A Vietnam vet writes:
You wrote: "So these civilians may have been shot accidentally by a gun-ship in pursuit of a legitimate target, and not in any pre-meditated or illegal fashion, as is alleged at Haditha." Using a gunship, or artillery, in a crowded urban setting, or a village, guarantees dead bystanders. Since the weapons used are sure to cause widespread, indiscriminate slaughter, claiming the civilian dead are just "collateral" damage is specious word parsing.
The man has a point. Firing random bullets into a civilian home, where women and children could be living and sleeping, seems to me to blur the boundaries of moral warfare. It may be that this is what this kind of urban warfare sometimes requires. I doubt it. But if that is the case, it is surely unsurprising that Iraqi civilians increasingly see the coalition troops as potential enemies, rather than as allies against terror. I also notice that in the latest AP report, the detail about the gunship is missing. I don't know what to make of that. I should say that my confidence in Pentagon investigations, after the appalling cover-ups and miscarriages of justice in the torture and abuse inquiries, is pretty low.
Let's also not forget that responsibility in the military is vertical. Commanders are responsible for violations committed by inferiors, regardless of whether they personally knew about them. The commander-in-chief is the president, as he often reminds us. He is the decider. And he is ultimately responsible for any atrocities in the military he commands. In this case, that is particularly true. The standard of military morality and accountability in this war has been set by the defense secretary and president. They have endorsed torture and abuse of detainees - and lied about it. They knew of Abu Ghraib long before we did, and kept it under wraps. It is not a big leap to see why military commmanders, seeing how their commander-in-chief reacts to scandal, would follow his example.
That certainly seems to have been the case at Haditha. I personally see little hope for restoring the military's credibility until we have a new president. When Bush refused to accept Rumsfeld's resignation after Abu Ghraib, he sent a clear signal that people in command would not be held responsible for atrocities committed on their watch. We are living with the consequences. And Americans - not just their government - have some responsibility. They re-elected a man who had been shown to have endorsed torture and abuse. When you re-elect such a man, you live with the consequences.
(Photo: courtesy of Raw Story, taken by Agence France Presse. The other photos are far more graphic and disturbing. Do not click on this link if you do not want to see them. My policy is maximum information, within bounds of taste. I published two Danish cartoons; I published Abu Ghraib photos; I linked to the Nick Berg beheading. This photo is reproduced in the same spirit of letting the light in during this war - even into its darkest moments.)