NEAL CONAN, Host:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.
First reports cited an all too familiar story from Iraq. Last November, a Marine convoy was attacked while on patrol in the small Euphrates River-town of Haditha, nestled deep in the Sunni triangle; a young Marine was killed by a roadside bomb. What happened next has become a matter of grave dispute and criminal investigations. In retaliation, some say, or in self-defense, say others, Marines from Kilo Company killed two-dozen Iraqis, including women and children as young as one-year-old. Most, if not all, were unarmed.
Military sources claim evidence will show there were mitigating circumstances. Iraqi eyewitnesses claim the Marines simply went on a rampage. There are allegations that the Marines of Kilo Company tried to cover up the incident and may have been aided by senior officers.
Our main focus this hour is what we know about what happened at Haditha, and why.
Later in the program, our weekly dose with our Political Junkie. Members of the House are outraged by the FBI search of Louisiana Representative William Jefferson's office. The former chairman of the Kansas Republican Party switches teams; a special congressional election in California and a big round of primaries next week; and the immigration bill hits a reconciliation reality check. If you have questions for Ken Rudin about the week in politics, you can e-mail us now. Our address is email@example.com.
But first, Haditha. If you have questions about the investigation, how the news of the killings emerged, and how the military conducts these kinds of inquiries, give us a call. Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK. The e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
The military opened an investigation into what happened in Haditha back in January, but only after reporters from Time Magazine presented them with evidence that what happened there was a great deal more than a roadside bomb and collateral damage. The Assistant Managing Editor of Time, Michael Duffy, joins us here from his office here in Washington.
Nice to have you on the program again, Michael.
MICHAEL DUFFY: Nice to be back, Neal.
CONAN: Tell us, what happened at Haditha? What do both sides - what do all sides, agree on, if anything?
DUFFY: That's a great question. And you have to keep in mind, Neal, that there are two different investigations going on here. Not only - one into what happened actually back in November in the Euphrates River-town; and the second, that looks into what happened afterwards, particularly in the Marine Corps, as various military officials began to try to find out what took place, was there an attempt to cover up the facts of the actual battle itself.
DUFFY: If it can be called a battle. And so all of those things are actually in dispute. I mean, it's really hard to really start. But, as everyone knows, this was a routine patrol on November 19th. Four Humvees were basically going through a residential area of Haditha. They saw a car approaching from the other end of the street, and as the car - it turned out to be a taxi - came adjacent to the U.S. convoy, an IED exploded under the rear of the fourth vehicle in the U.S. convoy, killing its driver.
The taxi - it turned out to be a taxi - and the taxi quickly emptied its passengers, who began to flee. The Marines - everyone now agrees - shot them as they were fleeing. That seems to be in agreement. There's not an agreement about whether anyone was taking fire at that point, either from the houses or anyone in the taxi.
And what happened next, over the next couple of hours, was that the Marines allegedly went through the houses, and in the course of clearing the houses of what they claimed to be insurgents, killed 19 men, women, and children.
CONAN: So that, along with the people in the taxi, adds up to 24, the two-dozen people that we've heard about. What was the - how was the incident originally explained?
DUFFY: Well, it depends on who was doing the explaining, and at what point. Not long after it happened, a group of village elders went to see the Marines in the town of Haditha and were essentially waved off, told it was a mistake. It's not clear that was all they were told or all they were - all that was explained. But there was no attempt to really get to the bottom of it.
A young journalist student actually took some videotape - this is an Iraqi student - the next morning, began shooting some pictures of the scene. That videotape made it into the hands of a human rights organization, which provided it to some - to two of our correspondents in Baghdad. We took it to the Marine Corps, who initially waved us off, and then we marched it higher up the chain of command until we found someone who took it seriously. Meanwhile, we were looking into it separately.
CONAN: And the videotape has some damning evidence. There is also tape recorded in Baghdad from eyewitnesses, people who say they were there, including a nine- year-old girl.
DUFFY: That's right. And there were also some photographs both taken by an after-action team, which didn't show any bodies, and some apparently taken by members of the actual company in the Third Battalion, First Marine Regiment, that do. So there is some real time - it appears real time photographic evidence as well as - I'm not sure the videotape can be called real time. It was after the fact.
CONAN: Mm-hmm. And there is always concern in situations like this. Clearly, people from all sides are trying to manipulate events for political gain. Could any of this have been faked?
