Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Ilario Pantano offers a word of caution

Over at the NavyEnquirerer, Ilario Pantano offers some advice in this time of 1,001 investigation into conduct of Soldiers and Marines. Subscription required, so I will pull out the best bits.
I served during the 1991 Persian Gulf War, continued my education, started a family and worked 10 successful years in the private sector before returning to the Corps after Sept. 11.

Then, in 2004, while leading a platoon of Marines during fierce fighting in Iraq’s “Triangle of Death,” I killed two men in combat — only to be charged with premeditated murder for my actions.

Threats were made, and pictures simulating my decapitation were circulated on the Internet.

In the end, following a public five days in court, I was exonerated — but only after enduring months of headlines decrying my slaughter of “innocent” Iraqis.

Should I have been surprised that there wasn’t nearly as much attention paid to the fact that I was cleared?

Should I have been disappointed that the men I killed were continuously mischaracterized as innocent civilians, even though they tried to attack me after they were caught fleeing a weapons cache containing cash, IDs and al-Qaida material in a car with hidden compartments for transporting bombs?

The media, prosecutors and politicians have a responsibility to choose their labels carefully as they seek to provide understanding of a complex conflict waged entirely by nonuniformed combatants.

Think about it: Every bomb planted, every rocket-propelled grenade fired, every beheading conducted in Iraq in the last three years has been carried out by a “civilian.”

When the investigations into incidents at Hadithah, Hamdaniya and elsewhere are complete, the military justice system will weigh the evidence; if it leads to a guilty verdict in a fair legal proceeding, punishment will be meted out.

Until then, labels such as “civilian” and even “student” are just as loaded with innuendo as words such as “murder” and “cold blood” because they imply faulty judgment on behalf of the soldier or Marine.

Even though these labels are often inaccurate or irrelevant (a “student” can’t pull a trigger or detonate a bomb?), the subtle suggestion of culpability fuels dangerous rushes to judgment, and in this fight, words are weapons.

I’m not suggesting that our forces can do no wrong. I am merely asking that the same high standard of professionalism that we demand of our troops be applied to those who scrutinize their conduct.

We’ll never know if the three soldiers kidnapped at a checkpoint near Yusufiyah and ultimately found dead waited to engage and gave their lives by giving terrorists the benefit of the doubt.

Unfortunately, that same benefit is rarely afforded to our own men by those who rush to judgment.

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