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Acquittal of Another Haditha Marine Shows Overzealous Intent of Murtha and Military ProsecutorsTim King Salem-News.com
Is John Murtha trapped in a time warp?
(SALEM, Ore.) - We sure have come a long way since the dark days of the Vietnam War, or have we? Many blame the current administration for what is wrong with our nation today; the crumbling economy, thousands of war dead and mounting tens of thousands of injured, and one of the biggest criticisms is that we as a nation, failed to learn the lessons gained during that bitter war in SE Asia waged from '64 to '75.
The even bigger truth, may be that while we did not learn many lessons from that war, we also have failed to recognize the vast and stark differences between the people who fought in Vietnam and today's American combat forces.
As we learn in the case of U.S. Congressman John Murtha and Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Chessani, a Marine officer acquitted this week of charges relating to a battle in Haditha, Iraq between U.S. Marines and insurgents November 19th 2005, the less-than-great aspects of Vietnam era thinking are almost poison in today's world.
It is hard to understand why a former Marine and Purple Heart wearing combat vet like Murtha would choose to lead the charge against fellow Marines in Iraq on war crimes, but that has been going on for some time. It is his job as a Congressman to uphold the law, but a review of this case can lead to a conclusion that the Marines are the medium and Murtha's real objections are against George W. Bush. Once again Marines, even Marine officers, are not immune from the politics of a system that relies on them greatly to serve their nation in combat, and then cuts them to the ground in an instant over weak evidence that should have received far more consideration.
To begin with, Murtha voted for the resolution on October 10th 2002 that authorized the use of force against Iraq. That means John Murtha has plenty of blood on his own hands.
It is a popular theory that House Democrats are not supporting an Impeachment effort against Bush led by Dennis Kucinich, because they are simply too closely tied to Bush's team and his early ambitions to be a "war president." Murtha wears that responsibility too.
This week, when a U.S. military court judge threw out the charges against the officer whose Marines were caught in a bloody firefight with insurgents in 2005 in Haditha, Iraq, it demonstrated that Murtha's drive to investigate these Marines and destroy their careers in the process, may have been overzealous in every respect.
That decision to drop the charges against Chessani, came from military judge, Colonel Steven Folsom. Jeffrey Chessani was defended by attorneys from the Thomas More Law Center who said their client faced unlawful command influence. They confirmed that an "investigator" in the case also met dozens of times with commanders who were steering and deciding the course of the prosecution.
Colonel Folsom's ruling this week dismissed the charges without prejudice. That means prosecutors could restart the case. Associated Press reports however, indicate that the Marine Forces Central Command won't be involved if that happens.
After being presented with evidence, the judge in the case concluded that two generals who controlled Chessani's case were influenced by a Marine lawyer named Colonel John Ewers, who was an investigator assigned to the case. Ewers attended at least 25 closed-session meetings that were held to discuss Chessani's case.
Charges were launched against the officer and seven other Marines after Murtha, a Democratic Congressman from Pennsylvania, publicly accused service members of being murderers.
Murtha responded after a magazine article that was fairly indicting of the Marines, saying "It's much worse than reported in Time magazine. There was no fire fight. There was no IED that killed these innocent people. Our troops overreacted because of the pressure on them and they killed innocent civilians in cold blood. And that's what the report is going to tell."
In a press release issued in May, Murtha said, "I am a Vietnam combat veteran. I understand full well the type of situation those Marines were in."
That seems very assumptive. As much as I love and respect my friends and countrymen who served in Vietnam, they were serving in a military during a time of draft and major drug abuse. Alcohol was available for most as were prostitutes and other "opportunities" that are not found in a conservative Muslim world. Vietnam witnessed events like My Lai and Son Thang that were complete and total bloodbaths involving the mass murder of civilians. Even Bob Kerry, a Vietnam vet who was the Democratic Governor of Nebraska from 1983 to 1987 and a U.S. Senator from Nebraska between 1989 and 2001, was involved in the cold blooded murder of civilians in Vietnam as CBS reported a few years ago. He earned plenty of medals on that mission.
Most Vietnam veterans were not criminals. Most were good, honorable people. But the ratio of poorly disciplined and motivated servicemen was much, much higher then. The young people serving in Iraq and Afghanistan today are graduates of the DARE program and the "War on Drugs" was the first campaign in their lives. They are more self-absorbed and they have the Internet and high technology media to stay busy with. Things in the late 60's were very different indeed.
I don't conjure these thoughts from the air. I have reported from the war in Afghanistan where I knew soldiers who had served in Vietnam and were still pulling combat touts in 2006 and 2007. I joined the Marine Corps for three years in 1981 and served at a number of west coast bases with Marines who had fought in Vietnam. Most were just in their early 30's at that point. There have always been highly disciplined military troops in the U.S., but today's all volunteer force is a serious one and they may not like the President or the war, but they serve with a great amount of honor. It seems that Murtha may not completely understand how different the dynamics of these wars really are.