DUFFY: We're always wary that we may be in the hall of mirrors on all stories, and particularly the ones like this. It's very difficult to tell, always, and so as we go forward it's always important to keep in mind that there are always going to be at least two sides to some of these moments.
And I think it's also - it's worth pointing out that already the Marines, having brought this unit back home, have relieved the company commander and the battalion commander of duty. And to the extent that Congressmen have been briefed about this - they began asking questions about it about three or four weeks ago. There seems to be an agreement that the story is going to get worse before it gets better.
But you're right. I think it's also worth pointing out that this is a - this town has been essentially in insurgent hands for a year. A very difficult place to operate. They've had real trouble identifying friends from foe before here. There've been U.S. casualties in this before as there were on this day.
CONAN: And you mentioned two officers who've been suspended, I guess. Who was in charge of that four Humvee convoy?
DUFFY: There were actually - just so you know, there were three Marine officers who've been relieved of duty...
DUFFY: ...including those two I mentioned. Well, we don't really know the names of the commander of the Marine platoon yet. I suspect that may come out if we are - if the charges are made public by military inquiry going on now. We don't know. A platoon like this is about 13 men. There will be questions, I suspect, as part of any inquiry into this as to who did what, and to both, at the moment and afterward. Like, did you report this accurately or not?
CONAN: Now, this has been investigated by NCIS, the Naval Criminal Investigation Service and, as I understand, they have briefed members of Congress, who have come out and said the news does not look good.
DUFFY: That's true. And the Navy investigates it because the Marine Corps is part of the Navy. And there is a separate, as I said, inquiry into the chain of command question - what happened afterward.
The - some congressman, like Congressman John Murtha, of Pennsylvania, have been quite outspoken about this, but it's important to keep in mind that they've been outspoken against the war in the past. Others who have not had that record, including some Republicans, have said essentially the same thing without going so far as to say - as Murtha did - that this is another reason why we should pull out.
CONAN: And, at this point, when do we expect official word?
DUFFY: I don't know, Neal, and I think it's tough to judge. You know, I once covered a court-martial and I think it went on for a year. And that was the final event. But the military inquisitions are typically not fast. So I don't know that we can expect it this week or next, although some people have suggested that.
CONAN: We want to get listeners involved in the conversation. If you'd like to join us, our number is 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. The e-mail address is email@example.com. And we'll begin with Roger(ph). Roger calling us from San Francisco.
ROGER: Yes, thank you. I am a Marine, even though I've been out of the Marine Corps since 1961. Once you're a Marine, you're always a Marine. What happened in Iraq is not the Marine Corps. I think what happened was a breakdown in command and control. Something went wrong with those - that squad of Marines, whether it was the sergeant or some craziness broke out. But I want to emphasize, this is not the Marine Corps.
We have a very strong discipline in the Marine Corps. We follow orders. We do not kill indiscriminately. We are - so I don't want the public to ever believe that this represents the Marine Corps. It is not. But something has to be done about our command and control structure over there. You cannot let this happen again. The court cannot take this kind of disgrace. And I think it's going to come down as a disgrace.
But it's got to be faced, it's got to be dealt with, and it's got to be dealt with harshly. This has got to end. But the Marine Corps is one of the - I can't think of a better branch of service that we have in this country than the Marines. And...
CONAN: Michael Duffy, I'm sure you've heard responses like that since your most recent story came out. Indeed, we've heard from Marines who say, you know, this is impossible. This cannot have happened.
DUFFY: I have actually heard about them before. The U.S. Marine Corps, I think, is deeply affected by this, both its active duty Marines and anyone, as the caller noted, who's ever been a Marine. They've never had an event, or even charges like this, in their 218-something-year history. It's a very difficult time. And, moreover, I think the Marines went into Iraq with a distinctly different attitude than some of the other units.
The commanding general had a phrase he used when he was given essentially the western sector in Iraq, and that was, you know, no greater friend, no worse enemy. He really tried to exercise over and over again that they were going to go in to make friends, not enemies, as long as they weren't crossed. And the Marines are known for unit cohesion. And they're known for just the kind of discipline the caller was talking about.
We've known - when this has happened in the past, not in this war but in others, there is usually - exactly as the caller noted - a breakdown in the leadership structure, the chain of command from the top of whatever unit is involved. In this case, it would be a platoon. But I think some of the questions will be how did it go into the company level and above that.
