Saturday, August 19, 2006

Why Haditha Commander Didn't Investigate

Lt. Col. Jeff Chessani, the commander of the 3rd battalion, 1st Marines, didn't investigate the incident that killed 24 Haditha citizens saying "I thought it was very sad, very unfortunate, but at the time, I did not suspect any wrongdoing from my Marines," according to this Washington Post article. Here's more of Col. Chessani's statements:
"I did not have any reason to believe that this was anything other than combat action." "I just saw this as a large combat action that had been staged by the enemy," he told investigators.
Whether Marines are charged, much less convicted, John Murtha's reckless charge that innocent civilians were killed "in cold blood" seems premature at best. It also reeks of cheap partisan politics. If that's his idea of supporting the troops, I'm certain that they'd rather not be 'supported'.

What's most offensive to me is Murtha's certainty in stating that Marines were cold-blooded murderers. His tone alone said that he'd reached a conclusion on the incident. Keep in mind what Leo reported on August 3:
The head of the U.S. Marine Corps briefed Rep. John Murtha on the Haditha case after the vocal war critic publicly said Marines had killed innocent civilians in that Iraqi city, the Corps said on Thursday.
A group of Marines, while suspected in the killing of 24 Iraqi civilians, has not been charged, and official results from the military's investigation remain outstanding. A U.S. defense official said on Wednesday, however that evidence indicates Marines deliberately shot to death unarmed civilians.
Murtha, a Pennsylvania Democrat, is being sued by one of the accused Marines for libel. He had told The Philadelphia Inquirer that Gen. Michael Hagee had given him the information on which he based his charge that Marines killed innocent civilians.
But a spokesman for the Marine Corps said Hagee briefed Murtha on May 24 about Haditha. Murtha had made comments on the case as early as May 17. On May 17, for example, he said at a news conference, "Our troops overreacted because of the pressure on them and they killed innocent civilians in cold blood." (emphases mine)
Mr. Murtha would do well to remember that basic justice demands that you have full command of the facts before making declarations of guilt. That necessarily means waiting until the investigation is finished. Most importantly, you don't use Marines as political pawns in slanderously attacking the President's war policy.

Frankly, Mr. Murtha's apparent ambition to no longer be a back bencher who doesn't get a headline has caused him to cheapshot Marines without having received a detailed briefing on Haditha. What's worse is that he isn't reconsidering his statements:
MATTHEWS: Do you have any—do you want to modify any of the things you said on May 17th about the Haditha event where you talked about it‘s much worse than reported in "Time" magazine, those 24 Iraqis killed with a lot of American soldiers now being investigated for that situation there?
MURTHA: Here‘s the problem with an incident like this. When an incident like this happens, it not only hurts the military and their mission, it hurts this country. And that‘s the reason I spoke out about it. One, just a few people in the military hurt the rest of the military when they‘re involved in an incident like this.
MATTHEWS: So you stand by your statement?
MURTHA: I stand by my statement.
Let's recall Murtha's initial statement about Haditha:
"It’s much worse than was reported in Time magazine," Murtha, a Democrat, former Marine colonel and Vietnam war veteran, told reporters on Capitol Hill.
"There was no firefight. There was no [bomb] that killed those innocent people," Murtha explained, adding there were "about twice as many" Iraqis killed than Time had reported.
Murtha said combat stress prompted the Marines’ alleged rampage. "It’s a very serious incident, unfortunately. It shows the tremendous pressure that these guys are under every day when they’re out in combat," he said. "One man was killed with an [improvised explosive device] and after that they actually went into the houses and killed women and children."
What proof does Murtha have that these troops went on a murderous rampage? For that matter, what proof does Murtha have that the alleged murderous rampage was triggered by the "tremendous pressure that these guys are under"? It seems to me that Sgt. Wuterich, one of the men charged, doesn't show signs of having cracked under "the tremendous pressure."

Let's also remember what the military said:
"I do not know where Rep. Murtha is obtaining is information," said Lt. Col. Sean Gibson, a spokesman for Marine Corps Forces Central Command in Tampa, Fla. "Thoroughness will drive the investigation."
Innocent until proven guilty is a hallmark of our judicial system. It's also obviously of no consequence to Mr. Murtha in his quest to gain political power and stardom. Shame on him for sacrificing these brave Marines in his quest.

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Cross-post at LetFreedomRingBlog