THE PENDLETON EIGHT
July 31, 2006
Wars are nothing more than extensions of politics. Every war was generated by one side or another by politicians, kings, emperors or dictators. The military simply does not decide one day to go someplace and start killing people and tearing up real estate. With this in mind, we must constantly be on guard against the politicians using political sensitivities to get in the way of the military mission until that mission is accomplished. However, in recent history, that is exactly what has happened and has proven detrimental to efforts of the military in the field to do what the politicians sent them to do. Whether you call the political puppet strings “Rules of Engagement” or “Tactical Parameters” or any other name, when you “cry havoc, and unleash the dogs of war,” it is best to have a very long leash or the dog won’t be able to bite.
At the same time, the countries who engage in warfare that consider themselves “civilized” have rules, regulations and other guidance for conduct of our forces in the field. From the Geneva Convention to the Rules of Land Warfare, our fighting men and women have well-defined boundaries in which to operate. The problem is the enemy is not always as restrained in their conduct on the battlefield.
The “War on Terror” is simply a guerrilla war. It is a fight against unconventional forces who have no Rules of Engagement, no civil boundaries, no oversight committees, no courts martials, and can basically act as animals and thugs and use anything they want, anywhere they want. They can hide among the civilian population, use human shields, kidnap and murder innocent unarmed civilians, commit atrocities, and are answerable to no one for their actions. They are rabid dogs.
We, on the other hand, for example in Iraq, have reams of rules that we have to abide by. Since we are working within a civilian population and have committed the military to “nation building” and other civil affairs projects, there are certain rules that must be issued and adhered to by our troops to maintain good order, prove our good intent, and distance ourselves from the conduct of the terrorists.
This is all well and good. We don’t want a repeat of My Lai which blackened the image of not only the US Army in Vietnam, but of all services in general. It has taken decades to put the images of My Lai behind us and we must work to see that such an incident does not occur again. However, at the same time, it is imperative that we make sure the enemy does not set up our troops to take the blame for a staged incident that can be used for propaganda purposes, and we must also make sure that any US personnel that are accused of atrocities or war crimes receive a full and impartial hearing and the advice of well appointed counsel. When this does not happen and accusations of breaking the law or the rules exist, then the case becomes one of “railroading” the personnel for the sake of political expediency. Such is the case that is unfolding at Camp Pendleton today.
Known as the “Pendleton Eight,” seven Marines and one Navy corpsman are being held without charges for an alleged crime that occurred months ago in Iraq. Iraqi “witnesses” of questionable character have reported that these Marines, while conducting combat operations, selected an Iraqi man, shoved him in a hole, then shot him multiple times. They then allegedly placed an AK-47 and a shovel in the hole so they could claim he was in the progress of digging a hole for an IED (Improvised Explosive Device).
The first question to come to mind is why they would try to create a bogus scene to cover up a killing. The next is “why this victim over any other Iraqi?” Then other questions follow including, “why not just shoot the man and go on with the operation and call it collateral damage? Why try to create a crime scene? What started the whole thing to begin with? Why did it take so long for the complainants to surface? And so on.
All of that aside, even if the event did occur, there are procedures to be followed to investigate it and prosecute it, and to make sure the participants are treated fairly and have the ability to defend themselves adequately. It’s called a “fair and impartial” trial. It is one of the basic issues that were addressed by our founding fathers and still holds true today.
Every military officer and NCO knows that discipline is necessary for good order, and the morale is necessary for mission effectiveness and unit cohesiveness. The US Marine Corps is known for both. From 1775 to present the words Esprit d’ Corps have held special meaning for our leathernecks, and the motto “Semper Fidelis”—Always Faithful—has been the foundation for a small group of elite warriors who land anywhere, at any time, in any clime, for God, Country and Corps, in that order.
But what happens when the system breaks down? What happens when politicians, including those political creatures in uniform, skew away from the path and instead decide that to appease a foreign government or population for political purposes, it is politically expedient to use a handful of your troops as scapegoats? Why not just eliminate the politically sensitive issue, such as the killing at Haditha, by hanging a few of the lower ranks to prove that we will not tolerate those who break the law?
If this were not bad enough, then add the fact that the eight men were arrested months after the alleged incident, then confined to harsh conditions in the Camp Pendleton brig, and not even charged. The preliminary hearing, known as an Article 32 hearing (from Article 32 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice) has not even occurred yet. Counsel for the defense has received little or no cooperation from the Marine Corps, and in fact, the prosecution outnumbers the defense about five to one. How many lawyers does it take to get to the truth?
Are the marching orders from HQMC "make it look like a fair trial, then hang them"?
The problem is when the politics and political correctness of the upper echelons of our current Pentagon occupants get in the way of established procedure and fairness, this reflects upon the Corps and all it stands for not only for today, but in the future.
