Saturday, June 03, 2006

Haditha: the unknown is what's really important

The town of Haditha seems ready to take its place in history. However, if Rowan Scarborough's sources prove right, it may be two more months before the probe of the actions of US Marines in Haditha last November is completed.

There's plenty to be concerned about. Many on the left seem convinced that we know enough to label the events at Haditha as war crimes. The Nation has heard enough and so has Rep. John
Murtha. The Age of Australia also seems to think the story as we currently know it is dead on:

There is little doubt that the accounts are accurate. One of the members of the marine patrol who was not involved in the killings has said that his fellow marines must have "snapped" and that it was hard to describe just how tough the conditions were for the marines around Haditha.

Rosario Terrazas, the aunt of Miguel Terrazas, the Marine corporal split in half by the IED that set off the Haditha shootings, didn't appreciate the fact that Murtha and others have been quick to label the Marines' actions as murder:

"It's especially hurtful when certain people make statements that may be opinions but come across as facts," she added. "It's a little difficult to hear people making statements indicating that these allegations are true. There's an ongoing investigation and nothing has been concluded to this point."

I'll leave Murtha et al to Terrazas and others. I find their stances anything but surprising. I'm more concerned with the responses of George Bush and Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. I thought Bush gave a Richard Brodhead-like response when answering a question on the matter the other day:

``I am troubled by the initial news stories,'' Bush said in response to a question at the White House after meeting with Rwanda's president, Paul Kagame. ``I am mindful that there is a thorough investigation going on. If in fact the laws were broken there will be punishment.''

Bush's statements and those made by Pace strike me as a "the vast majority of us aren't anything like that" stance. It seems tailored to appease those skeptical of the war in Iraq and of the exertion of American power. It tells me they want to distance themselves from the Haditha Marines. It makes me wonder if the Marines at Haditha will get a fair shake from either side.

The events at Haditha also have the mainstream media speculating a My Lai redux. I don't think anything we know yet proves Haditha falls into the same category. Joe Guarino warns against jumping to that conclusion and I find nothing to quibble with concerning his assessment.

Instead of My Lai, Haditha takes my thoughts way beyond Vietnam to a conflict that didn't involve the US, the Boer War. The plight of Harry Morant, Peter Handcock and George Witton, Austrialians fighting in the British army during the war, may prove more applicable here. Their story, told in the brilliant 1980 film Breaker Morant, revolves around the execution of Boer insurgents and the killing of a German missionary by members of the Bushveld Carbineers after the brutal death of their commander at the hand of the Boers. The three were all convicted of murder. Morant and Handcock were executed while Witton received a life sentence.

The men insisted that they acted on orders to take no prisoners that had come down from Lord Kitchener, the British Supreme Commander in South Africa and one of the most revered figures in British military history. Kitchener inserted himself into the court martial trial and had an officer in sympathy with him presiding. He appointed Morant, Handcock and Witton an inexperienced defense attorney one day before the trial opened. Despite making a spirited defense, Morant and the others were convicted with Morant and Handcock sentenced to execution. Kitchener conveniently left South Africa to makes sure he would not be available to hear any appeals for clemency. He always denied giving any order that may have led to the actions of Morant and the others.

The most important lesson of Breaker Morant is that it's been over a century since the end of the Boer War and there's nothing close to a consensus on what actually occured on the South African veldt, which brings me back to Haditha. We don't know for sure what happened November '05 on a Haditha street. The acccused certainly have a right to make a defense. Perhaps they did break the military's rules of engagement, but even if they did, their actions may not rise to the level of murder. We can't say what happened until the process has played out. I only wish our commander in chief and top military leader would say that like they mean it and those who insist on judging Iraq parallel to Vietnam would appreciate a little history.


Blogger Joe Guarino said...

Great post, Glenn. And an interesting piece of history.

Anonymous David C said...

Way to go Glenn.
"You are either with us or against us" quote the commander in chief.


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