“In Cold Blood?”

"We do not employ force just for the sake of employing force. We use lethal force only when justified, proportional and, most importantly, lawful," Gen. Michael W. Hagee wrote in a statement issued by his office.  Scharlkilledinaction01_lg

His statement and the announcement of his trip to Iraq came just hours after the Marine command in Iraq disclosed a criminal investigation into allegations that an unspecified number of Marines killed an Iraqi civilian west of Baghdad on April 26. Iraqis made the charge during a meeting with Marine officers on May 1."  Robert Burns  AP


Soldierhires I don’t envy the marines the task of sorting this out.  the word "proportional" as it applies above worries me. Certainly, anyone who injures an apparently unarmed civilian is subject to military law (UCMJ) for the action, and should be.  Unfortunately, the situation is often not like that.  Most of the time in combat, the infantry do not see the people whom they are fighting until they see their bodies or are so close to them that split second decisions must be made.  Often these decisions are tragic.  If you are fighting in a built up area, are taken under fire or ambushed and counter-attack into the buildings, you are not going to walk up to each door or window and call out "Any civilians in there," before you do something.  If you do that, you are going to die there, or your friends are going to die there.  No.  You are going to grenade the rooms and go in shooting.  This is not a police situation.  The enemy intends to kill you.

Similarly, a patch of trees set back from a road on which you are moving in "Indian Country" is normally "searched" by fire before you approach it.  Not to do so is to risk destruction.  To move into the "beaten zone" of an ambush is a lethal mistake.  Most people do not get to make that mistake twice.

Not going to win you "hearts and minds?" You bet it won’t, but if it were your son or brother involved which would you prefer?

The key to survival once the shooting starts is to build up a greater volume of applied fire on targets so as to suppress the other side’s fire.  This enables you to move against him.  This means that you shoot.  You shoot a hell of a lot!!  "Proportional?"  This sounds suicidal to me.

I will be interested to learn what the actual circumstances of this action were.  Until we know that, we should not judge.  Murtha should know that, but, then, maybe he already knows the details…

Pat Lang


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19 Responses to “In Cold Blood?”

  1. Fred says:

    Great insight. The worst part of all this is that this entire war was not necessary and we will be paying the price for it for years to come.

  2. zanzibar says:

    Excellent points PL. Blaming the Marines for actions on the ground when information is hazy and they are under fire just does not make sense.
    Killing of unarmed civilians with no provocation or fire when that is clearly discernable is another matter.
    The head honchos and policy makers have put the grunts in a very difficult position from Abu Ghraib to Fallujah. They are caught between a rock and a hard place.
    What should be really investigated is the decision making of this Administration that has put our military in such a diffcult position. That is the critical issue. But unfortunately that is highly unlikely to happen in the present circumstance.

  3. Tequila says:

    I think the main reason this investigation is going forward is that the original incident was reported as 15 civs killed along with the Marine who died in the roadside bomb — that is, they died during the IED attack. Turns out they were shot by the Marines, indicating that someone lied, and perhaps had a reason to lie.
    It’s not just Murtha saying this. NBC has gotten comments from anonymous military officials.
    Military officials say Marine Corp photos taken immediately after the incident show many of the victims were shot at close range, in the head and chest, execution-style. One photo shows a mother and young child bent over on the floor as if in prayer, shot dead, said the officials, who spoke to NBC News on condition of anonymity because the investigation hasn’t been completed.
    One military official says it appears the civilians were deliberately killed by the Marines, who were outraged at the death of their fellow Marine.
    “This one is ugly,” one official told NBC News.
    As someone departing for MCRD PI in two weeks, this makes me a bit sick. If true, I hope justice will be swift.

  4. W. Patrick Lang says:

    If they lined them up and shot them that’s one thing. If this happened some other way in a fire fight that would be another.
    Things are not as neat some times as one might think. pl

  5. Eric says:

    At close range on women and children?
    Who knows.
    Now that we have a little high powered legislative-media light shining on this, perhaps the Navy equivalent of CID will be able to conduct a thorough, impartial investigation.
    It doesn’t look good to me at first sight.

  6. W. Patrick Lang says:

    What I am saying is that we should not pre-judge this or similar incidents.
    Bullets go through walls made of mud quite easily. pl

  7. zanzibar says:

    “A military investigation into the deaths of two dozen Iraqis last November is expected to find that a small number of marines in western Iraq carried out extensive, unprovoked killings of civilians, Congressional, military and Pentagon officials said Thursday.”
    Military expected to report Marines killed civilians
    Will they find a few scapegoats, just like for Abu Ghraib or was a crime committed?

  8. Eric says:

    I wasn’t prejudging anything Pat. Far from it.
    Was Just saying we need to leave it to naval CID to sort out.
    On another track, I was watching the Bush-Blair press conference on MSNBC.
    When the transcript comes available, you should publish it in full.
    Enough insanity there to amuse the most jaded of us.
    Sounds like a speech from the Fuhrer Bunker in late April ’45, concerning wonder weapons, wondrous insights, and wondrous judgements.,

  9. tequila says:

    COL Lang, what worries me is the initial story the Marines put out, which is that the civilians were killed in the initial IED attack. No mention made of hostile fire. If this happened in a firefight, why not just state that? I doubt that NCIS would even blink at that, given the incident in the Fallujah mosque and the dropping of charges against 2nd Lt. Ilario Pantano.
    I dearly hope you are correct and that the Marines are exonerated in the end.