In fact military prosecutions are greatly in question these days, as we reported in a recent series: Pendleton 8 Exposed - The Real Story, Part 1 and in many other articles in recent years. Several prominent military veterans in touch with our news organization have out and out horror stories about the military justice system and the UCMJ, the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The system is not set up to support the individual, and it is quick to accuse and investigate allegations that in some cases, originate from very dubious sources, some even say propaganda from the enemies has led to charges against Marines.
If a member of our military commits a war crime, that is inexcusable. It seems important however to carefully delineate and to know the facts of the case. It seems apparent that the U.S. military system is more than willing to bend or break the rules in order to meet its goals.
Murtha said in regard to this that he talked to commanders and the brass at the Pentagon, and soldiers at Walter Reed. That is where he is apparently getting the majority of the information. He stated, "I am acutely aware of the type of situation those Marines were in." At this point it seems nearly impossible that Murtha really understood what the Marines went through that day.
His statement that he "understand(s) the fog of war and the confusion of battle" seems outdated at best. Instead, Murtha seems most intent on the enforcement of the UCMJ and not much else.
"The United States of America has never condoned, nor should it ever condone, indiscriminate, deliberate killing of civilians. When we do that, we become no better than the enemy we are trying to eradicate."
It seems that the Marines at Haditha that day were not guilty as charged. Whether or not the military is able to hang the matter on one "scapegoat" named Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich, remains to be seen. Again, when compared to the most famous "scapegoat" of the Vietnam War, Army Lieutenant William Calley, who oversaw the mass murder of at least 400 Vietnamese women and children at My Lai, we are dealing with an entirely different war and set of circumstances.
According to reports, the November 19th 2005 firefight ended with two dozen Iraqi deaths and 14 Marine casualties including one KIA. Prosecutors said the Marines were attacked with the use of a bomb, and that a Marine named Frank Wuterich along with another Marine, shot five men at the scene. The prosecutors said that Wuterich then ordered his men into nearby houses where more Iraqis were killed in the ensuing firefight.
But the defense council tells a different story; one that involves the insurgents deliberately attacking the Marines from hiding places where they were surrounded with civilians to use as shields. One component of the Iraq war consistent with Vietnam, is the willingness of enemy to kill their own civilians.
Eight Marines would eventually be charged in the incident, but the cases against Lance Corporals Stephen Tatum and Justin Sharratt, Captains Randy Stone and Lucas McConnell and Sergeant Sanick P. Dela Cruz were dropped.
Charges against Andrew Grayson (see: Marine Officer Found Not Guilty Over Alleged Role in Haditha Killings) were dropped as the counts against Chessani were this week, leaving only Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich's case pending. In the case, the enlisted Marines had been charged with murder and the officers were charged with failing to investigate the deaths.
The Thomas More Law Center said to one source that the "officers involved in the firefight handled its aftermath according to military protocol." "Even though Lieutenant Colonel Chessani promptly reported the events of that day to his superiors, including the deaths of 15 noncombatant civilians caught in the battle, nobody in Lieutenant Colonel Chessani’s chain of command believed there was any wrongdoing on behalf of the Marines," the law firm stated.
For his role, Murtha told reporters that, "All the information I get, it comes from the commanders, it comes from people who know what they're talking about."
But Wikipedia reports that on August 4th 2006, a Marine Corps spokesman was quoted, saying Murtha was not briefed until a week after his accusation of murder "in cold blood."
Critics contend that the charges are a vendetta against U.S. Marines that developed after Murtha's public condemnation of the troops before the conclusion of the investigation.
The law firm representing the men says information "planted by an insurgent propaganda agent," caused the Pentagon officials to launch the initial investigation.
It seems Murtha pushed these Marines out of a combat zone where they were effective tools in the fight against insurgents, and into the fire of an unfair military judicial system hungry to devour its own. He stated, "I believe that the case should and will be fully investigated and that the Marines involved will be treated fairly by the military justice system."
Many Marines will tell you there is no fairness in the military judicial process, or that it is limited and that it changes from case to case and depends greatly on the prosecutor. When one Marine after another is acquitted of such serious charges, it clearly shows that the system is wasting time and money and trashing lives. The system thankfully in this case, worked out in the end, for all but one so far. This kind of reckless legal work is happening time and time again specifically toward Marines serving in Iraq. It seems their country is placing demands on them that are very hard to meet.
Tim King is a former U.S. Marine with twenty years of experience on the west coast as a television news producer, photojournalist, reporter and assignment editor. Today, in addition to his role as a war correspondent in Afghanistan where he spent the winter of 2006/07, this Los Angeles native serves as Salem-News.com's Executive News Editor. Salem-News.com is the nation's only truly independent high traffic news Website, affiliated with Google News and several other major search engines and news aggregators. Tim's coverage from Iraq that was set to begin in April has been delayed and may not take place until August, 2008. You can send Tim an email at this address: firstname.lastname@example.org
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