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The recent events revealed at Haditha in Iraq are, far from being an aberration, firmly within the tradition of American military operations. That the Haditha massacre involved US Marines saddened this former Marine officer who more than 50 years ago commanded a company of the Third Marines, the same regiment involved in this episode. However, it did not particularly surprise him.
Similarly, as one who twenty-five years ago during the Iran-contra years, was a CIA officer, I have not been astonished by revelations of “extraordinary rendition” and the use of extreme interrogation techniques. One is tempted to say, “Well, what else is new?” and move on. After all, war is hell.
However, we cannot merely move on, in the sense of simply accepting this renewed breakdown of military and international law and slapping the wrists of the few “bad apple” perpetrators who have had the bad luck of being caught on inadequately censored videotapes.
Those responsible-i.e., those in command and policymaking positions within the military and civilian branches of the United States Government, and this includes members of Congress who vote the funds for the current military operations in the Middle East and who abnegate their responsibilities by failing to institute impeachment proceedings against all those “civil officials of the national government”-for these war crimes have to be tried and punished, in US courts and international courts, as well.
If, as United States citizens, we do not, through both the political and legal processes, insist on holding our war criminals to account, we merely abet them. Merely wearing a uniform and exposing onesself to gunfire does not entitle one to honor. After all, members of armed criminal gangs take similar risks.
Time to call spades spades. The United States warmaking tradition is nothing to be uncritically proud of, and what is being done in the Middle East is arguably less worthy of pride than many of America’s past military operations.
The pottery barn quip does not apply. Yes, we came into the Middle East shop and broke the pottery, but we now know that our remaining there does not mend the pots. It only breaks more.
Time to come home. Now. No more Hadithas.
DAVID MacMICHAEL, a disabled veteran of 10 years active Marine Corps service in Korea, was a Defense Department consultant from 1965 to 1969 in Southeast Asia. During most of that period he was attached to the office of the Special Assistant for Counter-Insurgency at the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok. In that capacity he reviewed classified reports from the U.S. mission in Vietnam.