Withering Haditha cases

The NY Times seems stunned by the results in the Haditha cases to date.


In Iraq and in the United States, the killings were viewed as cold-blooded vengeance. After a perfunctory military investigation, Haditha was brushed aside, but once the details were disclosed, the killings became an ugly symbol of a difficult, demoralizing war. After a fuller investigation, the Marines promised to punish the guilty.

But now, the prosecutions have faltered. Since May, charges against two infantrymen and a Marine officer have been dismissed, and dismissal has been recommended for murder charges against a third infantryman. Prosecutors were not able to prove even that the killings violated the American military code of justice.

Now their final attempt to get a murder conviction is set to begin, with a military court hearing on Thursday for Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich, the last marine still facing that charge. He is accused of killing 18 Iraqis, including several women and children, after the attack on his convoy.


... some scholars said the spate of dismissals has left them wondering what to think of the young enlisted marines who, illegally or not, clearly killed unarmed people in a combat zone.

“It certainly erodes that sense that what they did was wrong,” Elizabeth L. Hillman, a legal historian who teaches military law at Rutgers University School of Law at Camden, said of the outcomes so far. “When the story broke, it seemed like we understood what happened; there didn’t seem to be much doubt. But we didn’t know.”


Colonel Ware later recommended dismissing the charges against those two men, and he has said the killings should be viewed in the context of combat against an enemy that ruthlessly employs civilians as cover. He warned that murder charges against marines could harm the morale of troops still in Iraq.

General Mattis’s statements expressing sympathy for the plight of other enlisted marines whom he cleared of wrongdoing in Haditha may indicate his willingness to see Sergeant Wuterich’s case in a similar light.

Regardless of what happened to charges against the other defendants, there is still great public pressure on the Marine Corps to investigate and punish any wrongdoing in a case in which so many civilians died.


The times reporter did not seem to comprehend the import of what Colonel Ware and General Mattis were saying. Never once in the story did he refer to the fact that the enemy in Haditha was in violation of the Geneva Conventions by camouflaging himself as a civilian and thereby putting all civilians at risk. He made a passing reference to the enemy's use of human shields.

The Marines in Haditha were faced with a situation where an enemy had already committed two war crimes before they even pulled a trigger and the NY Times ignores these important facts. They are important for another reason because they support the story of the Marines that they thought they were shooting enemy troops and they were in a combat situation where hesitation would be deadly to them and other Marines. The NY Times just does not seem to comprehend this reality.

The last of the Haditha Marines, Sergeant Wuterich, goes before Colonel Ware Thursday. The Times seems to think the prosecutors have a better shot at getting him court martialed, or perhaps they are just hoping to save their crumbling scandal.


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