Wednesday, June 7, 2006

The Marines in Iraq

Commentary by David Reinhard


David Reinhard


Already it's a kind of an incantation in some quarters. Something on the order of Abu Ghraib, Tet or, worse, My Lai. Something that's supposed to neatly sum everything up in one unassailable word.


Did Marines there shoot men, women and children at close range in retaliation for the death of a Marine in a roadside bombing there? Did our warriors snap and slaughter two dozen Iraqi civilians in cold blood? Was Haditha the site of an American-made atrocity?

Or was it the site of something else? Was the killing just part of a brute tragedy of war? Were the Iraqi civilians simply caught in the crossfire? Were the Marines at Haditha being fired on during the incident?

Whether or not Haditha was an atrocity or tragedy, did U.S. military officials attempt to cover it up?

Of course, nobody knows for sure what happened in that small Iraqi village last year on Nov. 19. The U.S. Marines are conducting two investigations, one of the actual events there, the other of a possible coverup. Neither investigation is complete. But, this hasn't stopped the leaks and anonymous-sourced stories about Haditha or the instant attempts by some Iraq War critics to make Haditha -- whatever actually happened there -- represent their pet theory about the war: Our forces are stretched too thin in Iraq. Troop morale is low. The problem of Haditha goes right up the chain of command.

Never mind the actual facts of the matter. Let's move to the convictions and grand commentary.

Rep. John Murtha is, no doubt, the worst offender here. The Pennsylvania Democrat used the occasion of the six-month anniversary of his notorious "Pull Out Now" pronouncement to declare the Marines at Haditha had murdered the Iraqis "in cold blood." Then last Sunday he told ABC's "This Week" that the Haditha coverup "goes right up the chain of command."

Maybe Murtha is right on both counts -- maybe his Pentagon sources will be proved correct in the end -- but it sure would be sporting if the former Marine would have the decency to wait for the Pentagon to conclude its investigations. It's worth noting, after all, that the Murtha charges have brought a new round of yet more anonymously sourced stories claiming that tapes of the Haditha radio-message traffic that day will provide a far different view of the incident than the congressman paints.

So those of us who aren't ready to rush to judgment wait, hungry for information -- real information -- and hoping Murtha's charges aren't true.

What to do in the meanwhile?

Remember Lance Cpl. Jeremy Russell of Salem and other Marines who are out doing good and noble work in dangerous conditions day after day.

The 20-year-old Russell is an assault amphibious vehicle crewman with the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment. In April, he was manning a machine gun turret in a Humvee moving across Iraq's Anbar province. The Humvee was struck by an improvised explosive device. The explosion flipped the Humvee on to its left side and destroyed the vehicle's back end. The blast left Russell with a right hand full of shrapnel and severely bruised. He told a Marine reporter he thought he was going to die. In fact, three other Marines -- Lea Mills, Edward G. Davis and Brandon M. Hardy -- did die in the blast.

Russell was thrown from the vehicle and lay dazed on the street. He got himself back to the Humvee and tried to use the radio to call for help. It was shot. He then fired off some luminous flares so other Marines in the convoy could find his vehicle and proceeded to rearm himself to fight off a possible secondary attack. A Marine who came upon the scene was tending to the dead when he noticed that Russell, covered in soot, was still alive. Shortly thereafter Russell was on a helicopter heading to a medical facility.

He's now fully recovered and back with his unit, doing daily patrols. Given the chance, Salem, Oregon's Russell told Marine Sgt. Roe F. Seigle of Marine Corps News he would be ready to head back to Iraq again after his battalion returns home this fall.

The dateline on Seigle's May 25 story on Lance Cpl. Jeremy Russell: Haditha.

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