Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The Breaking Point

This post from Cathie From Canada moves the Bush administration's invasion and occupation of Iraq one step closer to another war which ended in failure and was highlighted by an event which has gone down in the annals of history as one of the worst atrocities committed by US troops in wartime.

If this story is true, it demonstrates one thing: the troops on the ground have long since reached their breaking point.

The US military has already acknowledged that 15 Iraqi civilians did not die, as they initially reported, at the hands of insurgents, but by the actions of US Marines.

In January, after TIME presented military officials in Baghdad with the Iraqis' accounts of the Marines' actions, the U.S. opened its own investigation, interviewing 28 people, including the Marines, the families of the victims and local doctors. According to military officials, the inquiry acknowledged that, contrary to the military's initial report, the 15 civilians killed on Nov. 19 died at the hands of the Marines, not the insurgents. The military announced last week that the matter has been handed over to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), which will conduct a criminal investigation to determine whether the troops broke the laws of war by deliberately targeting civilians.
(emphasis mine)

On the morning in question a roadside bomb hit the Humvee carrying the Marines. Lance Corporal Miguel Terrazas, 20, from El Paso, Texas, was killed in the attack.

The next day a Marine communique from Camp Blue Diamond in Ramadi reported that Terrazas and 15 Iraqi civilians were killed by the blast and that "gunmen attacked the convoy with small-arms fire," prompting the Marines to return fire, killing eight insurgents and wounding one other.
Faced with the evidence, however, the Marine Corps changed their story.

Watching a comrade-in-arms get blown up does something to a unit. If the Marines present had been seeing it for the first time, the shock would have immediately depressed them. It would have taken brutal prodding from senior leaders to get everyone into a state where they could defend themselves. But, this unit wasn't seeing friends killed for the first time at all. This episode has become an all too frequent event for members of "K" Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines.

This unit, known as the Thundering Third, was on their 3rd combat rotation. They were initially deployed to Afghanistan in 2001, then Iraq in 2003 and again in 2005. They were out front during the assault on Fallujah. They have been at the head of a ground force battling an unseen enemy. Those who attack them look like anyone else they see daily. And, aside from Viet Nam, where the unit was stationed for five years, (and personnel were rotated individually for a year each), this unit has been committed to more combat operations than ever before in their history. They actually had less time in an active combat theater during World War II.

The members of Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Division had long passed their limits of direct and indirect combat exposure by November 19th, 2005. When an IED blew up Lance Corporal Terrazas, other members of the company were probably in a state of mind which led them to snap.

If the Time and AP reports are accurate, nothing can excuse the alleged actions of Marines on that November morning in Haditha. It is their duty to protect non-combatants; not kill them. It is their duty to hold fire if innocent civilians are caught in the cross-fire, despite what Lieut. Colonel Michelle Martin-Hing says.

...she says the fault for the civilian deaths lies squarely with the insurgents, who "placed noncombatants in the line of fire as the Marines responded to defend themselves."
Horseshit. And, in any case, the evidence at hand suggests that any firefight took place inside the buildings; not outside, as the Marine communique of 20 Nov. reported and which has now been changed.

Beyond what may well be a heinous war-crime, there are two other issues.

The US military has ignored the effect of over use of the same combat troops. Combat-stress is real and returning the same units and people to the same direct and indirect exposure has a cumulative effect. The US military is well aware of this, yet infantrymen, who make up less than one-quarter of the entire force on the ground in Iraq, are faced with the same endless danger in an endless campaign. They are exhausted, numb to human suffering and no longer willing to accept casualties without excessive retaliation.

The initial report issued by the Marine HQ at Camp Blue Diamond in Ramadi on 20 November, 2005 has the smell of an attempted cover-up. That they quickly changed the story after being confronted with video and eye-witness testimony provided by Aparisim Ghosh and Tim McGirk of Time Magazine suggests that there was better knowledge of the event than was originally reported.

It all looks too much like March 16, 1968 when the men of Charlie Company, 11th Brigade, Americal Division, angry, frustrated and tired, led by Officer's Candidate School graduate, Lieutenant William Calley, entered the Vietnamese village of My Lai and massacred over 300 unarmed civilians.

Once they've started down that road there is no return. And once on the road, all hope for a successful conclusion to the problems in Iraq is lost.

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