So whether you're talking to the commandant of the Marine Corps, his aides or even former Marines, this - the caller represents a view that we have heard a lot of over the last week. And it's a source of pride - it shows you how proud the Marines are of how they've operated, in general.
CONAN: Roger, thank you very much for the call, we appreciate it.
ROGER: Thank you.
CONAN: Michael Duffy, thank you, as well. Thanks for your time. We know you're busy.
DUFFY: Anytime, Neal.
CONAN: Michael Duffy, Assistant Managing Editor of Time Magazine. Time broke the story about Haditha back in March. He joined us by phone from his office here in Washington, D.C.
When we come back from the break, we'll talk with a retired Navy JAG lawyer and with a former Marine who's now a military sociologist. We'd also like to speak with you. If you have questions about how these investigations are conducted and why these sorts of things can happen, our number is 800-989-8255, 800-989- TALK. Our e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
CONAN: This is Neal Conan, and it's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News in Washington.
Reports that U.S. Marines killed two-dozen unarmed Iraqis last year and tried to cover it up have spurred multiple investigations. Today, we're talking about what happened in Haditha and why.
Of course, you're invited to join the conversation. If you have questions about how the investigation was conducted, how news of the killings emerged, how the military conducts these sorts of inquiries, give us a call. Our number is 800- 989-8255, 800-989-TALK. The e-mail address is email@example.com.
Joining us now is David Price. He's a retired Navy judge advocate general; and he's currently with the law firm of McCormack & Associates. So thanks very much for joining us today.
DAVID PRICE: Thank you, Neal. It's a pleasure to be here.
CONAN: David Price with us here in Studio 3A. I understand there are two sets of investigations being conducted on Haditha, two sets of alleged crimes: the killings and the cover up. Can you explain how the military undertakes these investigations a little bit?
PRICE: Yes, Neal, and really there are going to be multiple aspects of them. The first will be the criminal investigation. And, technically, I think that will cover both the incident at Haditha itself, as well as the potential of a cover up. But they really will cover two separate aspects of it.
The first thing that they should do is get their hard evidence, that's who was on the patrol? What were their names? What time did they leave? When did they come back? Was there radio communications? Did they have any reports?
I also understand there may have been a drone that may have taken photographs during that time period, so they want to get things like that.
PRICE: After the incident, a couple of Marines were sent out to take pictures. You want to get those photographs. And then, on-scene, they should do much like an archeologist - set a grid, figure out what happened in what location. And from there, they can start doing their forensic analysis.
CONAN: According to the Time Magazine report, they have made 15 visits to Haditha to, you know, look at bullet holes and do the whole CIS, you know, crime investigation.
PRICE: Exactly. And once they have those things, then - and we also know that some of the Marines have already started to speak in certain respects. This morning on the news, there was a wounded Marine who had talked about some of his observations. Once you've got the hard facts, then you generally will start at the lowest level individual, that'd be your privates. And you'd start getting some information from them.
Because, clearly, as other callers have indicated, one of the issues here is a break down in command and control. Once you start getting those statements, pretty soon you're going to be able to identify who you believe the most culpable, or most likely culpable individuals will be. And then you start taking the statements that you can use against those individuals.
The other thing that's very important to remember is that the investigators, when they're conducting these interviews with the suspects - while they will have to give them their warnings, both under Miranda, if it's a custodial interrogation, as well as under Article 31 BRAVO, the UCMJ, for any military investigation - they basically can say pretty much what they want to try and get out any incriminating statements from those individuals.
CONAN: Now, that video we heard about from Michael Duffy, the one taken by an Iraqi journalism student. Is that considered evidence? Can that be used?
PRICE: Oh, absolutely. I mean if there are photographs that were taken on the scene, they're going to be able to use those in some way or another.
CONAN: And how long does all of this take?
PRICE: Well, this is going to take a very long time. And, potentially, because there has been a passage of time from the time of the incident before the investigations actually began. So you run into some problems with whether or not the crime scene still exists as it did at the time that these deaths took place.
CONAN: Because these forensic investigations have come weeks or months after the incident.
PRICE: Exactly. And then also, I understand, that there are reports that there have been some fire set place in the building, so that can make it much more difficult. But, much as in an arson investigation, they should be able to still get beneath that and get a lot of information.
