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Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Sing! Sing a Song!
Update: The Marine Corps investigation determined no punishable offense occurred. Score one for common sense.

The Marine Corps is conducting an investigation to see if they can find a law that was broken. So far the lawyers haven't found one, so they're going to look harder.

You see, a Marine in Al Asad, Iraq sang a silly and funny song about being in war. Like many songs it contained references to fictional and outrageous violence. Marines and soldiers for eons have been singing songs like this to take their minds off the seriousness of what they're doing. No one really takes them seriously, it's comedy.

I'd like to point out that this song was performed publicly in what looks to me like the chow hall in Al Asad, maybe the new MWR building instead. I'll bet this Marine sang his song to the enjoyment of many Marines senior to him, probably even officers. I know I would have been laughing my butt off with him.

So, in solidarity with this Marine, I would like to report some songs and slogans that I have heard in my time with the Marine Corps.
Okay, I changed my mind. I decided that I don't want the potential legal hassle. I'll just say that we sang songs that make "Hadji Girl" sound light and frivolous. Songs that would make the Council of Viet Namese Relations leaders' hair curl. Songs that would make Shiite Iranians run in horror. Songs that would make a Baptist chaplain (but strangely not the Catholic chaplains) blush and recoil in horror.

I'm offended that this Marine is being targeted for being funny and singing an innocent and funny song. I think my past rants have shown that I hold a very high standard for behavior by Marines, but in this case there was no failure of discipline, there was no order broken, there was no wrong act committed.

Perhaps this investigation is merely a way to confirm that nothing wrong happened. Let's hope so.

Marines do not enjoy freedom of speech. But there should be a limit to what speech is forbidden.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

3/1: Manslaughter in Haditha?
I've not discussed the controversy regarding Haditha here yet because I'm waiting for the investigation to conclude. It disturbs me that so many people are rushing to acquit the accused Marines with less to base their opinions on than even those that are rushing to convict.

But now some of the accused Marines are talking to the press. They should keep their mouths shut because what they're saying is plenty enough to convict them, or at least it's being spun that way by the people reporting what they're saying. Because they have chosen to speak, I feel it is now appropriate to discuss their claims.

Below is how Marines would typically analyze this if it were included as another hypothetical incident in our ROE classes.
The battalion in the controversy replaced my battalion in Haditha. Although they, like us, were split between Hit and Haditha, they left Hit to a US Army National Guard battalion and the entire battalion operated out of Haditha Dam within a week of the transfer of authority from 3/25 to 3/1. At some time soon after we left, 3/1 sent their companies with the Iraqi Army to occupy the nearby cities of Haditha, Haqlaniyah, and Barwana.

I encourage all interested to read the statements of these Marines linked above. If these statements are really complete statements from them, these Marines should be locked away for a long time.

First, I want to go through the Rules of Engagement in Iraq as they are typically published. Some operations may have different ROE, but these are standard. They are very complex, and detailed, but there are some basic rules that are easy to remember.

1. If a Marine believes he is under attack, he may shoot the attacker. If he believes he is in danger he may take appropriate and proportional action. However, he needs to be able to justify his actions to reasonable scrutiny.
2. Prior to using deadly force, there must be clear hostile intent or hostile acts.
3. There must be a positive ID on every individual displaying hostile intent or hostile acts before using deadly force.

The whole crux of the ROE is to understand what is allowed to be interpreted as hostile acts or hostile intent.

There are many times when these rules are murky, and individual Marines must be trusted to use sound judgement. In every instance, reports of escalation of force or deaths were reviewed by the Commanding General. If the reports are reasonable and show that the Marines used good judgement and a sound thinking process, no action was taken. We learned early to be sure that all reports included sufficient detail to demonstrate how the Marines acted in accordance with the ROE.

The Commanding General emphasized continuously that he would ensure the rules were followed, without exception. He further explained that escalation steps when required might all occur simultaneously depending on the circumstances, but they must still occur. No one is allowed, normally, to kill anyone in Iraq without strictly observing the ROE.

So, that raises the question, did the Marines of 3/1 follow the rules when they killed twenty-four Iraqi civilians?

From their own statements, no.

They were attacked by an IED. Okay, that's a hostile act. But they still need positive ID. Instead, they make this claim, according to the Washington Post,

