Vietnam Analogy: getting away with murder in Haditha and My Lai by mattsteinglass
October 5, 2007, 5:26 pm
Filed under: Iraq, Vietnam, War

The NY Times reports today that the military is likely to drop murder charges against the  last of the Marines who were being prosecuted for murdering 24 civilians in Haditha in late 2005.

Instead, the investigator recommended that if the case proceeded to court-martial, the marine, Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich, be charged only with negligent homicide for the deaths of seven women and children killed in a home assaulted by a Marine squad after a roadside bomb struck its convoy, said Mark Zaid, a lawyer for Sergeant Wuterich.

The investigator recommended that no charges be filed against Sergeant Wuterich in the deaths of the other 10 Iraqis he was originally accused of killing. The investigator, Lt. Col. Paul J. Ware, a Marine lawyer, has sent his recommendation to the commanding general of the First Marine Expeditionary Force, who will decide whether to try the case by court-martial.

Colonel Ware has presided over hearings for all three enlisted men charged with murder in the Haditha episode and last summer recommended dropping all charges against the previous two, Lance Cpls. Justin L. Sharratt and Stephen B. Tatum, citing a lack of evidence. Colonel Ware said those killings should be viewed in the context of combat against an enemy that ruthlessly employs civilians as cover. He also warned that murder charges against marines could harm the morale of troops still in Iraq.

The commanding general, James N. Mattis, has dismissed the charges against one of the lance corporals but has not yet ruled on the other case.

Apparently the fact that convicting someone of murder might “harm the morale” of other troops is allowed to weigh against prosecution, in military justice.

On March 16, 1968, US troops massacred some 350 to 500 peasants in the village of My Lai, Quang Ngai province, South Vietnam. The company captain had ordered his unit to “wipe out [the enemy] for good”, and had apparently responded in an unclear fashion when asked whether that included women and children. The massacre involved episodes of rape and mutilation by dozens of soldiers. Photos were taken at the scene; numerous soldiers testified to other soldiers’ atrocities. The company captain and all higher officers were acquitted or never charged; all enlisted men were acquitted. Only Lt. William Calley was convicted of murder. He served four months in jail after the conviction.

My Lai was the only one of hundreds of episodes of American war crimes in Vietnam to achieve media prominence, and one of the only ones to result in charges or convictions. In the “Tiger Force” atrocities, the Army found an elite unit of troops had murdered hundreds of civilians over a 7-month period in 1967; none were ever charged. In the early 2000s, Columbia University history Ph.D. candidate Nick Turse pored through hundreds of records of US Army investigations substantiating dozens of incidents of war crimes which went unprosecuted or unpunished, before the Army, reading articles he wrote in the LA Times, hurriedly re-classified the documents.

Even these investigations represent a small minority of the war crimes committed in Vietnam; they do not include incidents such as former Sen. Bob Kerrey’s massacre of five civilians when he served as a Navy SEAL. In general, war crimes committed by US forces go unreported or unpunished, and that pattern appears not to have changed since Vietnam.


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