Then the second investigation, of course, is into what happened after the fact, and the cover up that's been alleged. And that's going to become a very significant investigation. And I believe, in long-term, that is probably more critical to the image of the Corps, then perhaps even what happened on the ground.
Because, at least on the ground, you've got the heat of the battle, you've got, perhaps, untrained, inexperienced individuals. They had just suffered the loss of one of their own and the heat of the passion sort of a thing. Whereas if there was a deliberate cover up, then that really goes way - much higher in the chain of command. You're not talking about privates and corporals now; you're talking about senior officers. And that significantly has a great impact on the Marine Corps.
CONAN: Michael Duffy was telling us that three officers have been...
PRICE: Administrative action has been taken against them; that's correct, Neal.
CONAN: How's - is that because they're under investigation - what do we read into that?
PRICE: Well, I think the initial - what you've got is, as soon as it appeared that there was some indication of a cover up, then the officers above those officers - the superiors in the chain of command - they lost confidence. That's an administrative term, and administratively they removed those officers from their positions of authority. The investigation was commenced and now they're going to be looking at not only in terms of the administrative side of that, but also potentially criminal charges.
And what you've got is not only the offenses that may have been committed by the individuals on the ground, but you've got things like false official statements and obstruction of justice that could lay against these higher officials back at headquarters, so to speak.
CONAN: Now, we've also been told the investigation is being conducted by NCIS, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. Is that normal?
PRICE: That would be normal. The Naval Criminal Investigative Service is the branch within the Department of the Navy that is tasked with investigating felony type offenses. And so that is the appropriate place for it to be.
CONAN: And the Marines, of course, are part of the Navy.
PRICE: Yes, sir. The Department of the Navy includes the Navy and the Marine Corps. Now, I would expect that separate from the two criminal investigations - that's into the incidents at Haditha as well as the possible cover up - that there will likely also be some administrative investigations into what took place.
What was the training? Were the people properly trained? What were the procedures, the policies? Were they paying enough attention to things like battle fatigue and battle stress and things like that? Did they have the proper mix of experience on each of these units as they're going out in order to try and prevent something like this from happening again?
CONAN: Mm-hmm. Let's bring another voice into the conversation. Joining us now is Professor Paul Camacho, Director of Special Projects at the William Joiner Center for the Study of War and Social Consequences at the University of Massachusetts at Boston; also a former Marine and a veteran of the war in Vietnam. He's with us form the studios of member station WGBH in Boston.
Professor Camacho, thanks very much for being with us.
PAUL CAMACHO: Well, it's nice to be with you.
CONAN: But certainly the occasion can't be. I mean, this is, as a Marine yourself, this has got...
CAMACHO: Serious matter.
CONAN: Yes, it's a very serious, and it calls into question all kinds of core beliefs about the corps.
CAMACHO: Yes, I would say so. But, as a military sociologist, you really look at these things in profile and landscape is a phrase I like to employ. And the profile is the micro picture of this squad/platoon that got involved in the heat of the matter and lost its composure, apparently...
CONAN: Evident, yeah.
CAMACHO: ...from the facts. But the landscape, of course, is the whole structure of the social military reality that's really the responsibility of the war planners. So I see the breakdown as really, structurally, coming from the very top of the civilian authority.
That just was concerned only with the spear or the head and had no concern with the tail. There's no peace doctrine. There's no democracy development doctrine. There's no economic development doctrine for this. And they weren't interested in it. They - the neoconservatives that are - control this administration and designed this war, weren't concerned with that. They think, apparently, that the spear is the way to win the war; but the spear opens the door, the tail wins the war.
CAMACHO: And the tail is the nation building.
CONAN: Again, you're explaining that as - what you believe is the context, but nevertheless, that's not an explanation or any kind of excuse for what may have happened in Haditha.
CAMACHO: No, it isn't; it isn't. But it does explain the situations that our fine, professional military soldiers are put into. It's amazing that there isn't a higher probability or a higher number of outcomes like this because the situation engenders it. You put people in the mix of the civilian and who did it - this was a - in Vietnam, you would have said - we'd be getting shot from the village, oh, okay so the village has some VC in it. Well, it's a village full of VC, and then it becomes a VC village. I would say that's a parallel to this in Haditha.
CONAN: Mm-hmm. Let's get some listeners involved in this conversation. Let's begin with Kim(ph). Kim in Palo Alto, California.
