June 4, 2006
Last month, Rep. Murtha accused U.S. Marines of killing Iraqi civilians "in cold blood" in the town of Haditha last November, and on May 18 I characterized his comments as "foolish dissent." More recently, the Washington Post related what the Iraqi residents of that town said happened, and it may indeed have been a massacre of innocents after all. Apparently, Marines stormed through several houses after one of them riding a Humvee was killed by a roadside bomb. Today's Washington Post suggests that the official version of the violent encounter is contrary to the facts. On the other hand, Rep. Murtha's credibility is not exactly high, either. He even made things worse when questioned by ABC's "This Week" a week ago, practically shouting insults at Charles Gibson, and avoiding the question of "why do you believe those allegations to be true?" Even if it turns out that he was right about Haditha, there is something seriously wrong with Murtha.
The Iraqi prime minister has called for an official explanation, for which he has every right to do, but so far there does not seem to be as much outrage among the Iraqi people as one might expect. It's odd, when you compare this to the freak traffic accident in Kabul that sparked large-scale bloody riots. Obviously, that spasm of violence was orchestrated by the Taliban or sympathetic groups.
In Saturday'sWashington Post, Frank Schaeffer reminds us that even in that great, noble crusade against Fascism known as World War II, there were many, many instances of brutality and incompetence committed by occupying U.S. forces. It just didn't get publicized back then. That doesn't mean we should turn a blind eye to abuses committed by our forces -- and indeed, some such abuses are almost inevitable over the course of a long war -- it just means we need to keep things in perspective. How would you feel if your best buddy had just died from a roadside bomb, and some of the people in the village were laughing or making taunting gestures?
There are many questions raised by the tragic case of Haditha, and we should not jump to conclusions, as Murtha did. Did those Marines have good reason to believe that the perpetrators had taken refuge in one of those houses? Were they under the direct command of a nearby officer? If they were guilty of murder, they should face a severe punishment, including death by firing squad if the crime was as egregious and wanton as some people portray it. Until then, however, our soldiers are entitled to the presumption of innocence.