  10. tequila says:

    This is looking worse and worse. NYTIMES today:
    Two lawyers involved in discussions about individual marines’ defenses said they thought the investigation could result in charges of murder, a capital offense.

    Women and children were among those killed, as well as five men who had been traveling in a taxi near the bomb, which killed Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas of El Paso.
    Although investigators are still piecing together the string of deaths, Congressional and Pentagon officials said the five men in the taxi either were pulled out or got out at a Marine checkpoint and were shot.
    The deaths of those in the taxi, and inside two nearby houses, were not the result of a quick and violent firefight, according to officials who had been briefed on the inquiry.
    “This was not a burst of fire, but a sustained operation over several hours, maybe five hours,” one official said. Forensic evidence gathered from the houses where Iraqi civilians died is also said to contradict reports that the marines had to overcome hostile fire to storm the homes.

    Representative John Kline, a Minnesota Republican who is a retired Marine colonel, said that the allegations indicated that “this was not an accident. This was direct fire by Marines at civilians.” He added, “This was not an immediate response to an attack. This would be an atrocity.”

  11. W. Patrick Lang says:

    I didn’t say they would be exonerated. I said we should be careful not to leap to conclusions. pl

  12. Chris Bray says:

    My guess is that the Marine Corps is engaged in the old “modified limited hang-out,” and that Rep. Murtha is working with and for the marines rather than against them. He’s being used by marine leaders as a way to let information trickle out, and accustom people to a set of facts, so the shock is relatively limited when the handle on the revelation is cranked all the way open. For a much more trivial example, this would not be unlike what Mike McCurry did with Clinton’s Lewinski affair: A little more, and a little more, and a little more, until people are tired of hearing about it and care much less.
    The man spent thirty-plus years in the uniform of the Marine Corps. I doubt he’s just letting rip. He’s working in the service of his longstanding loyalties.

  13. bh says:

    I agree with Chris Bray. I believe that Murtha’s “revelations” are part of media management. I also think that that is a good thing, for just the reasons Colonel Lang states. This is not a time for a media circus.
    However, I think Congressman Murtha’s main point is that the whole situation is Bush’s responsibility for putting soldiers in the wrong war.
    The fact that Abu Ghraib and Haditha have happened is a clear sign that the US has lost the counter-insurgency war. That war was probably lost by the end of 2003.
    Murtha is begging for a withdrawal strategy, because withdrawal takes time. We should not lose sight of Murtha’s main message by saying it is just Marine Corps management of bad news. Murtha says that Haditha is another reason (as if we need another one) that we need to get our combat soldiers out of the kind of war that they have not been prepared to fight.

  14. linda says:

    what a horror. and if this was a deliberate act, the young men responsible for this must be held accountable.
    on the other end of the spectrum, i would hope that the young men whose findings contradicted the original marine account deserve recognition for their honorable actions and integrity; and not ostracized and denounced like hugh thompson or joseph darby. john murtha is already the target of ugly, grotesque smears by right-wingers for his initial comments on this incident. these are the people of conscience i would prefer to think overwhelmingly dominate the ranks of our military.
    if only the civilian leadership of this country were possessed of such conscience.

  15. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Soldiers should not be deployed for law-enforcement. They are not a police force. Every time that soldiers have been deployed against civilians, any where in the world, it has led to massacres. Soldiers are trained to obey the orders and to kill. They are not trained as policemen to show restraint and to exercise individual judgment. The responsibility rests with the chqain of command.

  16. MarcLord says:

    “I sent them a good boy. And they sent me back a murderer.”
    Nebraska mother of the boy who reportedly killed over a hundred civilians at My Lai.
    “God punished me for what I did. He’s gonna punish all you too.”
    Boy who reportedly killed the most civilians at My Lai: said to his platoon as he was being medevac’ed for serious mine wounds a few days after the massacre. He lost his legs.

  17. W. Patrick Lang says:

    So, what did she think she had done? pl

  18. Publius says:

    Agree that the so-called proportional response is a total non-starter in a combat zone and that we should wait until all facts are in. We went through this in Vietnam and the quick and alive learned how to deal with it. Unfortunately, there is another Vietnam lesson here: troops bogged down in a seemingly endless war with no “light at the end of the tunnel” get very edgy when they see buddies killed for little reason. This is the problem with this kind of “war.”
    I’m not so sure Murtha is doing anything so cynical as “media management.” Murtha is, as are all of us who served in Vietnam, acutely sensitive to these issues. We paid personally for My Lai and its aftermath and a lot of us are still very sensitive in this area. Nothing like having your reputation trashed by indisciplined people to get your attention.
    If they didn’t do it, good. If they did it, fry ’em. All the way up the chain.

  19. W. Patrick Lang says:

    I dod not mean to imply that Murtha is playing games with the available information. pl

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