KIM: Yeah, good morning. You know, the first caller who called in and was very emotional about this is not the Marines, that's a typical gut reaction of the defense, armed forces with (unintelligible). There's a dozen cover ups happening right now. Because of that emotional disbelief, that happened in My Lai, in Vietnam, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo. And what's happening is we, in the U.S., have lost our moral high ground.
And now we have the United Nations and China telling us that we need to get our acts right, which is correct, we should. But, you know, having people like China telling us we need to get our acts right is because we just continue to behave as unleashed bullies in the world. And that's why people bomb us, because we just don't know how to behave.
CONAN: Well, let's get a - address that on a couple of points. And let me ask you, David Price, this is not the Marines. To my knowledge Marines have not been involved in allegations like this.
PRICE: Neal, absolutely. This is not the Marines. The Marines are the few, the proud. They're a very select, very unique group; they are very good at what they do. But, as the professor was just talking about, it does raise a question about what this administration is expecting the military to be able to do.
They cannot do everything in all places. And, candidly, when you start thinking about putting military forces on our border with Mexico, you raise the risk that similar sorts of things may happen because our armed forces are trained to break things and kill people. And that's what they should be doing, not necessarily trying to build a democracy in some other country.
CONAN: Mm-hmm. Let's talk now with - this is Chuck(ph). Chuck's calling from San Francisco.
CHUCK: Thank you very much. Yeah, I've been real disappointed, I guess, also that we haven't done better in nation building and democratic development both in Afghanistan and in Iraq. But your guest earlier said these guys might have been perhaps untrained and inexperienced individuals. And it seems to me the situation is a pretty standard situation, given the nature of the conflict over there. And if they're not trained to deal with a situation, there's something very deficient in their training, because it seems to be like a mainstay of the terrorist asymmetric warfare...
CHUCK: ...tactical arsenal.
CONAN: Yeah. Paul Camacho, trained or not, these Marines, and units like them, have been in dozens of Iraqi villages and towns dozens of times.
CAMACHO: And they've been holding up their end of the deal with remarkable professionalism. But, nevertheless, when you start thinking about forced transformation, you're talking about rifleman to diplomat. That's their phrase, that's this administration's phrase in forced transformation in a matter of blocks.
Well, that's a wonderful concept, but it requires enormous investments in human capital in the form of not only training, but also education. And the education that is required is a highly advanced liberal arts education that acknowledges nuances of culture, tradition, religion, and other sociological factors. And frankly, the neo conservatives in power have little respect or use for any of those concepts. That's the problem. They are the structural problem. Then you put these poorly trained or well trained - it doesn't make a difference, sooner or later you create a situation where the probability is high that this will happen.
PRICE: And, Neal, the other thing and following up exactly with that, the other thing is the average age in the military is relatively young. It's a young person's organization. The Marine Corps has, I believe, the youngest average age of all of the services, 18, 19 years old. And when you're putting people with that limited experience and maturity and wisdom in this type of a situation - from rifleman to diplomat as Professor Camacho was saying - you're really asking too much for what they've been prepared to do.
CONAN: That's why there are corporals and sergeants and lieutenants and captains.
PRICE: Above them. But I also understand from some of the reports that I've read that this particular unit may have had a relatively new, inexperienced group of leadership within this squad or patrol.
CONAN: All right, Chuck. Thanks very much for the call.
CHUCK: Thank you.
CONAN: Let's talk now with Jason(ph). Jason with us from Nelsonville in Ohio.
JASON: Hi, Neal, thanks for taking my call.
JASON: I'm a former Marine, I was in Desert Storm, and I hear your guests talking about things on a large scale about leadership. And I'm looking at it from the lower end, the lower enlisted end. I was a corporal in the Marine Corps. And I can easily picture what happened with these guys going into a town or a village. You probably had 18 and 19 year olds with NCOs who are maybe 25 in charge, and maybe a lieutenant maybe a couple of years out of college in charge of them. And I think there was a saying at one time that says, there's nothing more dangerous than an 18-year-old with a machine gun. And they take their cue from the people in charge, but those people in charge are not that much more experienced than they are, either in age or in actual combat experience.
And your other - one of your guests talked about the culpability of who was responsible for this. You start with the privates and you come on up. I was taught in the Marine Corps that you do not follow an unlawful order, regardless if you're a private, a corporal - I was a corporal. If somebody told me to go into a village and start shooting civilians, regardless of the situation, it was my responsibility to say no. That is not a lawful order. So the culpability is everybody who had a gun in his hand and pulled the trigger.
