Haditha Revisited

Mary Katharine Ham
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Posted: May 31, 2006 9:59 AM

A couple of bloggers and reporters are offering context on the environment in Haditha.

CNN's Arwa Damon reflects on her time in Haditha, part of it spent with the Marines of Kilo Company, 3rd Batalion, 1st Marines. It's a fascinating read:

I know the Marines that were operating in western al Anbar, from Husayba all the way to Haditha. I went on countless operations in 2005 up and down the Euphrates River Valley. I was pinned on rooftops with them in Ubeydi for hours taking incoming fire, and I've seen them not fire a shot back because they did not have positive identification on a target. (Watch a Marine's anguish over deaths -- 2:12)

I saw their horror when they thought that they finally had identified their target, fired a tank round that went through a wall and into a house filled with civilians. They then rushed to help the wounded -- remarkably no one was killed.

I was with them in Husayba as they went house to house in an area where insurgents would booby-trap doors, or lie in wait behind closed doors with an AK-47, basically on suicide missions, just waiting for the Marines to come through and open fire. There were civilians in the city as well, and the Marines were always keenly aware of that fact. How they didn't fire at shadows, not knowing what was waiting in each house, I don't know. But they didn't.

And I was with them in Haditha, a month before the alleged killings last November of some 24 Iraqi civilians.

I wish we saw more coverage like that about Marines on a daily basis.

H/t Superfun Powerhour Blog, who has more in his round-up.

Uncle Jimbo has an in-depth discussion of the rules of engagement in close quarters battle like Marines were facing in Haditha:

I have never been to Iraq and have no direct knowledge of this incident or anyone involved. I do have extensive experience training teams in hostage rescue and close quarters battle (CQB) and have been on countless training and multiple live operations kicking doors in.

There is one and only one relevant standard for this whole incident and that is the reasonable belief that your life or the life of others is in danger. If that is reasonably believed then deadly force may be employed, absent that belief it may not. There are other factors that would impact this, like rules of engagement, but in this case the Marines ROE obviously included the right to return fire. The question is was there any, and if not why did they fire? If the Marines killed people without reasonable belief they were in danger, then they committed murder. If they had a reasonable belief in their danger, they did not.

The whole thing is helpful for understanding what soldiers are facing every day in Iraq, for now and beyond the Haditha investigation.

Blue Crab Boulevard offers a soldier's view.

Whatever the NCIS uncovers, the rights of these men must be protected. Even under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the military's judicial system, suspects are considered innocent until proven guilty. The fact that the media, and even a former Marine congressman are already talking about these men as if they're guilty is disgusting and just plain wrong.

O.J. Simpson, arguably the most guilty innocent man in recent history, was treated with more respect during his circus of a trial than these Marines are being given now. They are men in uniform, men who have sacrificed more than most ever will in the name of the United States. They deserve our respect until such time as a verdict is reached which calls that respect into question.

H/t Bruce Kesler, who has thoughts on the My Lai comparisons:

Anyone who doesn’t wait or reserve judgment until the very careful military investigations are complete is jumping the gun as much as Murtha.

The only thing that seems pretty clear at this point is that it is definitely not, either by MSM imagination or reality, analogous to My Lai. There is no officer leadership of the Marines in the engagement, there is no command cover-up, there is no hint of purposeful rather than reactive action, the scale is far smaller.

Villainous Company has more on media coverage.

This Guardian article, written in August 2005, describes Haditha as it was a couple months before the incident. It is not pretty:

The executions are carried out at dawn on Haqlania bridge, the entrance to Haditha. A small crowd usually turns up to watch even though the killings are filmed and made available on DVD in the market the same afternoon.

One of last week's victims was a young man in a black tracksuit. Like the others he was left on his belly by the blue iron railings at the bridge's southern end. His severed head rested on his back, facing Baghdad. Children cheered when they heard that the next day's spectacle would be a double bill: two decapitations. A man named Watban and his brother had been found guilty of spying.

With so many alleged American agents dying here Haqlania bridge was renamed Agents' bridge. Then a local wag dubbed it Agents' fridge, evoking a mortuary, and that name has stuck.

A three-day visit by a reporter working for the Guardian last week established what neither the Iraqi government nor the US military has admitted: Haditha, a farming town of 90,000 people by the Euphrates river, is an insurgent citadel.

That Islamist guerrillas were active in the area was no secret but only now has the extent of their control been revealed. They are the sole authority, running the town's security, administration and communications.

A three-hour drive north from Baghdad, under the nose of an American base, it is a miniature Taliban-like state. Insurgents decide who lives and dies, which salaries get paid, what people wear, what they watch and listen to.

Scroll through this casualty list to meet the 20 Marines who lost their lives in August in this insurgent stronghold. They died in two separate attacks: 14 died "when a roadside bomb exploded beneath their Amphibious Assault Vehicle during combat operations south of Haditha, Iraq, on August 3, 2005," and six "sniper team members killed by enemy small-arms fire in an ambush outside Haditha, Iraq, on August 1, 2005."

Michelle Malkin VENTs on Haditha today.

UPDATE: I keep forgetting to add this to my round-ups. Betsy Newmark has a look into the political mind of Dick Durbin (and that's always a treat!) on the Haditha issue.