In my experience there are good officers and bad officers, and there are those who are good warriors and fight the good fight, and those who are political coat-tail hangers who are very mercenary with their morals and will do what is necessary to get promoted and advance, even at the expense of others. When the latter are in charge of an issue, such as this one, then the system of fairness and "due process" suffers and those accused pay the price. In the mind of these types of officers, "what do a few enlisted men mean when it comes to being promoted from lieutenant colonel to colonel, or colonel to general...they are expendable."
The issue in this case should be to establish fairness so that both sides have equal say and equal support for one reason: To get to the TRUTH!
How can that happen when the system stacks the cards against the defendants? None of us know exactly what happened that day in Iraq, and we sure do want to know. But to hold and try men simply on accusations in a manner that presumes guilt is just plain wrong. There is no reason to even confine the men at this point. They can simply be told they are on restriction to base until the issue is established at the Article 32 hearing. They are Marines. They will honor their orders. Right now every Marine on active duty is seeing that the Corps (at least the officer corps) does not trust them. This is the wrong signal to send to our warriors who are at the sharp end, or anywhere else for that matter. [Order Craig Robert's book: The Medusa File]
The bottom line is that the defense should be given every opportunity and tool to present a proper defense--not to get their clients off, but to get to the truth as soon as possible. If the men did not do what the Iraqi "witness" said they did, then what does the Corps fear? If they did, then this needs to come out quickly and the men punished so that the world can see that we do honor law and order and will not tolerate violations of law by our men.
As a career investigator and police officer I am seeing a huge political coverup being perpetrated here. By the way the Marine staffers and JAGs are conducting themselves, it appears obvious that the Pendleton Eight are pawns in a political game that reaches to the highest levels. They are going to be used as political "throw downs" for the administration. What should be happening is that the Commandant and the Sergeant Major of the Corps should be personally involved to make sure that the eight men receive the best defense that can be had to prove fairness beyond a reasonable doubt. They should have as much, if not more, support from the Corps as the prosecution. There should be no room for accusations of prejudicial deck-stacking after the fact.
The Corps hierarchy should:
1. Provide access to all alleged evidence to defense counsel.
2. Provide transportation to the scene, security while there, and interpreters so that statements and interviews can be obtained by defense.
3. Provide findings of all medical/autopsy evidence including all photographs.
4. Provide copies of all reports from the scene and during the investigation.
5. Honor all practical and fair requests from defense on a timely basis.
6. Provide names, locations and access to all witnesses.
The one thing that they will not do that IS done in civilian courts under the Constitution is provide a jury of the defendants peers. The Courts Martial will consist of mostly or all officers, many of which may never have seen combat. The "jury" should include enlisted Iraqi veterans, all field types with combat experience in the area. THEY are the only ones who would have the experience to see through any untruths or falsifications. After all, the thrust is to get to the truth and prove innocence or guilt. This should be the mission of both sides! In this case, I am seeing the old adage "give the guy a fair trial, then take him out and hang him" being perpetrated right under our noses.
What is happening appears to be nothing more than a thinly veiled witch hunt. That's how I see it, and that's how history will see it if these lads are convicted if no adequate defense can be provided. The waters in this event are already tainted. The Corps has mishandled this case and managed to get itself backed into a corner. It was handled badly from the beginning, with overreactions, blind accusations, mismanagement of resources, and prejudice. It is not too late to salvage IF the Corps provides to the defense all of the above items.
The way the Corps is conducting itself sends the message that they are doing everything they can to inhibit the defense because the Corps' case is weak to begin with. To provide equal access to the facts would be committing political suicide, so it's better to keep the defense in the dark and at a disadvantage as long as possible. A case can be lost simply because a defense is weak, not because the defendant is guilty, and lawyers know this. That is why in the civilian courts we have "discovery" wherein the defense can obtain the evidence, reports and other items prior to trial that the prosecution has.
As for the "trial", what the public will see are three tigers (the prosecution) and a lamb (the disadvantaged defense) deciding what is for dinner.
The bottom line is that what is happening is this: we are being sent the message that the current Marine Corps eats its young. That is not the Corps I remember, nor the Corps that we all fought for. My Marine Corps was a family. My question is this, what in the world has it become these days?
USMC Vietnam veteran
Lieutenant Colonel, USAR, Ret.
Tulsa Police Department, Ret.
NOTE: Whether the reader is for or against the war in Iraq or Afghanistan is not the issue with this article. It is about fairness and truth, no matter where the incident occurred.
© 2006 Craig Roberts - All Rights Reserved
RESTORE THE REPUBLIC!
R.W. "D1ck" Gaines
GnySgt USMC (Ret.)
1952- (Plt #437PISC)-'72
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