Marine demoted to private to end Haditha trial. Did military justice work?
A pretrial agreement means Marine Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, the last defendant in the Haditha trial, will not serve any time in prison for his role in the killing of 24 Iraqis in 2005.
(Page 2 of 2)
In other words, loyalty to the troops trumped loyalty to the constitution, and resulted in failure “to conduct a meaningful investigation immediately,” Glazier says.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
It did not help, either, that after handing out condolence payments to the family members of Haditha victims, military lawyers then argued that the money tainted their eyewitness accounts. “To me, that defies logic,” says Glazier.
Yet there is good reason that the investigation and trial took as long as it did, says Capt. Glenn Sulmasy, a judge advocate general and professor of law at the US Coast Guard Academy.
“The system is liberalizing even at the expense of affecting perceptions of this country,” says Capt. Sulmasy.
For this reason, Haditha does not represent a failure of the military justice system, he argues, but rather the changing realities of 21st century warfare.
“The military justice system is fair, and most American warriors act in accordance with laws of war,” says Sulmasy, author of The National Security Court System: A Natural Evolution of Justice in an Age of Terror. “Why did it take so long? That boils down to the political issues of warfare today.”
This includes enemy fighters who dress as civilians, and a counterinsurgency focus on winning hearts and minds, he says.
Yet there remains the issue of culpability, Glazier says. The Haditha case – like Abu Ghraib and others before it – was surrounded with concerns that a relatively low-ranking soldier was taking the fall, while officers avoided any repercussions.
In this case, however, “It seems that objectively, the guy who was facing the serious charges” – in this case Wuterich – “was the senior Marine in the unit on the scene” and therefore “has the greatest responsibility. I don’t think it’s an injustice that subordinates were given a plea deal and asked to testify against him.”
Ultimately, however, when the Marines took the stand in the trial against Wuterich, “They cast doubt as to whether or not the situation was clear cut. They had remorse. They said that looking back at it they realized the amount of killing they did was excessive,” Glazier adds.
The jury, for its part, was comprised of military veterans who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan. For better or worse, this remains a necessary component of trying troops accused of war crimes, both Glazier and Sulmasy agree.
“It’s almost impossible to get a civilian jury to ever convict” a soldier, Glazier says. These are “folks who are well aware of the fact that when the nation decided to launch these overseas wars they think, ‘We didn’t go to war; we didn’t make those risks.’ ”
What was missing – and remains missing – is more realistic training for the troops who are headed to war, and a more blunt explanation of why the rule of law during combat is so vital, Glazier says. “A lot of folks think that these rules of law are humanitarian niceties,” he notes.
So if it’s a choice between protecting fellow troops whose lives may be in imminent danger or killing innocents, they protect their buddies, he adds.
"What has to be explained is that ultimately other soldiers and Marines are going to die if you violate these rules.”
Haditha for example, resulted in “extra recruiting, extra financial support, and cousins of those who were killed joining the insurgency,” Glazier says. “What you never hear presented is that these rules are designed to win the war – not to tie your hands.”
IN PICTURES: Leaving Iraq
Get daily or weekly updates from CSMonitor.com delivered to your inbox. Sign up today.