Calling it murder is absurd!

  
On Nov. 19, 2005, United States Marines killed 24 civilians in an Iraqi town called Haditha. The dead included men, women and children. This past December, four Marines were charged with murder. But was it murder?

Let's examine the events that led up to that terrible day. In a 60 Minutes segment last week, correspondent Scott Pelley interviewed a 25 year-old Marine Sergeant named Frank Wuterich, who, along with other members of his platoon, is facing life imprisonment for doing what they were trained to do.

Haditha is a town of 70,000 in Anbar province, the heart of the Sunni resistance, where, among the residents, anti-American passions run high. In the months before Wuterich's unit arrived, other Marines there were suffering some of the heaviest causalities in all of Iraq, including the bombing of an armored vehicle that killed 14 Marines. A few days before that, six Marines in Haditha were ambushed, tortured and killed. The enemy put this obscenity on the Internet where Wuterich and his men saw the bodies and the dog tags of their dead comrades.

One can't begin to imagine what such visuals can do to a soldier in a war zone where he can't be certain who the enemy is. That's the dilemma that defines Iraq. In Haditha, the population is generally hostile to Americans, but only some are armed fighters. However, the fighters blend in, so you don't know them unless they're shooting at you.

On that fateful day, Wuterich led a convoy to a checkpoint, escorting fresh Iraqi troops and bringing breakfast to the Marines there. It would appear to be a simple and safe mission. Yet, at all times, they know there is nothing safe in a war zone. Sergeant Wuterich was in the third of 4 trucks spaced a couple of hundred yards apart as they drove toward their destination.

The fourth truck never made it. Wuterich said he and his men felt a "huge explosion" that even rocked the truck he was in. Suddenly, they saw debris from the fourth vehicle hundreds of meters in the air above as tires and human body parts rained down on them. The vehicle had been devastated by a bomb buried under the road, detonated by remote control.

The Marine called for backup and began planning his next move. Up ahead, a white car was stopped by the side of the road. Five Iraqi men ranging in age from 19 to 29 were ordered out.
"So my immediate thought is okay, maybe this was a car bomb. Okay, maybe these guys had something to do with this IED," Wuterich said.
He said another sergeant yelled at the men to drop to the ground. Instead, the men began running away. That's when they were fired upon. Wuterich and the others believed they were the men who detonated the IED that had just blown up the Humvee.

"These were military-aged males that were inside that car. The only vehicle, the only thing that was out, that was Iraqi, was them. They were 100 meters away from that IED. Those are the things that went through my mind before I pulled the trigger," he said.  
"How much time has passed from the moment of the explosion to the time that you killed these men?" Pelley asked.
"I would say within about two minutes," Wuterich responded.
The sergeant was asked what he saw when he went to his fallen Marines in the bombed Humvee. (Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas, 20, from El Paso, Texas, a beloved member of the unit, had been the driver.)
"Basically, a pile of flesh, in essence. That may be a sight I'll never forget. He was missing one of his arms. His legs were completely severed from his body, but they were still attached because for some reason his Cami's didn't rip completely."
It was then that he and his men came under rifle fire, appearing to come from a nearby house. They tossed grenades into the house and killed the occupants, all of whom were later identified as civilians.

Wuterich said that was how they were trained. Furthermore, these men had seen the results of hesitation under fire when many of their comrades were killed as they tried to clear suspected terrorist locations.

Nevertheless, the country that put these men in that war zone, subjected them to unimaginable stress and fear as they, again and again, scooped up the bloody remains of their closest friends and lived under the constant threat of imminent death, is trying them for murder.

Hence, a soldier's options are to either hesitate and get killed, or protect his life and risk a court martial. As we used to say in the police department; better to be judged by 12 than carried by 6.

Bob Weir is a former detective sergeant in the New York City Police Department. He is the excutive editor of The News Connection in Highland Village, Texas. Email Bob.
  
On Nov. 19, 2005, United States Marines killed 24 civilians in an Iraqi town called Haditha. The dead included men, women and children. This past December, four Marines were charged with murder. But was it murder?

Let's examine the events that led up to that terrible day. In a 60 Minutes segment last week, correspondent Scott Pelley interviewed a 25 year-old Marine Sergeant named Frank Wuterich, who, along with other members of his platoon, is facing life imprisonment for doing what they were trained to do.

Haditha is a town of 70,000 in Anbar province, the heart of the Sunni resistance, where, among the residents, anti-American passions run high. In the months before Wuterich's unit arrived, other Marines there were suffering some of the heaviest causalities in all of Iraq, including the bombing of an armored vehicle that killed 14 Marines. A few days before that, six Marines in Haditha were ambushed, tortured and killed. The enemy put this obscenity on the Internet where Wuterich and his men saw the bodies and the dog tags of their dead comrades.

One can't begin to imagine what such visuals can do to a soldier in a war zone where he can't be certain who the enemy is. That's the dilemma that defines Iraq. In Haditha, the population is generally hostile to Americans, but only some are armed fighters. However, the fighters blend in, so you don't know them unless they're shooting at you.

On that fateful day, Wuterich led a convoy to a checkpoint, escorting fresh Iraqi troops and bringing breakfast to the Marines there. It would appear to be a simple and safe mission. Yet, at all times, they know there is nothing safe in a war zone. Sergeant Wuterich was in the third of 4 trucks spaced a couple of hundred yards apart as they drove toward their destination.

The fourth truck never made it. Wuterich said he and his men felt a "huge explosion" that even rocked the truck he was in. Suddenly, they saw debris from the fourth vehicle hundreds of meters in the air above as tires and human body parts rained down on them. The vehicle had been devastated by a bomb buried under the road, detonated by remote control.

The Marine called for backup and began planning his next move. Up ahead, a white car was stopped by the side of the road. Five Iraqi men ranging in age from 19 to 29 were ordered out.
"So my immediate thought is okay, maybe this was a car bomb. Okay, maybe these guys had something to do with this IED," Wuterich said.
He said another sergeant yelled at the men to drop to the ground. Instead, the men began running away. That's when they were fired upon. Wuterich and the others believed they were the men who detonated the IED that had just blown up the Humvee.

"These were military-aged males that were inside that car. The only vehicle, the only thing that was out, that was Iraqi, was them. They were 100 meters away from that IED. Those are the things that went through my mind before I pulled the trigger," he said.  
"How much time has passed from the moment of the explosion to the time that you killed these men?" Pelley asked.
"I would say within about two minutes," Wuterich responded.
The sergeant was asked what he saw when he went to his fallen Marines in the bombed Humvee. (Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas, 20, from El Paso, Texas, a beloved member of the unit, had been the driver.)
"Basically, a pile of flesh, in essence. That may be a sight I'll never forget. He was missing one of his arms. His legs were completely severed from his body, but they were still attached because for some reason his Cami's didn't rip completely."
It was then that he and his men came under rifle fire, appearing to come from a nearby house. They tossed grenades into the house and killed the occupants, all of whom were later identified as civilians.

Wuterich said that was how they were trained. Furthermore, these men had seen the results of hesitation under fire when many of their comrades were killed as they tried to clear suspected terrorist locations.

Nevertheless, the country that put these men in that war zone, subjected them to unimaginable stress and fear as they, again and again, scooped up the bloody remains of their closest friends and lived under the constant threat of imminent death, is trying them for murder.

Hence, a soldier's options are to either hesitate and get killed, or protect his life and risk a court martial. As we used to say in the police department; better to be judged by 12 than carried by 6.

Bob Weir is a former detective sergeant in the New York City Police Department. He is the excutive editor of The News Connection in Highland Village, Texas. Email Bob.