A lie can get half way around the world before the truth can lace up its combat
boots. This is especially true when the lie is propagated by a major news magazine
and a senior member of Congress.
On March 19, 2006, Time Magazine published an article in effect accusing a squad of
Marines of having murdered civilians in Haditha, Iraq, and their superiors of
covering it up.
"It's much worse than reported in Time Magazine," said Rep. Jack Murtha, D-Pa, at a
press conference May 17, 2006. "There was no fire fight. There was no IED that
killed these innocent people. Our troops overreacted because of the pressure on
them and they killed innocent civilians in cold blood."
Rep. Murtha, a former Marine, told the Philadelphia Inquirer he got his information
from the Commandant of the Marine Corps. But the briefing Gen. Michael Hagee gave
Rep. Murtha took place on May 24, a week after Mr. Murtha had accused the Marines of
On December 21, 2006, four enlisted Marines were charged with multiple counts of
murder. Later, four officers in their chain of command were charged with having
covered up the murders. The news coverage of the indictments was enormous.
On Tuesday, a military judge dismissed without prejudice charges against LtCol.
Jeffrey Chessani. He was the seventh of the eight Marines either to have the
charges against him dismissed, or be found not guilty. The only Marine still facing
court martial is Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich, and the charges against him have
been downgraded from murder to manslaughter. News coverage of the acquittals has
been sparse, relegated to the "news briefs" section in most newspapers.
The Time Magazine story was based chiefly on the testimony of three Iraqis, all of
whom had ties to the insurgency. Mr. McGirk may himself have sympathized with the
insurgents. He spent the first Thanksgiving after 9/11 with members of the Taliban
in Afghanistan. This is what he wrote about it in Time:
"Our missing colleagues finally arrive, and I leave thinking this evening wasn't
very different from the first Thanksgiving; people from two warring cultures sharing
a meal together and realizing, briefly, that we're not so different after all."
Testimony at the various courts martial indicated at least eight of the 24 alleged
victims were armed terrorists, and the physical evidence at the scene contradicted
the accounts of Mr. McGirk's witnesses.
Writing in StrategyPage a year ago May, Harold Hutchison compared Haditha to claims
made by the Palestinian Authority that Israeli soldiers had massacred civilians in
the village of Jenin in Gaza in April, 2002. The accusations received much more
attention from the news media than the subsequent reports of UN investigators that
the accusations were false.
"If the testimony about Haditha bears out, then it will just be the latest example
of media misreporting," Mr. Hutchison wrote. "At that point, though, the real cover
up will begin. Very little, if any effort will be made to correct the record.
Politicians like John Murtha, who repeated the most inflammatory charges, will get a
What Mr. Hutchison predicted has come to pass. Time Magazine and Rep. Murtha owe
these Marines an apology, but it is unlikely to be forthcoming. Only people with
integrity apologize when they've done harm to innocents.
But Time and Jack Murtha aren't the only miscreants in this sorry saga. The Marines
were charged despite a report, issued the month before Mr. Murtha accused them of
murder, which concluded "there is no evidence that the Marines intentionally set out
to target, engage and kill non-combatants."
When they were first arrested, the enlisted Marines were treated far worse than
terrorists at Guantanamo Bay. The Naval Criminal Investigation Service (NCIS)
ignored exculpatory evidence. One prosecution witness changed his story five times.
Another failed a polygraph test. That witness, a native of Venezuela, may have
been threatened with deportation if he didn't testify against his comrades. The
charges against LtCol. Chessani were dismissed because of unlawful command
When I was a Marine, I was comforted by the thought that I'd never be left behind,
even if I were dead. But it appears that some senior people in the Corps and NCIS
tried to railroad the Haditha Eight to appease Rep. Murtha's false, politically
motivated charges. It is they not the Haditha Marines who should be hanging
their heads in shame.