Monday, April 23, 2007

Haditha update: killer mindset, immunity deals

As I've noted before, also in a post about Haditha, the Washington Post editors like to put the strong stuff in the Saturday paper, the least-read edition of the week. So when they got hold of a copy of the report done a year ago by Army Gen. Bargewell on the Marines' coverup of the November 2005 massacre, they knew just the place for this kind of language from the general:
"All levels of command tended to view civilian casualties, even in significant numbers, as routine and as the natural and intended result of insurgent tactics. Statements made by the chain of command ..., taken as a whole, suggest that Iraqi civilian lives are not as important as U.S. lives, their deaths are just the cost of doing business, and that the Marines need to get 'the job done' no matter what it takes."
No shocker to anyone following the occupation closely, or to anyone who's observed U.S. foreign and military policy for the last fifty years with clear eyes. These attitudes underpin discussion of U.S. military action to such an extent that they're almost never stated explicitly.

Major-media coverage that does articulate these assumptions, much less that examines the consequences, is extremely rare. That's what cranky left-wing blogs are for. So I was all set to write about the connection between Bargewell's conclusions and the recent Marine massacre in Afghanistan. Imagine my amazement to find that the Sunday (!) New York Times had beaten me to it:
After it became clear last year that several marines had killed 24 civilians in Haditha, Iraq, following an attack on their convoy of Humvees, the Marine Corps, which had initially played down the massacre, began an offensive of a different kind.

Last May, Gen. Michael W. Hagee, the commandant of the Marine Corps at the time, went to Iraq to express deep concern to his marines and to reinforce what he called the "core values" that required them to respond to danger with thoughtful precision.

But almost a year later, marines killed at least 10 civilians in Afghanistan in an episode that bore some striking similarities to the Haditha killings and suggested that the lesson had not taken, even in a platoon of combat veterans wearing the badge of the elite new Marine Corps Special Operations forces.
On March 4, on a road near Jalalabad, a suicide bomber drove into the unit's convoy and exploded. As they sped away, the marines shot at everyone within reach: oncoming cars, women and children on the side of the road, people working in the fields. They killed ten to twelve unarmed civilians and wounded 35 more. Check out the picture accompanying the Times story.

After the usual official denials and minimization, which lasted long enough to keep the massacre from getting much play at home, the unit was ordered back to the U.S., and a criminal investigation has been opened. Some marines have been separated from the unit and may eventually be charged. But if it plays out as the Haditha case appears to be doing, those men may be able to count on Marine prosecutors to get them off the hook.

At least seven marines present during and after the Haditha massacre have been given immunity in order to provide testimony against Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, who led the unit. But one of those is a defense witness, Lt. William Kallop, who arrived on the scene after Wuterich and Sgt. Sanick de la Cruz had ordered five unarmed men out of a nearby taxi and shot them where they stood. (Sgt. de la Cruz has also received immunity.)

Kallop reported to HQ that day, and to investigators later, that the unit came under fire from a nearby house and that he ordered them to "take the house." He also recommended a medal for Wuterich, who led his men in storming four houses, throwing in fragmentation grenades and then mowing down everyone inside. Wuterich's lawyer is basing his defense on Kallop's testimony, on the basis that the Staff Sgt. was following orders and observing the unit's rules of engagement. The higher officers being tried for covering up the massacre believe that Kallop's testimony should clear them, too, because they relied on his account.

It's one thing to offer immunity deals to help ensure the conviction of those believed most responsible for an atrocity; it's another to give a free pass to someone whose lies and orders make him at least as culpable. Kallop was never charged with anything, and is scheduled to redeploy to Iraq later this year. More on the unusual nature of the immunity deals here and here.

My previous Haditha posts: 22 March 2006 (mentioned as an aside to another atrocity), 18 May 2006 (Murtha statements predicting charges), 28 May 2006 (Gen. Mattis' many moods), 23 October 2006 (in passing among three other atrocities), 20 December 2006 (charges, and my most comprehensive review of events), 6 January 2007 (Naval Criminal Investigative Service report leaked to Post, with the only photo they intend to publish).



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