Force protection in the court room
Michael Savage has helped raise money for Lt. Col. Chessani’s defense fund. Sgt. Wuterich’s defense fund has received only a few thousand dollars.
Conservative Christians and military veterans are part an emerging group of Americans who say they are upset by the recent prosecutions of soldiers and marines based in Iraq on war crimes charges, and are coming to their defense with words, Web sites and money.
In the past year, more than a dozen Web sites have been developed to solicit donations to hire private lawyers for service members who have been charged with violent crimes for actions taken in the confusion of combat or counterinsurgency operations. They have raised more than $600,000, organizers say, from grandparents, business executives and college students, among others. The average donation is for $25 to $50.
Virtually all donations come with handwritten or e-mail messages full of encouragement for the troops in Iraq and laced with frustration at the government and the news media.
“I wonder if you are supposed to check out each enemy to see if they have a gun or wait for them to shoot first,” wrote a 98-year-old woman from Grand Junction, Colo., who recently sent $25 to the Military Combat Defense Fund, a group outside Boston that has provided more than $85,000 to smaller funds set up for individual marines accused of murder and other crimes in Haditha and Hamdaniya, Iraq. “Bible says that the country will always be fighting. We have been praying for all you boys and girls.”
In interviews, organizers and contributors said they believed that many of the prosecutions were based on feeble evidence and gauzy recollections of Iraqis sympathetic to the insurgency and hostile to the American military mission in Iraq.
They point to the case against Lance Cpl. Justin L. Sharratt, who was charged with killing three unarmed Iraqi men at point-blank range in Haditha in 2005. This month, a Marine lawyer investigating the charges recommended dismissing them, for lack of evidence, and warned that pressing flimsy cases against combat troops “sets a dangerous precedent” that eroded public support for the war and could cause infantrymen to hesitate when fighting a determined enemy.
“The insurgency has found a new weapon, besides the bomb, and that’s to accuse these young men of wrongdoing, because we throw the book at them,” said Maralee Jones, 45, a mortgage loan officer in Utah who taught herself how to build a Web site, to raise money to help several accused marines pay for civilian lawyers, who are generally regarded as more experienced and aggressive than military defense lawyers.
“We all feel like the big brass have eaten their young here,” said Ms. Jones, whose son is serving with the Third Battalion, Fifth Marines, the same unit as the marines accused in the Hamdaniya case. “You just can’t put people under a microscope when the lines of combat are so blurred.”
So far the fund has raised $78,000, she said.
Outside Boston, a group of Vietnam War veterans — retired police officials, postal workers, lawyers and others — established the Military Combat Defense Fund and recently surpassed $152,000 in donations to their Web site, said Patrick Barnes, a former radio reporter who is the group’s treasurer.
Much of the strongest criticism from many defense funds is directed toward mainstream news organizations, which they say portray the concerns of Iraqis more sympathetically than the plight of American troops.
“From the magazines and newspapers that I read, it seems that many of them are too condemning of our own guys,” said Jacqueline Batcha, 44, of Atlantis, Fla., who sent $100 to the Web site for Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich, who is charged with 13 counts of murder in the Haditha case.
Other parents of active-duty marines and soldiers are doing whatever they can to publicly support troops facing charges.
In Seattle, Don Dinsmore, the father of a marine infantry officer currently on duty in Falluja, led a group of motorcycle riders on a West Coast road trip to the gates of Camp Pendleton, Calif., on June 28, where hearings and trials in the Haditha and Hamdaniya cases are being held. Along the way the group collected enough cash donations to fill 10 bank-deposit bags, Mr. Dinsmore said.
The anger at the media is not misplaced. The US media has been too compliant in following the enemy script and trying to delegitimize the US effort in Iraq. It has been wholly failing in informing the public about the enemy's war crimes and violations of the Geneva Conventions. Haditha is a good example of this failure. In how many stories in the NY Times have you seen any responsibility assigned to the enemy at Haditha for failing to wear and identifying uniform as required by the Geneva Conventions? How many stories have discussed the war crime of using human shields like the enemy did at Haditha? Yet the only people charged with war crimes are the Marines responding to an attack. Would the Marines have mistaken civilians for the enemy if the enemy was wearing a uniform? I think that is unlikely.