In the last of the U.S. Marine Corps Article 32 hearings on the Haditha
incident, claims of a massacre were dealt a fatal blow. How? Because the
hearing suggested that murder charges against the squad leader be dropped. In
essence, the deaths of civilians at Haditha were ruled a tragic accident that
will be dealt with through the military justice system via trial on negligent
homicide charges, rather than trying the squad leader of the marines as being
criminally liable for those deaths.
The terrorists at Haditha faced the same problem
that the Palestinian terrorists at Jenin faced in 2002. They have been unable
to win in a straight fight with troops that are highly trained and
motivated. American and Israeli troops
tend to be among the best in the world on a soldier-for-soldier basis. The
terrorists needed a different approach. That approach was to try to make the
Americans (or Israelis, as the case could be) look bad while winning.
Sometimes, this involves exacting a high price on the attacking force in terms
of casualties, but this is difficult against much better troops. More often, it
involves creating the impression that the American or Israeli troops are
indiscriminate killers, who routinely slaughter civilians. This would boost
both recruiting (to avenge a massacre by the Americans/Israelis) and it would
also get media play, undercutting the American war effort (by giving opponents
of the global war on terror ammunition to demand a withdrawal).
The recommendation for negligent homicide charges
is the ultimate result of a mishandled aftermath in which the events were not
accurately reported. That meant that when claims of a massacre were made,
discrepancies were found in the reports, leading to a further investigation.
Politicians and anti-war activists claimed a massacre and cover-up had
occurred. They were banking on a court-marital at the very least. Well, they
will get the court-martial, but the charges will not be murder. What this means
is that the entire trial will not give them ammo to slam the troops.
Instead of widespread coverage where Marines are
accused of murder, the issue at the trial will be just how much care needs to
be taken in combat. What coverage there is of this trial will be outlining
those issues - and providing those who follow it with an understanding of what
troops in combat go through, as well as the training they receive, particularly
with regards to trying to avoid civilian casualties.
In this case, the media manipulation was helped out
through the fact that the aftermath was mishandled - and so, there will still
be claims of a cover-up. And the terrorists have not emerged empty-handed. The
claims of the massacre were trumpeted, and that will aid recruiting for a
while. Some foreign press outlets still refers to Haditha as a massacre, which
will still lessen the sting of the dismissals. As such, a larger talent pool
for future attacks is likely.
However, the U.S. military will be learning its
lessons from this media battle - as well as the events of the incident at
Haditha. Lessons learned will be passed throughout the military, and the
training will be improved if shortcomings are discovered. That will make it
much harder for future phony claims of massacres to stick. In essence, one can
really only try to exploit an incident like this once - and the fact that this
media offensive has largely failed will make it harder to use it in the future.
Meanwhile, the military justice system will determine whether the charges can
be proven. - Harold C. Hutchison (firstname.lastname@example.org)