Haditha Was Exploited
by BRUCE KESLER
January 27, 2012
The killings at Haditha in November 2005 were blown up by opponents of the US in Iraq into an indictment of the US and its troops. This onslaught sapped the will of many Americans. The following rules of engagement and the drawn out prosecution of the Marines involved have undermined the morale and endangered the lives of our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Take the premise that at Haditha both the Marines and those who were killed in houses 1 and 2 were correct in their own view. The long term losers are both US troops and noncombatants.
Both Marines and US troops generally are at increased risk due to perhaps understandable rules of engagement that in practice are often excessive and dangerous. Noncombatants are at increased risk of oppression, or more impersonal death from US technology, in countries where thuggish foes seek domination and can serve as refuges for further attacks on the West.
Haditha was a decidedly treacherous town overrun with Al Qaeda led foes who blew up Marines in the convoy and fired on the survivors from the nearby houses. What else could the Marines do but attack and eliminate the threat from the houses? Walking in, exposing themself to harm, would have been suicidal. Those inside lived in fear of the insurgents, who had already executed the local police force, and were aware that an IED was to be exploded. What else could they do but huddle inside? Warning the Marines beforehand would have exposed themselves to extermination. Walking outside, hands up, after the attack on the Marines, may have been a good move, but they knew gunmen were nearby and they didn’t want to be in the middle of a shootout.
It all starts with the US undermanning its armed forces and, in any event, sending too few troops to clear and hold or to stay living among the people to create security. This is the root and unpardonable error in the US conduct of Iraq and Afghanistan. The US eliminated immediate strategic threats. But, due to inadequate forces the US has spent hundreds of billions of dollars and thousands of our finest young’s lives to be mired in at best tenuous nation-building and more likely unstable and hostile countries.
Out of this, the will among Americans to armed interventions abroad has waned. Our state and nonstate foes have been emboldened by US weakening of resolve and by US divisions between those who would turn away from, deny or be feckless about real dangers and those who realize and argue for continued and determined US focus upon and confrontation with avowed and deadly enemies.
Major Jeffrey Dinsmore, the intelligence officer for the Marines at Haditha, has worked diligently to support the defense of the Marines persecuted. Today he wrote "Final Words From A Haditha Marine". He is critical of Frank Wuterich for taking the plea deal that ended the court martial.
For six years, the officers and men of 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines firmly believed that no unlawful action took place on November 19th. We believed this based on the available intelligence before, during, and after November 19th, based on the enemy's stated objective of a propaganda victory that would erode our combat effectiveness, and based on our detailed knowledge of the context of November 19th's day-long, high-intensity combat. We accepted challenges to our integrity, accusations of a unit cover-up, and institutional condemnation by our Corps. Men like LtCol Chessani and 1stLt Grayson refused numerous plea offers from the government, including letters of reprimand with no punishment whatsoever. With SSgt Wuterich's admission of guilt, however, we must accept that a cover-up took place, even if unwittingly. With his admission of guilt, we must accept that some unlawful action was committed by a member of SSgt Wuterich's squad.
Today the judge handed down the maximum possible sentence. While a portion of that sentence was restricted by the terms of the plea agreement, it is right and just that Frank Wuterich no longer be a Staff Non-commissioned Officer in the Marine Corps. I wish Frank the best in his future endeavors, and empathize with his difficult personal decision to accept responsibility for the unlawful actions committed by one or more members of his squad. But any Marine who is guilty of negligence and dereliction with results on the scale of November 19th, 2005 cannot lead Marines. Ever again.
Dinsmore’s view is certainly in line with the hoped for stand for Marine Corps honor that many hoped Wuterich would take to the bell. However, his need to support and care for his three young daughters apparently weighed in heavily. This epitomizes the tension that our troops live under between duty and family, sacrifices too little appreciated by most Americans and looked down upon by our internal enemies from the left.
Dinsmore continues with the central point of what the defense of the Haditha Marines has meant:
Unfortunately, the long Haditha case, and its result, have awarded the enemy one of their greatest campaign victories. The country's and Corps' leadership that expressed outrage at the "Haditha Massacre" have been vindicated. The "rush to judgment" has been proven correct. Al Qaeda in Iraq achieved their stated objective of eroding our will to fight. They successfully used the American media to infiltrate American public opinion, create outrage that reached the halls of Congress, erode our leadership's resolve, and change the way we fight. Al Qaeda effected more changes in our combat training and Rules of Engagement than if they had been on the staff at Marine Corps Combat Development Command. Sadly, they may have also produced young warfighters who hesitate at the point of decision, for fear their leadership will immediately condemn their actions in the public square.
Despite this result, I know that you who have supported these Marines will continue to do so. As we continue to send young Marines to the battlefield and expect increasingly superhuman powers of restraint and judgment, it is more critical than ever that they have vigilant defenders here at home.
The weakened US position has all been made worse by the rush to the exits prematurely and by, instead of rebuilding our forces, cutting them drastically in order to fund reckless domestic spending.
Sure, it wasn’t all Haditha. But it stands as a key and real demonstration of what happens with too few troops and of the lethal recriminations encouraged by the left against US forces as the result.
Democrats and Republicans squandered the so-called “peace dividend” from the demise of the Soviet Union, cut our forces dramatically, then went to war in Iraq largely keeping the numbers inadequate. Today, Democrats are doing the same self-disarmament. Although Republicans disagree and promise to do better, it hasn’t been a main focus. There’s no doubt the economy would be better off without the shackles placed upon it by Democrats, and that Republicans must drive that home in this election year. But, at the same time Republican leadership, for our future and that of countless millions around the world, must increase the emphasis upon national defense, the prime federal requirement.
If we are to have Marines worthy of us, we must have Americans worthy of Marines.
FamilySecurityMatters.org Contributing Editor Bruce Kesler served in USMC Intelligence in Vietnam and was a researcher at the Foreign Policy Research Institute. He worked as a financial and business operations exec for Fortune 100 and small companies, and for the past two decades as an independent certified health and benefits consultant and broker. His columns have appeared in many major newspapers and also online. He currently blogs at Maggie’s Farm.
Bruce Kesler served in USMC Intelligence in Vietnam and was a researcher at the Foreign Policy Research Institute. He worked as a financial and business operations exec for Fortune 100 and small companies, and for the past two decades as an independent certified health and benefits consultant and broker. His columns have appeared in many major newspapers. He currently blogs at Maggie's Farm.