The following editorial appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel June 1:

Two years ago, Americans were appalled by the photographs and written accounts of sexual sadism and other forms of torture that were meted out to Iraqi prisoners by U.S. troops at the now-infamous prison at Abu Ghraib. Today, by contrast, relatively little public or official outrage has been generated by evidence of a far more horrendous breach of discipline and morality elsewhere in Iraq, this time at a western town called Haditha. The possibility that U.S. troops were guilty of mass murder at Haditha needs to be aggressively and exhaustively investigated, by both military officials and Congress.

At issue are the deaths of 24 Iraqis at Haditha on Nov. 19. Initially, U.S. Marines claimed the Iraqis were the victims of a roadside bomb. But a military investigator has since uncovered evidence that conflicts with this account. This evidence includes death certificates that showed all the victims had sustained gunshot wounds, mostly to the head and chest.

Far more dramatic than these legal documents have been the witness accounts to The Washington Post of Haditha residents who have told reporters how Marines massacred innocent people, including a man who was pleading for his life. Other victims, they said, included women trying to shield their children and a 76-year-old man in a wheelchair. Apparently, the Marines reacted after a roadside bomb exploded near a military convoy, killing a Marine corporal.

There are reasons to doubt the willingness of the Pentagon to aggressively investigate this case. Although the killings took place in November, the military did not begin its inquiry until a month after Time magazine presented its own findings to military officials in Baghdad in January. Time published its account in March, but it has had relatively little impact. Fortunately, a congressional investigation has been promised by Sen. John Warner, R-Va., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Anyone who has served in uniform can understand the feelings of rage and revenge that might overcome a soldier whose comrade-in-arms has been killed or wounded by an insurgent bomb. Many GIs have returned from Iraq with shattering and ineradicable memories of traumatic events such as these.

However human these feelings may be, soldiers are not permitted to act on them. Soldiers are bound by the restraints of discipline that military training and leadership are intended to instill in them. Especially grave is the duty to protect civilians. No less a soldier than Gen. Douglas MacArthur once declared that “the soldier, be he friend or foe, is charged with the protection of the weak and unarmed. It is the very essence and reason for his being.”

During the Vietnam War, U.S. soldiers murdered up to 500 people in My Lai, a village that was to become infamous. In war, atrocities are all but inevitable. But inevitable does not mean acceptable. If murder was perpetrated in Haditha, those responsible for it should be treated as murderers.

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