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Archive for March 18th, 2007

Today on 60 Minutes, Scott Pelley interviewed Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich about the his personal account and explanation of the 24 killed in Haditha, Iraq.

I will not comment on the killings because a court martial will provide the witness accounts, documents, and statements necessary to justify or condemn the Marines’ actions at Haditha back in November 2005. What I would like to comment on the revealed presupposition by Scott Pelley or 60 Minutes.

The questions demonstrated a total lack of understanding, illustrated by the type of questions posed. Though I do not expect a civilian to understand why serviceman are sometimes forced to chose the risk of civilian deaths, Scott Pelley’s line of questioning reveal that 60 Minutes is not really implying the guilt of Wuterich but implying guilt of the rules of engagement in general. In other words, their attacking the entire worldview that justifies warfare.

From first loaded question to last question, Wuterich is asked to justify and explain the tactics and the result of those tactics. Why do I say loaded? Because they demonstrate a presumption implying war is wrong because the way warfare is waged is wrong.

For example, when discussing the justification of Wuterich’s decision to assault the house south of his position:

“This building was right in the line of sight of this explosion here,” Wuterich says.

“You did not see fire coming from the house, correct?” asks Pelley.

“I did not see muzzle flashes coming from the house, correct,” Wuterich replies.

If he didn’t hear rounds coming from the house, how did he identify the house as a threat?

“Because that was the only logical place that the fire could come through seeing the environment there.”

Similarly, leading up to the narrative of the assault of the house, Pelley asks Wuterich to explain the justification of kicking in the door and throwing a grenade in the house:

“Frank, help me understand. You’re in a residence, how do you crack a door open and roll a grenade into a room?” Pelley asks.

“At that point, you can’t hesitate to make a decision. Hesitation equals being killed, either yourself or your men,” he says.

“But when you roll a grenade in a room through the crack in the door, that’s not positive identification, that’s taking a chance on anything that could be behind that door,” Pelley says.

“Well that’s what we do. That’s how our training goes,” he says.

The questions and follow-up questions reveal Pelley has a problem with the way warfare is waged- the tactics. Pelley finds throwing a grenade in the room before clearing the room problematic. Pelly’s question implies Wuterich ought to have look in the room to get “positive identification” of the enemy before throwing a grenade inside.

Pelley later goes on to list the dead, then asks Wuterich to explain the deaths.

In the second house was the Younis family. A 41-year-old man, a 35-year-old woman, a 28-year-old woman, and the children — Noor, 14; Sabah, 9; Zaineb, 3; and Aisha, 2. They were all killed by Wuterich’s men.

How does he explain that?

“We reacted to how we were supposed to react to our training and I did that to the best of my ability. You know the rest of the Marines that were there, they did their job properly as well. Did we know that civilians were in there? No. Did we go in those rooms, you know, it would have been one thing, if we went in those rooms and looked at everyone and shot them. You know, we cleared these houses the way they were supposed to be cleared,” he says.

What I find foolish is the question assuming that Wuterich could even explain the deaths in the first place. The question wasn’t sincere. The question wasn’t asking really to explain how they died, but WHY. Outside a Christian worldview, no one can explain why 2 year-old dies much less why the 3 children, Noor, Zaineb, and Aisha died.

The interview was never meant to give a personal account of what happened. Rather, all the questions reveal a presupposition, not about the Haditha killings at all, but rather of the tactics and the way war ought to be fought.

The loaded questions clearly reveal and were based on the assumption that war and the tatics in war were wrong. Thus, in reality, no explanation by Wuterich, or any military official for that matter, would justify throwing a grenade into a room before entering to 60 Minutes or Scott Pelley’s satisfaction.

Though Pelley might deny such presuppositions, the questions, follow-up questions, and reactions to the answers reveal the assumption that the actions taken by Wuterich are unexplainable, unjustifiable, and immoral to begin with- that’s why these particular questions were asked.

The most clear indication of the their presuppositions is the question posed to Wuterich’s attorneys:

“In an insurgency situation, Marines don’t get a second chance If they aren’t able to fire first, they die,” says Neil Puckett, who, along with Mark Zaid, are Wuterich’s civilian attorneys.

How can they make the argument that these killings are within the law?

“They’re within the law because they were not done without legal justification or excuse,” Puckett says. “They were done in a combat environment, in a tactical situation, in order to protect the lives of the remaining Marines who survived the IED that day. And that makes them lawful.”

Zaid adds: “And these three one Marines knew — their buddies and colleagues who had tried to do similar take downs of houses where they tried, in fact, to knock first and shoot later. And the Marines who tried that were dead.”

What the dialogue above reveals is the arbitrariness and wishful thinking of how warfare ought to be. How do the question posers even assume that there are laws that ought to be followed? Because a bunch of law writers made them? Social convention? When war is fought, people are disagreeing so much, they are willing to kill each other over it! Do people follow laws when they are willing to kill? And if they don’t, what then? And if they do, what is reasonable and unreasonable? According to whom? According to what standard?

Further in the interview, 60 Minutes, asked several more questions regarding the tactics:

“Are there circumstances under which you’d declare an entire house hostile and go in with the intention of just killing everyone inside?”

Donovan Campell, a Reserve Captain interviewed separately, answered:

“You have to have the context of heavy enemy involvement in the area and then I think you have to have a more specific operating context that deals specifically with that house. You know there are several insurgents inside and you need to go in and get them out because they are attacking you.”

(In other words: Yes if one, in the past, you were attacked and you know the enemy are involved in the general area and two, if more specifically you resonably believe insurgents to be inside the house. ) To which Pelley predicatably responded with the question:

“How do you know?”

The end reaffirmed that the interview was really about the tactics and justification of the tactics rather than the killings in Haditha:

“What I did that day, the decisions that I made, I would make those decisions today,” he says.

“What I’m talking about is the tactical decisions. It doesn’t sit well with me that women and children died that day,”

In the end, Scott Pelley asked if Wuterich wanted to apologize, to which Wuterich responded:

“There is nothing that I can possibly say to make up or make well the deaths of those women and children and I am absolutely sorry that that happened that day.”

In closing, when two different worldviews have different starting points for morality and ethics, the argument becomes endless controversey talking about the individual points and scenarios instead of arguing over the presuppositions or fundamental standard of what is right and wrong, of what is true and not true. Thus unfortunately, Wuterich’s original intention to defend against the accusations of being a baby-killer and monster were fruitless because they did not deal with the presuppositions.

As a sidenote, I want to point out I’m not defending Wuterich’s actions. Thus, if the court-martial finds him guilty, it would show that Wuterich and the other Marines were not justified in using the tactics, not that in general, the tactics are not justifiable.

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