“Trust in my judgment of the book. Besides, you’re gonna hang no matter what it says in there, ’cause I am the law, and the law is the handmaiden of justice. Get a rope.
-Judge Roy Bean
Update: Check out former SF Operator Uncle Jimbo’s overview of Haditha…
Today the NYT has an article about Haditha. Here’s the lede:
Last December, when the Marine Corps charged four infantrymen with killing Iraqi civilians in Haditha, Iraq, in 2005, the allegation was as dark as it was devastating: after a roadside bomb had killed their buddy, a group of marines rampaged through nearby homes, massacring 24 innocent people.
In Iraq and in the United States, the killings were viewed as cold-blooded vengeance. After a perfunctory military investigation, Haditha was brushed aside, but once the details were disclosed, the killings became an ugly symbol of a difficult, demoralizing war. After a fuller investigation, the Marines promised to punish the guilty.
I’d laugh if I wasn’t so disgusted.Here’s the deal. If – as the New York Times appears to do – you believe in the process of law, you don’t get to make determinations like those in these paragraphs until the process has worked its way along and reached a conclusion.
You can argue – as many did during Jim Crow – that the process is deeply flawed, and point out the flaws, as many did. Here’s the best the Times can do:
Experts on military law said the difficulty in prosecuting the marines for murder is understandable, given that action taken in combat is often given immunity under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
Something bad clearly happened at Haditha. Was it a crime? I doubt that we’ll ever know, and the sad truth is that this – like the millions of other cases of civilian death in wartime – will rest primarily on the consciences of the young men who pulled the triggers.
But ask yourself this – do they deserve this?
“We can’t say those guys didn’t commit a crime,” said Michael F. Noone Jr., a retired Air Force lawyer and law professor at Catholic University of America. “We can only say that after an investigation, there was not sufficient evidence to prosecute.”
The Times actually has some sensible quotes, which it buries mid-article:
“It certainly erodes that sense that what they did was wrong,” Elizabeth L. Hillman, a legal historian who teaches military law at Rutgers University School of Law at Camden, said of the outcomes so far. “When the story broke, it seemed like we understood what happened; there didn’t seem to be much doubt. But we didn’t know.”
It appears that the Times, facing the fact that they don’t know what really happened at Haditha has made a simple decision. The Marines must hang, no matter what it says in the book.
The article was by Paul Von Zielbauer; there’s a list of his stories here. Note the one that’s titled “Investigator Urges Dismissal Of Charges Against Marine” (behind the paywall).
The Times’ Public editor can be emailed here, I’d encourage it.