Haditha — Both An Aberration and a Totally Normal Day

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Haditha has been a confusing and painful stain on the Marines.

Haditha has been a confusing and painful stain on the Marines. Source: Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Source: Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images

What actually happened on November 19th, 2005, is a matter of legal, military, and symbolic dispute. A land mine planted by insurgents exploded beneath a Humvee, killing a 20-year-old Marine, part of Kilo Company. What happened next is still unclear — but afterwards, 24 Iraqi men, women, and children lay dead. Last year we talked to the excellent William Langewiesche about his article Rules of Engagement, and he argued that the event wasn't an aberration — that it was, in fact, symbolic of how the Iraq war has been fought from the beginning. Now, a new Frontline documentary of the same name asks some more hard questions. Was it murder by the Marines? Or simply another day of war? Just what do "rules of war" mean?*

*Yes, I'm only linking to my boyfriends today. Except, I guess, for Frontline.

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In your story about Haditha, one caller enquired how many other "incidents" have occurred in Iraq. This question will be addressed by Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) members during the Winter Soldier: Iraq & Afghanistan conference to be held in Washington, DC March 13-16 ( www.ivaw.org ). I hope Talk of the Nation will cover this event.

Jim Rine
President, Veterans for Peace -Chapter 12, Houston, TX

Sent by Jim Rine | 4:09 PM | 2-18-2008

I think the conclusion of those prosecuting the military's case is correct: the number of civilian killed, including women and children, should have caused an immediate assessment, bottom up and top down. The fact that it was treated as business as usual indicates the very different mind set between the Marines and the people of Haiditha. One can appreciate the extreme effort it takes to be personally exposed in an hostile, civilian, urban environment and not make mistakes. The Marines had a priority of protecting themselves first even if that meant use of deadly force in less than certain circumstances. I do presume that they didn't intend to murder innocent civilians. Nonetheless, the number of people killed by Marines and its press releases immediately after the event indicate that these people's lives were not a priority for them. It is as if we institutionalized death through bad luck. If you're unlucky enough to live on a street where an attack is launched, too bad. I appreciate when bombs fall, innocent people can be killed. But it seems really perverse to think a soldier can throw a grenade into a room, even in the heat of the moment (a comrade dead in the street), if he isn't certain who is in the room. They were in a town filled with civilians who lived there.

Given the ROE prior to Haditha, it is amazing that we have only this incident to consider. We can't sanction killing people because it is too dangerous to figure out whether they are a threat.

Sent by Julie McCabe | 1:38 AM | 2-20-2008