Morally bruis­ing war

The Washington Times Weekly - - International Perspectives -

The gen­eral in charge of U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand Marines praised Lance Cpl. Justin Shar­ratt in drop­ping all charges against him this month in the shoot­ing deaths of four Iraqi civil­ians in Ha­ditha, Iraq, in Novem­ber 2005.

“The ex­pe­ri­ence in com­bat is dif­fi­cult to un­der­stand in­tel­lec­tu­ally and very dif­fi­cult to ap­pre­ci­ate emo­tion­ally,” stated Marine Lt. Gen. James Mat­tis, the com­man­der, in a let­ter dis­miss­ing all charges against the cor­po­ral with­out prej­u­dice on Aug. 8.

Gen. Mat­tis quoted for­mer Supreme Court Jus­tice Oliver Wen­dell Holmes, who said that com­bat is an “in­com­mu­ni­ca­ble ex­pe­ri­ence” and that “de­tached re­flec­tion can­not be de­manded in the face of an up­lifted knife.”

“Marines have a well-earned rep­u­ta­tion for re­main­ing cool in the face of en­e­mies bran­dish­ing much more than knives,” Gen. Mat­tis said, not­ing the “bru­tal re­al­ity” of daily life in Iraq.

“Where the en­emy dis­re­gards any at­tempt to com­ply with eth­i­cal norms of war­fare, we ex­er­cise dis­ci­pline and re­straint to pro­tect the in­no­cent caught on the bat­tle­field. Our way is right, but it is also dif­fi­cult.”

Gen. Mat­tis stated that an ex­haus­tive in­ves­ti­ga­tion showed Cpl. Shar­ratt “acted in ac­cor­dance with the rules of en­gage­ment” in Ha­ditha, and he noted that by drop­ping the charges, Cpl. Shar­ratt could “fairly con­clude that you did your best to live up to the stan­dards fol­lowed by U.S. fight­ing men through­out our many wars, in the face of life or death de­ci­sions made by in a mat­ter of sec­onds in com­bat.”

The three-star gen­eral put the cur­rent con­flict in con­text by not­ing that in Iraq “our na­tion is fight­ing a shad­owy en­emy who hides among the in­no­cent peo­ple, does not com­ply with any as­pect of the law of war, and rou­tinely tar­gets and in­ten­tion­ally draws fire to­ward civil­ians.

“As you well know, the chal­lenges of this com­bat en­vi­ron­ment put ex­treme pres­sures on you and your fel­low Marines,” he said. “Op­er­a­tional, moral and le­gal im­per­a­tives de­mand that we Marines stay true to our own stan­dards and main­tain com­pli­ance with the law of war in this morally bruis­ing en­vi­ron­ment.”

Gen. Mat­tis’ let­ter con­trasts sharply with com­ments made in May 2006 by Rep. John P. Murtha, Penn­syl­va­nia Demo­crat, who ac­cused the Marines in Ha­ditha of killing Iraqis “in cold blood” and then cov­er­ing up the pur­ported atroc­ity.

Cpl. Shar­ratt was in­ves­ti­gated af­ter Iraqi civil­ians said he and an­other Marine ex­e­cuted four Iraqis dur­ing a search of a house in Ha­ditha. In­ves­ti­ga­tors later de­ter­mined that he and an­other Marine acted in self-de­fense af­ter one of the men pointed an AK-47 ri­fle at Cpl. Shar­ratt from the house.

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