Monday, January 30, 2012

Knee-jerk Reaction, or Cold Blooded Murder?

Last week, prosecutors in a Camp Pendleton courtroom called for the maximum sentence for Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich, the Marine who gave the command back in 2005 to slaughter 24 unarmed civilians in Haditha, Iraq. That maximum sentence was 90 days.

Yes, that's right, thanks to a plea bargain, the maximum sentence for giving a command that resulted in the execution-style murder of two dozen innocent Iraqis was three months. The judge commuted that sentence, so Staff Sergeant Wuterich will serve no time in a military brig for his actions.

In the months immediately following the 2005 massacre in a small farming village in Iraq, I'd heard about the story, and wrote a piece, "The Road to Haditha," that appeared in The Huffington Post. The follow-up piece, "Haditha Revisited," notes that four of the Marines who participated in the killing spree were charged with murder, and was published a few months later.

Regrettably, not one Marine involved with this incident has served any time for the murder of unarmed men, women, and children in Haditha.

As my 2006 piece says, "One woman was described, in a New York Times article, as bending down, and begging for mercy as she was shot "in cold blood," and at close range, by a marine."

Wuterich reportedly ordered his men to "shoot first and ask questions later," sending them into nearby homes was, as U.S. News, MSNBC reports, a knee-jerk reaction when confronted with the unknown. As was later disclosed, this massacre was the way these Marines chose to avenge the loss of one of their own to a roadside bomb earlier that week.

Whatever the cause, what kind of message does it send about our men and women in uniform that their default position is to rifle through a village, and essentially fire at anyone that moves? What does it say about the military justice system that not one of these men, including their commanding officer, was held accountable for what he did?

In a statement to the court after his sentencing, Staff Sergeant Wuterich said, "The truth is: I never fired any weapon at any women or children that day." Did Charles Manson himself murder any of his victims, and where is Manson today? This argument alone is an outrage.

As an officer, Wuterich is responsible for the actions of his subordinates, and he knows that. But, is it enough to allow him to plead to the charge dereliction of duty, and not murder?

Just ask relatives and residents of Haditha about the Wuterich's sentencing. They are reportedly shocked, as well as outraged, and plan to continue pursuing this case.

Oh, and there it is again that insidious word "derelict." Wuterich's military prosecutors insist that the killing spree was the "horrific result from that derelict order of shooting first, ask questions later." The word derelict suggests that if Wuterich had first asked questions, and then shot the actions would be any less criminal, which is a ridiculous assertion. That's kind of like saying, if the car was in neutral, it wouldn't have gone off the cliff.

Was Staff Sergeant Wuterich "derelict" when he allegedly falsified an offical document, and attempted to get another Marine to participate in a cover-up? Is that what we call it now, derelict?

And how did the presiding judge respond to being faced with a soldier who would order his squad to rifle through a village killing men, women, and children randomly? The judge affirmed Wuterich's sentence from the plea deal, hence Frank Wuterich won't spend one minute behind bars. His only punishment--he will lose rank. That pales in comparison with what the families of those 24 unarmed Iraqi civilians lost.

But, even if Wuterich were to be sent to the brig, it was not he and he alone who is liable for what happened in Haditha six years ago. It was not just the Marine's cowboy mantra to "shoot first, ask questions later;" the same cowboy ethos resonated in George W. Bush, and was reinforced by Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld, a mindset that makes it possible to label anyone, especially those not wearing a uniform, an "unlawful enemy combatant," thereby justifying a wanton act of cold blooded murder.

Yes, cold blooded murder it is, plain and simple. Allowing Staff Sergeant to walk out of that Camp Pendleton courtroom and not be remanded to a military prison just goes to show that the George W. Bush, Dick Cheney mindset lives on.

Many, including myself, waited for the day that Frank Wuterich heard his sentence. Many, including those who prosecuted him, wanted to see him "in the brig," but he escaped the fate that he and all those who participated in the horror of Haditha that day richly deserved.

The buck doesn't stop there. The world is watching, and waiting for the American courts to hold those responsible for giving the command to invade, plunder, and occupy Baghdad on the false claims of weapons of mass destruction. Courts in Spain, Italy, and the U.K. are trying to compensate for the Obama administration's failure to investigate, and pursue war crimes charges.

But, of course, this will never happen because the Obama administration has the Bush administration's back. Is it any wonder then that, according to The New York Times, Iraqis "remain deeply skeptical of the United States, feelings that were reinforced last week when the Marine who was the so-called ringleader of the 2005 massacre of 24 Iraqis in the village of Haditha avoided prison time and was sentenced to a reduction in rank."

And who can blame them? Frank Wuterich isn't the only one who walked scot-free.