A modern My Lai?
Marines from Camp Pendleton wantonly killed unarmed Iraqi civilians, including women and children, and then tried to cover up the slayings in the insurgent stronghold of Haditha, military investigations have found.
Officials who have seen the findings of the investigations said the filing of criminal charges, including some murder counts, was expected, which would make the Nov. 19 incident the most serious case of alleged U.S. war crimes in Iraq....
First, let's note that the military appears to be handling this appropriately. You can't always stop people from behaving badly, but you can punish them afterwards.
A roadside bomb explosion killed a fellow Marine, Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas. Looking for insurgents, the Marines entered several homes and began firing their weapons, according to the report.
In its initial statement to the media, the Marine Corps said the Iraqi civilians were killed either by an insurgent bomb or by crossfire between Marines and insurgents.
But after Time magazine obtained pictures showing dead women and children and quoted Iraqis who said the attack was unprovoked, the Marine Corps backtracked on its explanation and called for an investigation.
This is a good example of the media performing a vital role: uncovering an unpleasant truth that otherwise might have gone unnoticed. It's not pleasant to face our dark sides, but the fact that we do so makes our society stronger in the long run. Covering up wrongdoing does nothing but guarantee more wrongdoing. And the victims aren't fooled: If U.S. soldiers get away with massacres, the Iraqi people will know and it will undermine everything we claim to be doing in Iraq. If we punish the perpetrators, on the other hand, it builds trust.
The killings will evoke comparisons to Vietnam's My Lai massacre, and the parallels are there: Frustrated troops fighting an elusive enemy taking their frustration out on innocent villagers. But there are differences: the scale (hundreds died at My Lai), the level of command involvement (the troops at My Lai were practically invited to kill civilians) and the response (My Lai was covered up for a year before an investigation began, and then for another six months while charges were prepared).
So be wary about going too far down the road suggested by the headline on this post. Incidents like these should not be used to tar all service members. Most serve honorably, often in extremely trying circumstances. U.S. soldiers are among the most well-disciplined in the world. Unless there is evidence of widespread wrongdoing, this case should be treated as what it appears to be: an isolated tragedy that should be investigated fully and addressed swiftly and fairly. And as a cautionary tale of the dehumanizing effects of warfare, and why it should be considered an option of last resort in our foreign policy.
Update: The New York Times has a much better story on the subject.
Haditha, massacre, Marines, Iraq, politics, midtopia