Sunday, May 28, 2006

Was It Unprovoked?

Considering John Murtha's statements and the media coverage, you'd think that the raid in Haditha was an open and shut case. That might not be the case. Let's take a look at some things that don't point in that direction.
The Boston Globe reports that the confrontation was touched off when a roadside bomb struck a supply convoy of Kilo Company, Third Battalion, First Marine Regiment. The explosion killed Lance Corporal Miguel Terrazas, 20, of El Paso, who was on his second tour in Iraq. "Everybody agrees that this was the triggering event," Paul Hackett, an attorney for a Marine officer with a slight connection to the case, told the paper.
If the roadside bomb was the "triggering event" for the developments that followed, however, then how can it be said that there was "no provocation"? And while that provocation may not have been enough to justify the wanton murder of innocent Iraqis, it's far from clear at this point that all of those killed were indeed innocent. Or that any innocents who did die were killed in cold blood. In an April report that pre-dates the uproar over the Haditha allegations, a Marine press release describes the Iraqi town as "a hotbed of insurgent activity less than a year ago." That would be about the time of the so-called Marine massacre. Plainly, not all the residents of this terrorist hotbed were as innocent as Marine media critics are now claiming. The Los Angeles Times reports that after smoke from IED cleared, the Marines quickly determined that it was "a type that would have required someone to detonate it."
John Murtha said that there wasn't a 'triggering event'. Check it out here:
"There was no firefight. There was no IED that killed those innocent people," said Congressman John Murtha commenting on the outcome of a military investigation. "Our troops overreacted because of the pressure on them, and they killed innocent civilians in cold blood."
Murtha assumes that the people killed were innocent. Some might well have been but why would he assume that when Haditha was "a terrorist hotbed"? That's the last conclusion I'd come to until I saw hard proof pointing me that direction. I don't consider John Murtha's conclusions proof, either.
The Los Angeles Times reports that after smoke from IED cleared, the Marines quickly determined that it was "a type that would have required someone to detonate it." Following standard procedure, the troops searched nearby houses, the closest of which was 50 yards away. That's close enough for its occupants to have tracked the Marine convoy and timed the explosion. It's also worth remembering that the press has so far reported only one side of the story.
The LA Times isn't a Bush schill by any stretch of the imagination. Yet they're reporting that the Marines determined that the IED "required someone to detonate it." They also came to the conclusion that the home "50 yards away" might house the terrorist that detonated the bomb.

Furthermore, we know that Iraqis have used human shields in the past. I remember watching a Gen. Schwarzkopf briefing where he showed satellite images of Iraqi military hardware sitting in the midst of a Baghdad neighborhood to protect his tanks and artillery weapons. I also remember the pictures of the men, women and children killed in a bombing that tried killing Saddam during Operation Desert Storm. After the war, Newsweek did a special issue devoted solely to the war.

What Newsweek learned was that Special Forces had intel that said that Saddam used that bunker at least 3 times a week. The people killed during that bombing were his prisoners there.

Knowing all that, why on earth would we conclude that terrorists and/or insurgents wouldn't have used the same technique to protect themselves in the raids?
Then there's this intriguing tidbit, again from the Times, which notes that after the IED was detonated: "Marines and Iraqi forces searched houses and other structures in the narrow, dusty streets [of Haditha], jets dropped 500-pound bombs." Whoever ordered those airstrikes must not have believed the houses of Haditha were filled with Iraqi innocents who knew nothing about planting roadside bombs.
Again, this is the LA Times reporting this. What this means is that Time magazine, the Boston Globe and the LA Times all are reporting things that don't mesh with Murtha's account. If "500 lb. bombs" were dropped on these homes, why should we conclude that Murtha's version of events is even close to what happened?
ABC News, for instance, reported Saturday morning that military investigators had already determined that the killings were unjustified, and that several Marines would likely face murder charges. But instead of quoting anyone in uniform, the report offered a soundbite from a Human Rights Watch spokesman.
This should send out all kinds of red flags. ABC's reporting is suspect at best, especially after Brian Ross's report that House Speaker Denny Hastert "was in the mix" of a Justice Department investigation involving Jack Abramoff. ABC's George Stephanopoulous said that "If true, the effects would be seismic."

If ABC was running this story, why didn't they get someone from the military to comment on it? Why would they rely on Human Rights Watch's statements? At best, HRW's information was secondhand. They certainly weren't briefed on this by the military. It's understatement to say that ABC's reporting is sloppy at best.

Based on the amount of reporting that's been done, I'd say that it's still far from a sure thing that the Marines did anything wrong. Is it possible that they didn't follow their terms of engagement? Sure. Is it certain that they did? Not at this point, it isn't.