CAMACHO: At the immediate level, he's correct.
PRICE: Yeah, and Jason, I agree with you. This is David Price speaking. What I was talking about was generally for the investigation, you're going to start at the lower levels, because exactly what you said, that leadership and responsibility commensurate with one's position. And the higher in rank and position someone is, the more responsible they are. But if you're looking to get evidence against that more culpable person, then you generally will start at the lower level to get that information.
CONAN: How easy is - or difficult is it going to be to get Marines to testify against other Marines?
PRICE: Well, eventually Neal, it won't be significantly different than any sort of a situation where you have a large group of individuals, because what will happen is initially there may be sort of a band of brotherhood; they're not going to want to talk against each other and incriminate someone. But eventually they will be facing their own responsibility, and particularly when their lawyers get involved. What we're trying to do is protect our client.
And even if they all essentially refuse to talk, well, then the government can give them testimonial grants of immunity and require them to testify against the other individuals. It's a very complex procedure to go through. The government doesn't like to do it, because, essentially, they have to take all the evidence they currently have in a box, put it aside in order to show that they're not using anything from the grant of immunity. But it eventually will come out and most of the individuals will be talking at some point.
CONAN: Jason, thanks very much.
JASON: Thank you, Neal.
CONAN: We're talking about what happened in Haditha, at least what we know about it. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
And I'm sorry, were you trying to get in, Paul?
CAMACHO: Yeah, I was going to say, you know, there's real comparison you could make with an incident that occurred in Fallujah in November. From - again, based on just the knowledge we hear from the press - the Marines were going through rooms in a mosque that was being used by insurgents. They came upon a wounded fellow that - a number of wounded guys. One of them was on his stomach, he turned around, whether he turned around too quick, too slow, too fast, forget it. The guy - he was shot. Now, see, that's in the heat of the situation immediately and maybe it was the wrong decision but it was the safe one and, in my opinion, the only one to make. And later the other fellows were allowed to surrender; nobody shot them.
This is much more malicious and the scenario about the car is somewhat understandable, they just split. Now, were they responsible for the bomb? You're not thinking fast enough, that's a quick decision. But then, immediately after that, the time is ticking by and you have time to regain your composure. And it is - my understanding is a matter of hours went by where these guys are going through houses. Are they getting mad? Are they - they didn't regain their composure; they lost it. And that's if, in fact, the story is correct as been revealed in the media, and that's where the real problem is. The acts are based on, you know, violations of UCMJ, violations of conduct, and a violation of the Marine Corps.
CONAN: UCMJ, the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Anyway, we're going to have to take a short break and we'll continue this conversation when we come back.
Also, our Political Junkie joins us for his weekly visit - Ken Rudin. If you're like to join that conversation, send us an e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org. This is NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
CONAN: But we want to continue our conversation on the investigations into what happened in Haditha last November and what may have happened afterwards, if, as alleged, the incident was covered up. Our guests are Paul Camacho, who's a professor and Director for Special Projects at the William Joiner Center for the Study of War and Social Consequence at the University of Massachusetts, Boston; and David Price, a retired Navy JAG lawyer who's currently with the law firm of McCormack & Associates. I should also mention Paul Camacho, a former Marine. Let's get another caller on the line and this is Ahmed(ph). Ahmed calling from San Diego.
AHMED: Hi, this is Ahmed, I'm from San Diego. I'm a sailor - a junior enlisted sailor in the Navy.
AHMED: And the thing is you are fighting against an enemy who's not following the laws of combat, so no way are we going to - well, first of all, are we going to take orders from a senior officers and enlisted people. And when you go to war, no one's going to tell us, when the IDs are in front of us or anything; so how are we supposed to fight? And when we go through situations like this, all of a sudden laws of war come into the picture, so I don't understand the whole scenario. On the one side, we are supposed to follow the laws of war and those guys are just blowing us up here and there. So that's the only thing I have to say. Thank you.
CONAN: Okay, Ahmed. Thanks for the call. I think that's also on two levels. First of all, Paul Camacho - a Marine who served in Vietnam - an analogous - obviously a lot of situations are very different, but again, people who are not always in uniform.