Puckett [SSgt Wuterich's attorney] said that while Wuterich was evaluating the scene, Marines noticed a white, unmarked car full of "military-aged men" lingering near the bomb site. When Marines ordered the men to stop, they ran; Puckett said it was standard procedure at the time for the Marines to shoot suspicious people fleeing a bombing, and the Marines opened fire, killing four or five men.
Marines are not policemen, but even in Iraq you can't shoot someone just for running away. These "suspicious people" are not displaying hostile intent or hostile acts. They may very well have been bad people, but there is no reason given for killing them. That SSgt Wuterich's attorney claims such shootings were standard procedure strikes me as very odd. It was not "standard procedure" to shoot people for appearing suspicious when my battalion operated out of the same area 45 days prior to this incident. I suspect there is more to the story, I'd be interested in knowing what made them appear "suspicious." The Post isn't doing these Marines any good.
But then, the Post is sloppy here. A careful reading shows that these MAM's (military aged males) were in a vehicle. If they were running through a road block or snap vehicle check point, then they needed to be stopped, without question, but only after a proper escalation. If they were going in the opposite direction, then it's not so clear. In light of the IED going off mintues earlier, these may have been justified deaths but it's not clear from the Post's report. It's already a very murky and questionable story.
Here's more,
Gary Myers, a civilian attorney for a Marine who was with Wuterich that day, said the Marines followed standard operating procedures when they "cleared" the houses, using fragmentation grenades and gunshots to respond to an immediate threat.
Houses are not cleared with fragmentation grenades and gunshots as a standard operating procedure. Standard procedure varies, but normally you only shoot into homes when you see people with weapons. Again, you need positive ID and hostile intent or hostile acts. So far as I can tell from the sloppy chronology of the Washington Post report, they only suspected that gunfire came from this house, and even then, it is not permitted to toss grenades into houses without having a very clear and significant threat or a known target, because who knows, there might be women and children inside. Gee, imagine that. Later, the Post points out that one Marine claimed to see gunfire coming from one specific house, and they were told by the platoon commander to clear the house. Again the Post's chronology is poorly laid out.
A four-man team of Marines, including Wuterich, kicked in the door and found a series of empty rooms, noticing quickly that there was one room with a closed door and people rustling behind it, Puckett said. They then kicked in that door, tossed a fragmentation grenade into the room, and one Marine fired a series of "clearing rounds" through the dust and smoke, killing several people, Puckett said.
Where was the threat? Did they have any clear idea of what was behind that door? Obviously not. But let's assume that this was a tragic error. These things can happen, it's a war zone after all. I'm inclined to not get too over-wrought by a mistake, even a big one like this. But then after discovering the horrible truth, what was their next action? They did it again.
. . . they also noticed a back door ajar and believed that insurgents had slipped through to a house nearby, Puckett said. The Marines stealthily moved to the second house, kicking in the door, killing one man inside and then using a frag grenade and more gunfire to clear another room full of people, he said.
Now there is no hostile intent, no hostile act, and no positive ID. The weak justifications they had for deadly force in the first house are gone completely, yet they use more grenades and kill more civilians. That they used these procedures that resulted in innocent deaths a second time with even less justification is perplexing.
What's even more perplexing is this quote,
A Marine who served near Haditha in November said it was not unusual for Marines to respond to attacks "running and gunning" and that it was standard practice to spray rooms with gunfire when threatened. "It may be a bad tactic, but it works," he said. "It keeps you alive."
It appears that this is a quote from an unnamed source in the same battalion. This is a very disconcerting statement, even taking into account that it could be from a lance corporal from the supply section or some other poorly informed individual. This is definitely not a legal tactic. That it is being stated this way indicates a lack of control over the Marines in the battalion. It's another data point I would add to the appalling lack of curiosity of the company and battalion commanders in accepting the reports without looking into the issue more thoroughly.
The rest of the Post's story lacks details necessary to make an informed judgement. Two men dressed in black are seen running from the houses that were cleared and were killed. They don't say why they were killed. I'm curious why someone is running from a house that had been cleared. I'm curious what hostile act or intent the men in black displayed. Wearing black isn't uncommon. Ninja-like suits are very suspicious, but normal black clothes are common. What excuse do these Marines have for killing them? My point in asking is not to question whether they should have been killed, but to point out that the Post isn't very good at reporting for leaving these questions unaddressed and unaswered.
I now understand why LtCol Chessani and two company commanders were relieved of command. It is unfathomable that this many people can be killed without a very clear understanding of what happened. I doubt that the commanders intended this tragedy to happen, but I find it hard to understand that they did such a poor job investigating and reporting it. Again, there are too many unknowns.
And that's my conclusion. We still know too little, and I look forward to the conclusion of the investigations. In the mean time, the Marines being targeted by this investigation would be smarter to keep their mouths shut. They're not making anyone look good. If the charges are true, I hope they are locked away for a long time because I resent these accusations being associated with my good name as a Marine.
It appears that 3/1 may have completely misunderstood what their role was. The military war is over in Iraq. Yes, there are still bombs being planted, people getting killed, but there is no military question to the war now. The war is now fought completely in the press. It is a struggle of wills between the people of the United States, Britain, coalition members and the terroists. It is the Marines' purpose in Iraq to help the Iraqi people establish security and trust of the United States. It is tragic when a Marine dies and that should never be accepted. But the people in the city of Haditha are not all terrorists. They didn't all kill the Marine. It's better to act with measured response and win the good will of the people, than to over-react and destroy that hard won good will of people all over Iraq. This incident is a clear loss in the battle for the will of our people. It is irresponsible that 3/1 allowed this victory for terrorism.