Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Killings in Haditha


The alleged unprovoked killings of Iraqi civilians by U.S. Marines in Haditha, and any subsequent cover-up, are bad news for U.S. public diplomacy. Once again, context matters: The sergeant who allegedly countenanced and/or participated in the killings may be a low man on the Marine Corps totem pole when on base—just one of thousands of NCOs. But in the field, his power to confirm jihadi propaganda images of Americans as heedless murderers can set back months of restraint, bridge-building and good works by the rest of the U.S. military.

The only thing I’m thankful for is that, as opposed to Abu Ghraib, no photos of the actual killings have emerged. As someone said yesterday, at least there are no Polaroids of Iraqi kids with their last cigarettes dangling from their mouths.

Although Marine Corps photographers have thoroughly documented the sites of whatever crimes took place, we can expect those to be relatively sanitary crime-scene photography shown only at the courts-martial, hopefully with nothing more vivid than chalk lines surrounding spent shell casings and the places where victims’ bodies were found.

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