CAMACHO: The, it's part of the asymmetrical war. Nobody can take on the United States military directly. That's - so the only way is to take it on through an insurgency developing a guerilla movement and/or terrorism. Thus we - the nature of war has changed. It's really not this direct confrontation, it's not all spear. It's more tail than spear, and that, I think, is really the missed point of this administration; that you just can't build democracy at the point of a gun. You can throw bullets at this all day; it's not going to win the day. It's not going to win.
The military is the dependent variable to the civilian administration. That sector, the spear sector or the head, already did its job when they took Baghdad. There was no game plan for the handover.
Now, you're asking spears, the spearmen, to engage in tail work and nation building. And, you know, a lot of the conservative veteran e-mail structures and networks talk about all this great tail work, guys are building schools, guys are doing little small businesses, they're helping individual Iraqis build things. That's great. But all that inductively doesn't come out to a policy. It doesn't make a policy. It's very problematic.
And you can't point out all these good individual things and say, but don't those add up to something? No, they don't. Unfortunately, they don't add up to a coherent policy, because coherent policy is developed deductively down, not inductively by feeling your way around. And that's unfortunately what's going on. And it's the military that's doing it. And it should be a lot of other people that's doing it.
But it's the unilateral approach of this administration. So you create structural entities, you create environments where a tragedy of Haditha can happen.
CONAN: David Price, there's another question also about the rules of war. Are they suspended when your enemy doesn't obey them?
PRICE: Well, you know, Neal, we should always be above what our enemies do. If they are down in he gutter, we should be above it. That's what makes us Americans, that's what we want to be.
Following up with what Professor Camacho had indicated right before our last break - when you look at the sequence of events in Haditha, you've got a difference, a distinction, between what you may look at, in terms of criminality with regard to the shooting of the occupants of the taxi. If they arrived shortly after the blast, clearly that would be much more of a quick call that you have to make, not knowing whether they participated. On the other hand, if you're talking about shooting women and children and babies in a room, that clearly is not going to meet any definition of acceptable conduct.
So that goes back to what Ahmed was asking, in, you know, how are our troops supposed to be to know how to respond? And, again, you have to look at the factual distinction between what is taking place, who the individuals are. It's not that women and children are incapable of engaging them in hostile acts, but you can clearly distinguish between a taxi that's speeding up right at the scene of an explosion with four males in it. That is much more likely to have been a combat situation than after, when, according to the reports, these Marines went into the buildings and they found the women and the children huddling, begging for their lives. You don't need any special training to know those are not the people that you shoot.
CONAN: You've described the process of the investigations for this, and we do understand this is not going to be cleared up tomorrow, and it's not going to be - it's going to take some time. I did want to ask, now, Congress wants to investigate. How does that muddy that waters?
PRICE: I don't know if it will muddy the waters, Neal. The other thing to understand is that after NCIS - the Naval Criminal Investigative Service - finishes their investigation, they'll provide a report to the convening authority. That's the general or the colonel in charge of those individuals. And that individual will then make a decision, that colonel, whether to send certain charges against certain individuals to different forums for resolution.
And, again, not everyone involved necessarily is going to face the exact same charges. So there will be another investigation called an Article 32 investigation, and that's the military's equivalent of a grand jury. The difference being is that the service member will be represented by an attorney. It's an open hearing, except if there are national security issues it'd have to be a closed hearing. They have an opportunity to view all the evidence that the government is going to use against them. And, at the end of that investigation, the investigating officer will file a report to the convening authority who sent the charges to the Article 32 investigation. That officer will then make a decision whether to go higher or to resolve it at the level that that colonel, for example, might be able to resolve.
For misdemeanor or lower level offenses, the colonel will take care of it. If they believe they are more serious charges, then the colonel would forward it to a general, a general in command, who then can refer the charges to a general court marital, which is the military's equivalent of the felony trial, and for which a punishment to include the death penalty could be imposed.
CONAN: David Price, thanks very much for being with us today. We appreciate your time.
PRICE: Thank you, Neal.
CONAN: David Price, a retired Navy JAG lawyer, now with the law firm of McCormack and Associates. Paul Camacho, there in Boston, thank you, as well.
CAMACHO: Thank you.
CONAN: Paul Camacho, a professor now of Special Projects at William Joiner Center for the Study of War and Social Consequence at the University of Massachusetts, Boston; with us today from the studios of WGBH.