More thoughts on the incident at Haditha and the rush to judgment by the media to cast guilt upon innocent Marines. Thad Coakley a former Marine Corps judge advocate and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, including a tour with an infantry battalion in the Hit-Haditha Corridor of al-Anbar Province during which he was awarded the Combat Action Ribbon, has written "Another perspective on Haditha" at the North County Times. (Hattip to FBL)
Without knowing all that is to be presented by both the prosecution and the defense at the trials, a few conclusions and lessons are apparent from Haditha's aftermath:
Haditha is not a case of Marines carrying out purposeful murder by summary execution. The oft-made comparison between Haditha and My Lai is categorically unsupportable except by those who ignore the differences in mission, context, numbers, and manner of deaths in their zeal to define an atrocity in support of their views. The courts-martial will conclude whether the two Marine shooters made unreasonable judgments in responding to an initial attack, identifying hostile actors, and using appropriate force in self-defense.
Haditha is not an unveiling of widespread troop behavior or of any overall military policy or training purposefully dismissive of civilians. Considering the multitude of instantaneous life-and-death decisions made in Iraq, the U.S. military has exercised remarkable restraint and concern for the civilian populace ---- a key component of mission accomplishment in a counterinsurgency campaign.
The Washington Post's recent statistic ---- of all the allegations of service members related to Iraqi civilian deaths, only 69 have been charged with, and only 22 convicted, of murder, negligent homicide or voluntary manslaughter ---- reflects the American forces' commitment and level of professionalism in behavior, training and operation. Adjudicated misconduct is outside the norm and has been punished accordingly.
Haditha is not a debate platform for rashly criticizing the rules of engagement and what those rules "could" or "should" have been. The self-defense ROE in effect at the time are the authorities under which the two squad members' use of force will be evaluated. Because these ROE require judgment calls, they are subjectively applied. Only facts known to a Marine when he makes the decision to engage can be considered; those reviewing his actions must see the scene through his eyes at the time.
Even if a Marine was later shown to be mistaken, but reasonably perceived and engaged a hostile threat, his use of force is authorized under the ROE. This subjectivity inures to the benefit of the Marine and has already resulted in the dismissal of charges against Lance Cpl. Justin Sharratt, another Haditha squad member.