The decision to charge four Marine officers accused of failing to properly investigate the killing of 24 Iraqi civilians was a rare step and might never have occurred had the media not brought the incident to light, experts said on Friday.
The Marine Corps on Thursday charged four Marines with unpremeditated murder in the killing of the two dozen men, women and children on Nov. 19, 2005, in Haditha, Iraq.
[..]Four officers -- a lieutenant colonel, two captains and a lieutenant -- also were charged, accused of dereliction of duty and other counts for their role in the aftermath. An investigation concluded that reporting on the killings up the chain of command was inaccurate and untimely.
"In my opinion the Marine Corps is demonstrating a serious concern that officers that are in command of combat troops closely supervise those troops, and when incidents of a suspicious or unusual nature arise, that they had best look into those," said Gary Solis, who teaches the law of war at Georgetown University.
"It is rare for officers to be charged. And that four would be charged when in the prior history of the war only 10 have been charged, I think that Marine Corps concern is demonstrated," he said.
I admit that I have very limited knowledge of the world of military justice, so I focused more on the charges brought against the actual Marines involved and the horror of those killings. But the former military C&Ler who sent this to me with this message made it clear that this was a far bigger deal:
Those who are saying the Haditha charges are "politically motivated" have a fundamentally flawed knowledge of military justice in general and Marine Corps culture in particular.
First, prior to a General Court Martial an "Article 32" hearing is held, the equivalent of a Grand Jury in civilian terms. FYI, Article 32 refers to the portion of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) that defines the process. This is, despite what many may think, a fair process and the accused generally stand a better chance than they would under similar circumstances in the civilian world (especially since many of the accused are black or brown). Charges are rarely prefered, especially in high profile cases, if there is not good evidence for moving forward. This does not mean they are convicted prior to trial, but it does reflect what happens (career death) to a military prosector who pushes a case forward with insufficent evidence. That charges were preferred means that something out of policy happened.
If this were a "show trial", as many are suggesting, then the charges would have been something like manslaughter or negligent homicide, not murder. Unlike police departments, for instance, the honor and reputation of the Marine Corps is more important than the individual reputations of Marines who have brought dishonor to the Corps.