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Haditha Marines exonerated

UPDATE:I would like to add that I don't believe a crime was committed at Haditha, that doesn't mean I believe the best judgment was exercised.

I've been doing a bit of interesting reading, specifically the Investigating Officer's Report for Lcpl Tatum who was one of those charged with murder in the deaths of Iraqi civilians in two houses in Haditha.

Many have sounded off about this, Rep. Murtha went so far as to say these Marines had killed in cold blood. How actions in response to a fatal IED attack could occur in cold blood I will leave to the lummox to explain. The report has testimony from those involved both US and Iraqi, and this is the conclusion the investigating officer came to.

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I will write an in depth look at this tragedy over the weekend, but here is the short, sad truth. An IED went off killing one Marine and wounding others. Upon dismounting the Marines came under fire and the LT leading the patrol identified the house the fire came from and ordered SSG Wuterich to consider it hostile and to clear it. This is extremely important as this designation means they do not have to make positive ID of targets prior to engaging them. This may sound strange but consider this, if there are hostiles inside they have the option to simply flatten the building with a 2,000 lb bomb. Instead they place themselves in jeopardy and assault the first building directly. Upon entry they shot adults they immediately encountered, then they came to a closed door. They heard a sound consistent with an AK-47 being charged and then threw grenades into the room, after those exploded they entered the room and engaged targets inside. This was all in accordance with the Rules of Engagement for clearing a building designated as hostile.

At this point SSG Wuterich saw someone flee the rear door and head toward a second house. He directed his team to follow and clear this house as well. This building becomes an extension of the first as they were continuing the same mission. Upon entering the second house they threw a grenade into the first room and then began clearing additional rooms. Lcpl Mendoza states that he found a room with women and kids in it and told Lcpl Tatum this. Tatum disputes this and says that he was clearing one of two back rooms when he heard shooting from the other. He moved there and saw SSG Wuterich engaging targets in the back corner so he joined him in firing.

One of the legal questions was whether Lcpl Tatum had an obligation to identify specific threats before firing into the room, and the answer is no. First of all in a hostile building he already had authority to throw a grenade in a room prior to entering. I am unaware of any grenades able to distinguish between hostiles and civilians in a room, so there was no requirement to identify targets. In addition since SSG Wuterich was already engaging the room, he can reasonably assume that there was cause to fire on the room.

While running through this scenario take into account they had just been ambushed and had one dead, then once the first round is fired there is smoke and noise and chaos, then start throwing grenades and you cannot expect anyone to be able to identify targets with any degree of certainty. That is why you designate a building as hostile. You recognize that it is a threat, and you use appropriate tactics to clear it. This is done to minimize the danger to your own troops. Sadly this means that being in that building is a very unlucky thing.

If the Marines took fire from that building and the gunmen fled out the back, then those gunmen bear primary responsibility for the deaths of those civilians. If there were no gunmen in the building, the Marines who assaulted them truly believed there were, and they had been ordered by competent authority to consider them hostile and to clear them. In that case the Marines are responsible for the deaths and a horrible tragedy occurred. In either case no crime was committed by the Marines in the assaults.

More on Haditha:

What makes a shooting a massacre

Good men pushed too far?

Waiting for Haditha by Grim

Military Justice: A Brief Primer by Greyhawk

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