Tuesday, November 27, 2007

September 16 incident: Another Haditha?

The September 16 incident at Nisoor Square, in which Blackwater security men were engaged in a firefight that left a reported 17 people dead, bears striking resemblance to an incident involving the US Marines in 2005. In that case, Marines were charged with the murder of innocent civilians in Haditha, Iraq, raked over the coals in the press and even accused by congressmen of being murderers, only to be found innocent after a real investigation took place.

The November 2007 issue of the US Naval Institute's Proceedings magazine discusses the Haditha case, and prompts this blogger to place the September 16 incident in context with quotations from the article about Haditha:

Awful reality: "Casualties of War"
  • "The 2005 incident occurred after a devastating roadside bomb attack. . ."

  • ". . . shot several Iraqi men who approached their position after the explosion."

  • ". . . assaulted suspected insurgent positions in a nearby built-up area. They killed more civilians in house-to-house clearing operations."

  • ". . . commanders, well trained in the law of war, regarded these deaths as collateral to legitimate combat action."

  • "There was no cover-up."

"War is Complicated"

  • "Combat leaders today . . . face complex arrays of political, social, legal, and military problems that are unprecedented. . ."

  • "In some cases it is simply impossible to resolve these complexities in the glare of combat, particularly when a clever, ruthless enemy takes advantage of local American and international sensitivities."

  • "The legal consequences of difficult decisions in combat are simply too stark."

  • "A young person . . . suddenly faces an instantaneous decision in close combat - and it may cost him his life. Unless he makes a decision that is exactly correct, he might be killed, or he could face murder charges for killing somebody else."

  • "It is unrealistic to suppose that even well-trained young people will choose correctly every time in such complex circumstances. This is not what we have expected of even our best troops in the past."

"Fine Lines amid Violence"

  • ". . .the charged . . . admit killing civilians but claim the deaths occurred while they acted in accordance with the rules of engagement."

  • ". . . dropped all charges . . ."

  • ". . . recommended that charges be dropped . . ."

  • ". . . one . . . charged with murder. . . . dropped the charges in this case as well."

  • ". . . a third hearing officer has recommended that charges be dropped . . ."

  • ". . . charges were dropped in one other cases . . . in return for testimony, while at least some immunity deals were struck with other personnel before any charges were brought."

  • ". . .disparate results were, and probably will be, inevitable . . . along with political and media pressures. but this is not the way to fairly dispense justice . . ."

"Fairness is Possible"
  • "The overlapping . . . investigations and inconsistent outcomes are confusing, bad for morale, and make our judicial system appear capricious - or just plain off the rails. Civilian losses occur with more frequency as a result of air attack, but pilots and their commanders are rarely, if ever, accused of murder for mistakes in targeting."

  • "As an alternative to all-out prosecutions, why not develop procedures whereby troops involved in potentially serious law of war violations would have their cases reviewed under the equivalent of a good-faith exception to courts-martial? This concept applies in cases of police misconduct that are technical, but not malicious."

  • "But when it appears that troops may have overreacted, acted mistakenly, or acted under extreme duress without obvious criminal intent, commanders -with legal guidance - could address the matter non-judicially or administratively."


SteveO said...

Standish, enjoy your blog. Which article in the November issue of Proceedings included these quotes? I have an online subscription but can't identify the source. Perhaps the print version includes text not part of the digital version.

Standish said...

Gotta check on that for you, steveo. A reader sent it in from the print edition, and Proceedings puts little of its content online.