June 10, 2006


Marine Says Rules Were Followed: Sergeant Describes Hunt for Insurgents in Haditha, Denies Coverup (Josh White, June 11, 2006, Washington Post)

A sergeant who led a squad of Marines during the incident in Haditha, Iraq, that left as many as 24 civilians dead said his unit did not intentionally target any civilians, followed military rules of engagement and never tried to cover up the shootings, his lawyer said.

Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich, 26, told his attorney that several civilians were killed Nov. 19 when his squad went after insurgents who were firing at them from inside a house. The Marine said there was no vengeful massacre, but he described a house-to-house hunt that went tragically awry in the middle of a chaotic battlefield.

"It will forever be his position that everything they did that day was following their rules of engagement and to protect the lives of Marines," said Neal A. Puckett, who represents Wuterich for the ongoing investigations into the incident. "He's really upset that people believe that he and his Marines are even capable of intentionally killing innocent civilians."

If they did engage in reprisals against obvious innocents they should, of course, be punished, if for no other reason than that it represents a breakdown of military order. But the story has always seemed rather too sketchy to support the hysteria it has prompted and it's especially silly to try and draw brader conclusions about the war from such an incident. We properly do not so much as bat an eyelash when a strike like the one on Zarqawi, ordered from on figurative high and delivered from on literal, may inflict unfortunate collateral damage. It's absurd to think that soldiers in the midst of a fire fight on the ground, surrounded by their own dead and wounded, will never lose control of themselves.

'The Searchers': How the Western Was Begun (A. O. SCOTT, 6/11/06, NY Times)

IN the last shot of "The Searchers," the camera, from deep inside the cozy recesses of a frontier homestead, peers out though an open doorway into the bright sunshine. The contrast between the dim interior and the daylight outside creates a second frame within the wide expanse of the screen. Inside that smaller space, the desert glare highlights the shape and darkens the features of the man who lingers just beyond the threshold. Everyone else has come inside: the other surviving characters, who have endured grief, violence, the loss of kin and the agony of waiting, and also, implicitly, the audience, which has anxiously anticipated this homecoming. But the hero, whose ruthlessness and obstinacy have made it possible, is excluded, and our last glimpse of him emphasizes his solitude, his separateness, his alienation — from his friends and family, and also from us.

Even if you are watching "The Searchers" for the first time — perhaps on the beautiful new DVD that Warner Home Video has just released to mark the film's 50th anniversary — this final shot may look familiar. For one thing, it deliberately replicates the first image you see after the opening titles — a view of a nearly identical vista from a very similar perspective. Indeed, the frame-within-the-frame created by shooting through relative darkness into a sliver of intense natural light is a notable motif in this movie, and elsewhere in the work of its director, John Ford. Especially in his westerns, Ford loved to create bustling, busy interiors full of life and feeling, and he was equally fond of positioning human figures, alone or in small, vulnerable groups, against vast, obliterating landscapes. Shooting from the indoors out is his way of yoking together these two realms of experience — the domestic and the wild, the social and the natural — and also of acknowledging the almost metaphysical gap between them, the threshold that cannot be crossed.

But that image of John Wayne's shadow in the doorway — he plays the solitary hero, Ethan Edwards — does not just pick up on other such moments in "The Searchers." Perhaps because the shot is thematically rich as well as visually arresting — because it so perfectly unites showing and telling — it has become a touchstone, promiscuously quoted, consciously or not, by filmmakers whose debt to Ford might not be otherwise apparent. Ernest Hemingway once said that all of American literature could be traced back to one book, Mark Twain's "Huckleberry Finn," and something similar might be said of American cinema and "The Searchers." [...]

