In Light of Haditha, Revisiting How Marines Train to Interact with Iraqi Civilians

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Today’s newspapers bring an update on the Haditha massacre. Four Marines are charged with murder for the killings of two dozen Iraqi civilians, including at least 10 women and children, in the Iraqi village last year. Four officers are also charged with failing to investigate and report the incident. (Odd note: As of 11:09 am PST, the CNN.com homepage has no news of this. However, “Rosie vs. The Donald” and “Giant squid filmed, captured” do make the list.)

The charges are harsh, and may indicate the first signs of real accountability within the military. The NY Times quotes a West Point law professor as saying, “This is very aggressive charging — wow… I think this illustrates the deep seriousness the Marine Corps takes with these events… I definitely think the Marine Corps is sending a message to commanders.”

In light of all this, we’d like to turn your attention to a Mother Jones magazine story called “Lost in Translation: The challenges of training GIs to avoid insulting — and shooting — Iraqi civilians are being faced in California’s Mojave Desert.” Writer Brian Palmer visited a Marine base called Twentynine Palms and watched as young Marines trained for high-intensity civilian-interaction situations, with sometimes uplifting and sometimes distressing results. From Palmer’s report:

The exercise merges traditional training and a brand-new series of simulations and classes for Iraq-bound Marines, with an emphasis on evoking the intensity of actual combat in a credibly simulated Iraqi village. The goal, said Captain Jonathan Smith, Fox Company’s commanding officer, is to make each soldier “a combat vet before they get in country.” Improvised explosive devices made with black powder and compressed air actually go “boom” and sometimes injure people. Marines and “insurgents” fire “sim rounds,” bullets with paintball-type tips that, according to the grunts, hurt like hell. Iraqi role players speak only Arabic. Classes in language, culture, civil affairs, and policing are held alfresco before combat simulations, and instructors race through information at mind-boggling speed. One Arabic language lesson covered four words—”explosives,” “rocket,” “mine,” and “weapons”—and lasted two minutes and 21 seconds.

Two different instructors backed up this scenario with a stunning statistic: “Over the last 12 months or so we killed about 1,000 Iraqis at blocking positions and checkpoints,” the first coyote told the grunts. “About 60—six-zero—we could demonstrate that, yeah, he was a bad guy, he was an insurgent. Six-zero out of about 1,000. So if we don’t communicate what we want them to do, all we’re doing is creating more enemies.” The second instructor later offered up the same figures, concluding: “So obviously, 900-something innocent Iraqis have been killed. That’s pretty shitty numbers, right?”

It’s good. Read the whole thing.

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This is a big one for us. So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

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