The Ten Lessons of the Haditha Massacre
Twenty-four unarmed Iraqis, ranging in age from an infant to an elderly man in a wheelchair, were rounded up and shot in the face and chest at point blank range by three or four members of Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, after their convoy was hit by a roadside bomb, killing Miguel Terrazas, a 20-year-old lance corporal. The Marines' actions, although reported to higher ups, were not investigated.
But unlike some other societies, we are able to recognize our occasional barbarity, as painful as that can be, and we have a free press (in this case Time magazine) to let us know when things go awry.
The cardinal rule of counterinsurgency warfare is to separate enemy combatants from the general population, but it seems clear that American troops have come to see Iraqis themselves as the enemy and a consequence is a predictable uptick in brutality that can lead to incidents like the Haditha massacre.
And for every Iraqi who is killed, justifiably or not, the American mission is further set back.
Roughly 40 percent of the nearly 2,500 American troops killed and 17,000 wounded are Marines, who at no time have comprised more than 25 percent of the total number of American troops.
Additionally, the Marines are being asked to fight a kind of war -- involving insurgents and urban combat -- that was never intended to be their primary mission.
President Bush and his neocon cabal made the chances of a Haditha massacre occuring greater by deliberately blurring the rules of conduct. Under the Bush calculus, torture is officially sanctioned and the Geneva Convention is treated with disdain.
Marines responded to the insurgency by abandoning their make-nice strategy in Haditha. They isolated the city and blew up most of its bridges. They were driven out of Haditha, but later retook it. Haditha's only hospital was destroyed in the fighting. Some 20 Marines have been killed in and near the city in insurgent attacks primarily launched from mosques, including a Marine whose disemboweling was videotaped. Copies of the tape can be bought at Haditha's central market.
As a result of the occupation, Haditha is in worse shape today than it was when Saddam Hussein was still in power.
The invasion went like clockwork. Mission Accomplished! But what has happened since has been an unrelenting nightmare in large part because the White House and Pentagon spent 59 minutes planning the war and 1 minute, if that, on planning the occupation. There is no more damning indictment of Bush's lack of leadership -- as president and commander in chief -- than the mess he has made in Iraq. He has failed America and he has failed our troops.
Bush has all but said that he will dump that mess on the next president, and it is an open secret that the administration's top priority is not to try to redeem its failed Iraq policy, let alone cobble together an exit strategy, but to retain power in Congress. Yet again, politics trumps policy.
Imposing democratic values at point of gun on a society where many people devalue human life and covet martyrdom was going to be problematic, so there is a hollowness to Iraqi leaders' condemnations of the Haditha massacre.
These leaders are complicitous in the massacre. They are good at nothing except bickering. They still have not been able to form a government with teeth. They have been incapable of pushing back against the orgy of sectarian violence that has overrun the country.
Times like these demand belt tightening, but Americans have been urged to spend and there have been tax cuts -- at least for the wealthy -- despite a war costing hundreds of billions of dollars that is feeding an enormous budget deficit that future generations will have to pay for.
Following the Haditha massacre, a Marine spokesman said that 15 Iraqis had been killed in the roadside bombing and that the others who died were insurgents caught up in a subsequent firefight. There was no significant challenge to that account within the military until Time magazine broke the story.
The White House claims that even the most senior military ranks will not be protected in the Haditha investigation, but it is difficult to take that assertion seriously when the president and his own advisors refuse to be accountable themselves.
The triumphalism and "baby killer" rhetoric of some of its members concerning the war in general and Haditha massacre in particular is deeply offensive. The war may be wrong, but blaming the kids sent to fight it is obscene.
But neither will I waver in my support of the men and women who are asked to fight the war.