The Indian wars of the post-Civil War era form a tragic backdrop in most of Ford's post-World War II westerns, much as the earlier conflicts between settlers and natives did in the novels of James Fenimore Cooper. That the Indians are defending their land, and enacting their own vengeance for earlier attacks, is widely acknowledged, even insisted upon. The real subject, though, is not how the West was conquered, but how — according to what codes, values and customs — it will be governed. The real battles are internal, and they turn on the character of the society being forged, in violence, by the settlers. Where, in this new society, will the frontier be drawn between vengeance and justice? Between loyalty to one's kind and the more abstract obligations of human decency? Between the rule of law and the law of the jungle? Between virtue and power? Between — to paraphrase one of Ford's best-known and most controversial formulations — truth and legend?

Ford's way of posing these questions seems more urgent — and more subtle — now than it may have at the time, precisely because his films are so overtly concerned with the kind of moral argument that is, or should be, at the center of American political discourse at a time of war and terrorism. He is concerned not as much with the conflict between good and evil as with contradictory notions of right, with the contradictory tensions that bedevil people who are, in the larger scheme, on the same side. When should we fight? How should we conduct ourselves when we must? In "Fort Apache," for example, the elaborate codes of military duty, without which the intricate and closely observed society of the isolated fort would fall apart, are exactly what lead it toward catastrophe. Wayne, as a savvy and moderate-tempered officer, has no choice but to obey his headstrong and vainglorious commander, played by Henry Fonda, who provokes an unnecessary and disastrous confrontation with the Apaches. In the end, Wayne, smiling mysteriously, tells a group of eager journalists that Fonda's character was a brave and brilliant military tactician. It's a lie, but apparently the public does not require — or can't handle — the truth.

In telling it, Wayne is writing himself out of history, which is also his fate in "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" (not, unfortunately, one of the discs in the Warner box). That film — which contains the famous line "When legend becomes fact, print the legend!" —throws Wayne's man of action and James Stewart's man of principle into a wary, rivalrous alliance. Their common enemy is an almost cartoonish thug played by Lee Marvin, but the real conflict is between Stewart's lawyer and Wayne's mysterious gunman, one of whom will be remembered as the man who shot Liberty Valance.

What we learn, in the course of the film's long flashbacks, is that the triumph of civilization over barbarism is founded on a necessary lie, and that underneath its polished procedures and high-minded institutions is a buried legacy of bloodshed. The idea that virtue can exist without violence is as untenable, as unrealistic, as the belief — central to the revisionist tradition, and advanced with particular fervor in HBO's "Deadwood" — that human society is defined by gradations of brutality, raw power, cynicism and greed.

Contradictions Cloud Inquiry Into 24 Iraqi Deaths (JOHN M. BRODER, 6/17/06, NY Times)

There is little dispute over how the events that led to the deaths of the civilians began. A 13-man squad of the 3rd Platoon of Company K, known as Kilo Company, set off before dawn on Nov. 19 from its Haditha headquarters, Fire Base Sparta, to help replace some Iraqi Army troops at a combat outpost about three miles to the south. The squad, in four Humvees, was returning to Sparta heading west along a route the members called Chestnut Road.

About two miles from their base, an improvised explosive device, or I.E.D., buried in the road exploded under the fourth vehicle, instantly killing Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas, 20, of El Paso. Two other marines, Lance Cpl. James Crossan and Lance Cpl. Salvador Guzman, were seriously injured.

What happened immediately after the bomb hit, and over the next four to five hours as the squad dispersed and called in reinforcements, remains in dispute. Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich, the leader of the squad, told his lawyer, Neal A. Puckett, that he had quickly set up a defensive perimeter around the convoy and called in the casualty report. He said he had seen a white car, now usually referred to as a taxi, containing a driver and four young men. The marines suspected that those men were spotters for the bomb.

Several marines approached the car, shouting commands in broken Arabic. According to Sergeant Wuterich's account, the men jumped out of the car and disobeyed orders to stop. The marines shot and killed them.

But residents watching the episode from nearby homes have told contradictory stories.

