Tuesday, January 8, 2008

"War is Hard Enough Without Worrying About Being Held Accountable When You Slaughter Civilians"

So USMC Staff Sargeant Frank Wuterich had his charges reduced from murder to voluntary manslaughter this week, after leading three other US Marines in the massacre of 24 Iraqi civilians at Haditha, Iraq in 2005.

He doesn’t even deny it. But the military court that has investigated the killings has determined that they don’t amount to murder, because they were carried out “in the heat of passion.”

Well, given that this was not a premeditated massacre but a situation in which a small group of Marines followed their leader on a rampage after their comrade was killed by an IED, there may be something to be said for this verdict.

However, I would have liked to see Wuterich get the murder charge anyway, because he is completely remorseless about the incident. In an interview on 60 Minutes last year, Wuterich told the world he’d done nothing wrong – in other words, he actually believes with hindsight that the rules of engagement in a counterinsurgency operation include barging into civilian homes with guns blazing and shooting until all inside are dead. If only because he has had the gall to behave publicly as if this is / should be standard operating procedure for the US military, the military should have made a prime example of him.

Retired Major General Walter Hoffman, Former Army Judge Advocate General, disagrees with me. He discussed the decision on the McNeil News Hour, and put it in these words:

“War is difficult enough without having to look over your shoulder to see if someone is going to file charges against you for making an error, when people around you are dying, and bullets are flying in the air, and explosions are going off.”

No sir. War is difficult enough without wondering whether anyone is looking over your commander’s shoulder, expecting you to expect him to expect you to behave like a warrior, instead of behaving like a berserker.

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