Monday, January 16, 2012

The Haditha Shootings

On Sunday an IED blast in Ramadi killed 10, and their deaths made front page news.

That’s quite a change from 2005, when some 12,000 Iraqi’s were killed, along with 942 Americans – that was 1,100 deaths monthly, or 37 every day of the year. Also in Sunday’s news was that SSGT Frank Wuterich’s trial had finally started, for allegedly shooting civilians in Haditha.

In 2005 the morning TV news reguarly blared “Marines killed in Anbar,” including that August day when a 6-man Marine sniper unit on the outskirts of Haditha was attacked by a large insurgent group and quickly overrun. The group’s website showed the body of a slain Marine with the insurgents claiming they’d slit the throats of some of the Marines they’d killed. Three days later the news was more horrific; an AAV hit a huge roadside bomb and was catastrophically destroyed, killing 14 Marines and their Iraqi interpreter. The lone survivor was blown from the vehicle.

That’s the environment in which Wuterich and his Marines lived and fought in Haditha.

On the morning of November 19, 2005, another Marine in Haditha was killed and 2 were wounded when their humvee was obliterated as it drove over a bomb made of 155mm shells and propane tanks. The vehicle was split in half by the force of the explosion, with one of the two wounded Marines later medically retired due to his injuries. The dead Marine was 20 years old.

Shortly afterwards, Wuterich and his Marines killed 5 Iraqi’s in a taxi and then burst into three houses, killing a total of 24 Iraqi men, women, and children. Wuterich is charged with nine counts of voluntary manslaughter and related offenses, including failing to follow the rules of engagement.

What are the rules of engagement (ROE)? They’re a code of conduct that at their heart say “get positive ID on your target and make sure you’re shooting an armed enemy and not an unarmed civilian.” It’s important to note the ROE’s were included in Marine training in 2005, and remain an integral part of training today. While the ground commander determines the mission, be it securing a village or clearing the two houses on the right, it’s the responsibility of each Marine to ignore emotion and decide when and if it's appropriate for him to pull the trigger.

Be it a conventional fight like An-Nasiriyah, a firefight outside some Helmand River Valley village, or the daily carnage of 2005 Iraq, it’s the ultimately the responsibility of the each Marine to know at who he’s shooting and whether or not that person is an armed threat. It doesn’t take long to decide – maybe just seconds – but it’s those seconds that help determine if the target is an armed woman (legitimate) or unarmed man (not) and whether to shoot or not. And while Haditha was certainly a hostile environment and one in which every Marine needed to remain hyper-vigilant; part of that hyper-vigilance needed to be directed at shooting only those who were the enemy.

A lot to be asking of these young men after seeing a friend blown to pieces, for sure.


  1. 2 much to ask of young men after seeing a friend blown to pieces, for sure!

  2. It is too much to ask of our warriors, which is why we demand it.

  3. After what they have done too us, they got what they deserved. Who do you think those kids are going to be when they grow up? Another towel head who will kill, and mutalate any American they can. I say, Kill them all!@!!

  4. Anonymous #1, 2, & 3,
    Get a name.

    Anonymous # 2,
    While I don't think the level of professionalism and humanity in combat we "demand" of our warriors is "too much to ask", I will agree that it is a heavy load, which is why it is up to mature unit leaders to exemplify ethical conduct at all times as opposed to paying it lip service in garrison.

    Anonymous # 3,
    Your post speaks for itself. It would be nice to think that we as professional men at arms could use mediums like this blog to grow professionally through the insight and experiences of others. The fact of life is that even as "steel sharpens steel", sometimes a rock gets thrown in there.

    It is easy to say that abiding by ROE's, LOAC, and being a good dude in general is too much to ask for our young Marines in situations where emotion and love drive hatred toward someone else. We can even point to history and say "See? This has been happening since the beginning of time - it is just the nature of humans in combat" (think My Lai, Peter von Hagenbach (Romans 1400's), Genghis Khan, et al.). The fact is we as US Marines are our biggest fans; we love to think we are the leanest and best fighting force in the world and history (including recent) has done nothing short of proving that. Marines have etched our name in history by "doing more with less" and accomplishing the unthinkable. If we intend to keep that reputation, then we must continue to accomplish the impossible - which judging by the last three posts seems to include ethics in combat. Idealistic? Maybe...but I don't think idealism is such a bad thing.