Some described the men as students on their way to a technical college in Baghdad, and said they had been shot while still sitting in the car. Others said they had been pulled from the car, ordered to lie on the ground and then executed.

According to Mr. Puckett, Sergeant Wuterich and his men believed their rules of engagement permitted them to shoot men of military age running away from the site of an improvised explosive device.

Two people briefed on the investigation said Thursday that evidence gathered on the shooting of the taxi passengers now appeared to be the most at odds with the account given by marines through their lawyers.

One Defense Department official said photographs indicated that the positions of those corpses — and the pooling of their blood — can be viewed as sharply inconsistent with the marines' version that the Iraqi men were shot as they fled.

"We may not know for sure what happened, but it doesn't look like there was any running involved," said the official, who would only discuss the inquiry on the condition of anonymity because the matter remains under investigation.

A second person who has been briefed on the inquiry said that "there was no question" that the taxi shooting "is the most problematic" and that Navy investigators were focusing on the actions of one particular marine in the squad, although no charges had been filed.

The marines have said they believed they were coming under small-arms fire from a house on the south side of the road. A four-man "stack" of marines, led by Sergeant Wuterich, who up to that point had no combat experience but was the senior enlisted man on the scene, broke into the house.

They found no one in the first room, but heard noises behind a door. A marine with experience in the deadly house-to-house fighting in Falluja a year earlier rolled in a grenade and another marine fired blind "clearing rounds" into the room, Mr. Puckett, Sergeant Wuterich's lawyer, said.

The technique is known as "clearing by fire," said a marine who was with a nearby squad that day but who asked not to be identified because his role in the events is under investigation. "You stick the weapon around and spray the room," he said. "It's called prepping the room."

He added: "You've got to do whatever it takes to get home. If it takes clearing by fire where there's civilians, that's it."

Many of the marines in Kilo Company had served on their previous deployment in Falluja, which had largely been cleared of civilians before they entered, and where permissive rules of engagement were in force. But Haditha was a different combat environment, with insurgents intermingled with civilians. In training between the two deployments, marines were taught how to protect civilians, and were instructed on more restrictive combat rules.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 10, 2006 11:21 PM

A "massacre" may or may not have occurred, but the story as reported is swiss cheese. There are several interesting posts on this at The American Thinker. Also at Blackfive. It has the feel of the Duke rape story.

Posted by: ghostcat at June 10, 2006 11:40 PM

As you say, if the Marines were badly in the wrong they should be punished. But there are atrocities in all wars, in the just wars along with the unjust.

Posted by: David Cohen at June 10, 2006 11:42 PM

Mudville Gazette, not Blackfive. Sorry.

Posted by: ghostcat at June 10, 2006 11:43 PM

Rules of engagement are fairly easy to carry out (fire!) but fairly complex to understand ( get ready-hold!). I don't know if that statement makes sense or not but once action starts and a "mad moment" commences it's training that takes over and you stop being the judge.

Posted by: Tom Wall at June 10, 2006 11:56 PM

If the Marines were wrong, they should be punished, but not with murder charges. That would be neither just to the Marines nor an appropriate way to conduct a war in which the enemy strives to look like civilians, civilians typically cooperate with the enemy (whether out of fear or sympathy), and the enemy tries to game our criminal proceedings and use our internal investigators and lawyers as a stick with which to beat our servicemen.

Posted by: pj at June 11, 2006 8:18 AM

Rules of engagement are orders, the violation of which may be charged under the articles dealing with insubordination. Disregarding RoE does not make a killing murder, although a murder may certainly violate RoE.

Keep in mind that we have no facts we can trust about this case.

Posted by: Lou Gots at June 11, 2006 3:50 PM


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» Marine’s Description Of Haditha Events Denies Wrongdoing from Blue Crab Boulevard
One of the Marines under investigation over the events in Haditha has informed his lawyer that the Marines followed the Rules  Of Engagement during the entire incident. The Washington Post at least had the decency to put the story on the... [Read More]