Post-Haditha Math

Talking points on a massacre.

| Wed Jun. 7, 2006 3:00 AM EDT

The Bush administration ran its numbers quickly after the Haditha story broke big-time in the media -- and word of those numbers went around fast. In fact, in the last week, was there a major military or civilian Pentagon figure who didn't manage to use them? Here's a sampling:

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld: "We know that 99.9 percent of our forces conduct themselves in an exemplary manner. We also know that in conflicts things that shouldn't happen, do happen."

Army Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, commander of multinational forces in Iraq: "The allegations of Haditha are troubling to all of us… [but] out of those 150,000 soldiers, I'd dare to say that 99.9 percent of them are doing the right thing."

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Army Brig Gen. Donald Campbell, chief of staff for Multi-National Corps-Iraq: "While the bulk of our forces, 99.9 percent, serve with honor, there are a small number of individuals who sometimes choose the wrong path."

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen Peter Pace: "Clearly the individuals involved -- if they are responsible for the things they are being accused of -- have not performed their duty the way that 99.9% of their fellow marines have."

Marine Commandant Gen. Michael Hagee: "Praised the ‘99.9%' of Marines who follow their training not to fire on civilians."

MNFI (Multinational Forces) spokesman in Iraq: "Defended the record of the US-led troops in Iraq, saying that ‘99.9 per cent of all men and women' in the forces adhere to the highest standards and any violations will be punished."

Okay, but that's where they all stop. Now, let's do the rest of the math for them. If Rumsfeld and others are right, then only .1% of American forces in Iraq have not conducted themselves in "an exemplary manner," did not do "the right thing," serve "with honor," or "adhere to the highest standards." Let's assume, despite Lt. Gen. Chiarelli's figure above, that there are actually about 135,000 American troops in Iraq at the moment. That means that only 135 of them are not doing "the right thing," etc. If it's only the Marines, who make up less than one-quarter of our troops in Iraq, the figure is obviously far lower. It seems the military won't need to invest in many teachers for that "core warrior values" retraining of theirs, given such numbers.

Prejudgment at Haditha

"[T]he Marine Corps issued a directive to its generals telling them not to discuss details of the Haditha case because such comments could compromise ‘the integrity of the investigative and legal processes…'"

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen Peter Pace: "I understand it's going to be a couple of more weeks before those investigations are complete and we should not prejudge the outcome."

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld: "We don't know what -- quite what happened there [at Haditha] yet, and it strikes me that it's appropriate to get the facts and see what took place. We in the United States hold our forces to a very, very high standard, and it's proper that we should. And General Hagee is out meeting with the Marines and talking to them about this subject. And I don't know that I could add anything else. Furthermore, it's not proper for me to discuss these types of things since I'm in the chain of command, and there is a legal phrase called ‘command influence,' which if I say something by mistake, it could adversely affect the outcome of a trial, for example, in one way or another, either favorably to a defendant or unfavorably to a defendant. And I wouldn't want to be involved in anything like that, so I am not going to get beyond what I've suggested."

White House spokesman Tony Snow: "Because the Marines are actually conducting an inquiry and it's a very vigorous one. I would ask you to suspend any judgment about what happens. I mentioned this morning that there are two tracks. Number one is what happened with the reporting of the incident, and what happened. And the Marines are taking both of those very seriously and they're proceeding very aggressively. So I think rather than trying to prejudge it -- the second thing, and this is equally important, is that when you have an ongoing criminal proceeding, to try to characterize it on my part or anybody within the chain of command within the Department of Defense could very well prejudice and injure any attempts to engage in a prosecution should it be necessary. So you've got to be very careful about how you do this."

Baker Spring, a military expert at the Heritage Foundation. "If soldiers [or Marines] are acting inconsistently with these requirements, there's no doubt the military will take disciplinary action…. It's always wrong to prejudge the outcome of this procedure."

This sampling of restatements of essential American fairness in the face of a judicial process should actually be amended for the sake of accuracy to read in the following way: When any "incident" is first reported, American military spokespeople should always immediately prejudge the outcome by denying in the strongest possible terms that any account other than the military one is in any way accurate. The fallback position, once that "incident" won't go away, is that judgment should be suspended and no prejudging should go on until, hopefully, it fades from sight.

The Commander-in-Chief Presidency Takes a Walk

George Bush wanted to be "commander-in-chief" and, with the help of his Vice President and fervent followers, to create a commander-in-chief presidency. Now he has something approaching that and, it seems, he wants out of the mix.

"Q Have you gotten updates on the [Haditha] situation?

"THE PRESIDENT: Well, I'm not involved with the investigation, and you shouldn't expect me to be. I expect this investigation to be conducted independent of the White House, with a full and thorough investigation."

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