Information Warfare: The Lie Mutually Agreed Upon

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p> July 16, 2007: Yet another Marine has won a court victory in the investigation of the battle at Haditha - adding more doubts to the claims of a massacre. In this case, the officer conducting an Article 32 hearing (equivalent to a grand jury hearing in civilian courts) has ruled that charges should be dropped. In essence, the claims of a massacre at Haditha are now looking false. That said, al Qaeda, through some adept media manipulation, has still won a victory.

It all began in 2005, when the  ambush of Marines led to a battle in which eight terrorists and a number of civilians were killed. That said, the aftermath of the incident was mishandled, giving a reporter and a human-rights group enough room to make claims of a massacre. The initial Haditha investigations uncovered some apparent discrepancies in the Marines' stories, and a criminal investigation by NCIS was launched. NCIS filed criminal charges, and internal investigations showed that officers failed to ask the right questions. It was, in essence, a more refined version of the Palestinian claims after the battle of Jenin in 2002, in which 52 people, a majority of them combatants, were killed.

Al Qaeda 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 - and American and Israeli troops tend to be among the best in the world on a soldier-for-soldier basis. The terrorists needed to try a different approach. What they came up with was media manipulation, where lies and deceptions would  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. 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).

In the case of Haditha, the terrorists' media strategy worked and caused a lot of problems. An anti-war congressman claimed that a cover-up of cold-blooded murder by the Marines occurred. There was a controversy that has gone on for a number of months. And al Qaeda will come away with articles about massacres that never happened. It is a partial media victory for the terrorists - mostly because the lies have been somewhat unraveled, but the truth will not get the same airplay as the false claims.

That said, a partial victory is still a victory, and it will have a price that is yet to be determined. The new recruits will give them a larger talent pool - and that means they may find terrorists who can infiltrate into the West and carry out attacks like those of 9/11 and the London attacks of 2005. The ammo given to the anti-war movement will make it harder to sustain military operations against terrorists - and the investigations will have ripple effects around the military. As a result, Al-Qaeda may have more secure safe havens in the future.

All is not lost for the U.S. military. On the one hand, future claims of massacres and cover-ups will be somewhat harder to believe, since the military can point to its investigations of Haditha. The other benefit will be the lessons learned from this controversy - the military will apply them in the future, making it harder for terrorists and other opponents to succeed in the media after future battles. - Harold C. Hutchison (haroldc.hutchison@gmail.com)

 

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