. It goes right up the chain of command, right up to Gen. Pace. Who ordered it?"

Michelle has a round-up of coverage, too, including this quote, from Time magazine coverage:

Belated as the investigation was, the residents of Hay al-Sinnani say they were gratified by its thoroughness. That there have been three separate enquiries suggests the U.S. military “want to get at the truth,” says Walid Abdel Khaliq, the doctor of the Haditha morgue where the victims' bodies were taken.

They were especially impressed by the NCIS investigators. “They must have visited the houses 15 times,” says Khalid Raseef, a spokesman for the victims' kin and uncle of Emaan and Abdel Rahman Waleed, the children who lost almost their entire immediate family in the massacre. The investigators “asked detailed questions, examined each bullet hole and burn mark, and took all sorts of measurements. In the end, they brought all the survivors to the homes and did a mock-up of the Marines' movements. It was a very professional investigation.”

... If the families are skeptical of U.S. military justice, they have even fewer expectations of their own government. Thabet, Raseef and Khaliq all say they have not received a single enquiry from the Iraqi government in Baghdad. “In their eyes, we are nobodies,” says Raseef, bitterly.

Curiously, no political group has sought to make capital out of the Haditha massacre. It says a great deal of the huge gap between Iraq's politicians (who tend to restrict themselves within the safe confines of Baghdad's highly protected Green Zone) and its people that not a single politician has bothered to visit Haditha, or even sent condolences to the bereaved families.

This story has interesting implications for the investigation:

Military investigators piecing together what happened in the Iraqi town of Haditha on Nov. 19 -- when Marines allegedly killed two dozen civilians -- have access to video shot by an unmanned drone aircraft that was circling overhead for at least part of that day, military defense lawyers familiar with the case said in interviews.

It is unclear whether the video obtained from that day's flight captured the violence, said the lawyers, who have consulted with Marines who were there. One lawyer said investigators have reviewed surveillance footage taken hours after the shootings, which showed the Marines returning to the town to remove the bodies of the Iraqis.

What distinguishes our country and our military is that, thankfully, allegations of this sort are rare, and when they are found to be true, the guilty are punished severely. That will happen in this case, if indeed Marines are found guilty.

The list of the dead includes young children and women. If they were indeed killed without regard, those who are found guilty will likely face the severest punishment, as they should.

In the meantime, it's helpful to watch the story, remember the context, and be wary of the way the press is covering it.