Rushing To Judgment

Michael Yon has an absolutely brilliant must-read essay on the Haditha allegations and the media’s rush to judgment in the case:

In the absence of clear facts, most people know that a rush to judgment serves no one. What word, then, properly characterizes the recent media coverage of Haditha, when analysis stretches beyond shotgun conclusions to actually attributing motive and assigning blame? No rational process supports a statement like: “We don’t know what happened, but we know why it happened and whose fault it is.”

The Haditha allegations show exactly how much anti-military and even anti-American bias there is in the media today. It’s as though the media sees itself as judge, jury, and agent of sentence all in one – the allegations are treated as true when not all the evidence is in. Part of this is undoubtedly due to simple sloppiness, a bloody story of atrocity sells better than a story about an ongoing investigation, but that sloppiness only magnifies the media’s biases against the United States military. Stories like the supposed “attack” on Giuliana Sgrena, stories about depleted uranium, stories about white phosphorus being a “chemical weapon” – all these stories are written from the perspective of “guilty until proven innocent”.

Compare the treatment of the Haditha story to the way in which the media whitewashed the Islamist connections in the recent Toronto arrests. Muslims get the benefit of the doubt automatically – US soldiers do not. The double standard at play in these cases is quite palpable.

It is quite possible that US Marines did murder innocent Iraqis in cold blood at Haditha. It is also possible that the whole thing is enemy propaganda. It is quite likely that the truth is somewhere in between. None of us sitting comfortably in our homes have earned the right to second-guess the choices made by those who live the reality of modern warfare in Iraq. None of us who have not been there can really know what it’s like to be in a foreign country where one is unable to tell enemy from friend and where even the most innocuous thing can be a deadly threat. Are those children playing ball in the street really innocent children or spotters for a group planting an IED up ahead? Is that old man leaning against a cane or an AK-47? Is that woman carrying a child or a load of high explosives? We don’t live with that reality, but our soldiers do every day.

The rush to judgment at Haditha needs to stop. Let the facts come out, carefully and after due consideration. Let those who are guilty be punished – as they will. The reality is that the media has cried wolf so many times that accusations of “atrocity” have begun to lose their impact. That isn’t a positive development for this country. Implying that an incident still under investigation happened in a certain way for an absolute fact, and that incident represents the totality of the US military and the US government is unacceptable. Trying to lay blame for this incident at the hands of the civilian leadership is equally ridiculous, despite the convoluted arguments about calling prisoners names giving our soldiers carte blanche to kill. Our soldiers aren’t mindless automatons, and the argument that because we don’t treat illegal combatants with kid gloves that somehow provides even a shred of a priori justification for the potential murder of innocents is a deeply foolish argument. One can equally say that the agitprop of al-Jazeera makes soldiers think that if they’re already being accused of war crimes by the Arab press they might as well do it. Both arguments systematically diminish our soldiers as rational agents, and neither one holds much water. What happened at Haditha was not motived by Donald Rumsfeld or George W. Bush, it was motivated by a specific time and a specific set of circumstances. Trying to cram one’s political whims into this case as Sullivan does is just an example of how irrationally Sullivan treats this matter.

Haditha, no matter what, exposes the real differences between this nation and the enemy we fight. When one of our own commits a crime, we investigate and we are willing to prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law. We wring our hands over an Army Field Manual that authorizes “torture” in terms of “humiliation” while our enemies behead innocent female captives. Our forces make every effort to discriminate between combatants and non-combatants, while our enemy continually finds ways to exploit that position.

Sadly, for some, none of that matters. Even more sadly, many of those are people whose very freedoms depend on the the military they openly loathe.

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