Editor’s note: Originally published July 4 2006. Note that the case of the “Pendleton Eight” remains active today.
For the last several weeks, the U.S. military has been under sustained assault. But the enemy is not the so-called insurgency in Iraq or even Islamic terrorism. It’s what I dubbed in a recent column, the antiwar media.
A series of front-page stories with screaming headlines about alleged U.S. “atrocities” in Iraq have overtaken the daily news and each time, the presumption of innocence is nonexistent. Where once the antiwar narrative held that American soldiers were simply poor, misguided victims of the system, now they are portrayed as brutal, cold-blooded killers capable of only the worst sort of behavior. Or in other words, baby killers.
No matter how farfetched the details, unreliable the witnesses or vicious the claims, the antiwar media splashes every single one of them across its front pages. Meanwhile, the truly horrific crimes of our enemies are relegated to the back pages or pushed aside at the nearest opportunity.
This may explain why the kidnapping, torture, murder and beheading of two American soldiers, Pfc. Kristian Menchaca and Pfc. Thomas Tucker, whose booby-trapped bodies were left by terrorists near Baghdad, received barely a day’s coverage before the antiwar media quickly moved on to more familiar territory. The alleged misdeeds of U.S. soldiers, that is.
The following morning it was trumpeted across the media that the eight U.S. soldiers, seven Marines and one Navy sailor, who have come to be known as the “Pendleton Eight” were to be charged with the kidnapping and murder of a disabled Iraqi man. It was claimed that they’d forced one Hashim Ibrahim Awad from his home, shot him and then staged the scene in order to make him appear to have been an enemy fighter. Ever since, the eight have been confined in the Camp Pendleton brig, and for the first few weeks they were kept in isolation and shackled in chains.
While the military apparently felt that the facts at hand were enough to justify a criminal investigation, the entire story reeks of the sort of falsehoods regularly leveled against American soldiers by our enemies. That soldiers would go through such an elaborate ritual in order to murder one man, who conveniently happened to be disabled (anything to make the crime appear more heinous), defies commonsense. Yet once again, the antiwar media and even the military are taking the word of “unidentified” Iraqis over our own soldiers.
Indeed, the attorneys and families of the soldiers in question maintain their innocence and several of the accused’ family members have devoted websites to the cause. The public has also been showing its support with a series of rallies held outside the gates of Camp Pendleton. One rally participant described the media’s double standard on war crimes thusly: “For us, there is. For our enemies, there never is. We are the only ones who follow the rules.”
The latest alleged malfeasance on the part of the military to make the front pages of the antiwar media involves claims that several American soldiers carried out a premeditated rape and murder in an area south of Baghdad known to be an insurgent stronghold. The soldiers were alleged to have plotted the attack for nearly a week and then entered the home of a Sunni Arab family, raped the woman, shot her, set fire to her body and murdered the entire family, including a child.
Once again, the lurid details scream out for further examination and as always, there are various inconsistencies in the details given by witnesses. The fact that our enemies have been falsely claiming that U.S. soldiers rape Iraqi women since day one certainly does nothing to allay skepticism. Earlier on in the war, photos alleging to show an Iraqi woman being gang-raped by a group of American soldiers were published on Arabic websites and eventually in the Boston Globe, when in fact it turns out they were taken from several pornography websites.
Adding to the suspicious nature of the current charges, the suspects were from the same platoon as Pfc. Kristian Menchaca and Pfc. Thomas Tucker, the two soldiers who were kidnapped and murdered by insurgents last month. However, a soldier who had been discharged from the Army for a “personality disorder” has apparently admitted to and been charged with the rape and shootings. Another has said that he overhead the soldiers in question discussing the crime and later saw bloodstains on their clothes.
Whether or not these charges turn out to be true, some perspective is badly needed. Although the antiwar media has painted such incidents as a stain on the military’s honor, somehow destined to destroy morale, it should do neither. Such incidents are isolated and by no means representative of the conduct and behavior of the vast majority of the U.S. military. The fact that they military often instigates these investigations itself speaks volumes. It would certainly help if the antiwar media occasionally balanced these alleged misdeeds with the incredible good being done everyday by U.S. troops in Iraq.
But the simple fact is, bad things happen in war. Yet the antiwar media holds up an impossible standard of a perfection, the likes of which has never occurred in the history of humankind and warfare.
Despite the Western preoccupation with attempting to spare civilian lives and minimize damage to surrounding structures, this is not the standard elsewhere. It’s certainly not a concern of our enemies who go out of their way to butcher the innocent and to use them as human shields. Numerous incidents of U.S. troops protecting Iraqi civilians from harm can be juxtaposed with Islamic terrorists actively targeting civilians. It seems that some forces protect women and children, while others hide behind them.
In the face of an enemy that abides by no rules of civilized conduct, U.S. troops are asked to uphold an almost impossible degree of restraint. As many a soldier has testified, anyone in Iraq could be an enemy. At the same time that U.S. troops are trying to maintain security, they are also asked to be diplomats, politicians, and experts in Arab culture and its many tribal offshoots.
None of this absolves the troops from their moral and professional responsibilities. But before we civilians are so quick to judge, we might want to walk a mile in a soldier’s boots.
The antiwar media would do well to do the same.