Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Elusive truth


William Russell, the Republican candidate seeking the congressional seat now held by Rep. Jack Murtha, is running an ad on the O-R Web site in which he says he wants to "set the record straight" and accuses Murtha of being "wrong about Haditha." Russell, shown at left, asserts that "we now know Murtha was factually wrong." No, we don't. The focus here, and the focus of Russell's campaign, is the 2005 killings of two dozen civilians in the Iraqi town of Haditha and Murtha's comments on the matter. In May 2006, Murtha said people at the highest levels of the Marine Corps advised him that Marines in Haditha "killed innocent people in cold blood." Investigators said the dead included women and children. Well after the fact, charges were brought against eight enlisted Marines and officers. Russell, a retired military officer, notes in his ad that charges have since been dropped against seven of the Marines, while one "awaits justice." But decisions by a Marine Corps general to drop charges does not equal a finding of innocence after a trial in a court of law, and that does not make Murtha "wrong about Haditha." The Marine still awaiting trial, Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, was the squad leader in Haditha and faces voluntary manslaughter charges. In an earlier hearing for Wuterich, one of his own squad members told the court that shortly before the Haditha incident, Wuterich told him "If we ever get hit again, we should kill everyone in that vicinity." Wuterich's squad gets hit with an IED attack, and 24 civilians die in Haditha. There's an old saying that truth is the first casualty of war. Anyone who was not in Haditha that day and claims to know the truth is wrong. Murtha doesn't know. Russell doesn't know. I don't know. I do feel confident in saying that in any war, atrocities are committed by both sides. We would like to think that our soldiers are above random killings and torture. They are not. Most of us, thankfully, will never know the pressures and horror of being in a war zone where we are walking targets for people who have no respect for human life. We don't know how we would react to being fired on by insurgents or seeing one of our comrades killed by a bomb. In every war, I would suspect that the vast majority of the troops are just trying to stay alive. You have a few true heroes, like Sgt. Alvin York and our own Col. Joe Marm, but you also have a few true criminals, like Lt. William Calley in Vietnam and our own Spec. Charles Graner at Abu Ghraib. None of us can say that what the Marines did in Haditha was criminally wrong. We weren't in their shoes. But to say that Murtha was factually wrong is, well, factually wrong.

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20 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's funny how "truth" can be such a gray area... and how standards for deducing truth are woefully deficient.

I agree that dropped charges do not equal an acquittal... but at the same time, being found "not guilty" does not equal innocence.

Case in point: OJ Simpson.

It's also funny that you blog on this topic today... Russel's ad was the absolute FIRST thing I noticed this morning when I went to the OR page... It struck me neither here nor there... but if you had blogged about a Heartwood Acres ad on any other day when HA was advertising on the site, I would have had to go back and look at the ad to know what you were talking about... Today was different... was it a more effective ad? Was it just coincidence that I noticed it and retained it longer than the instant it was in front of my face?

-ellipses

August 26, 2008 at 1:03 PM  
Blogger Brant said...

I first saw it last night. Maybe I noticed it because it looked different from what was usually up there, but I do think it is an effective, eye-catching ad. It's well done. I just think its basic premise is questionable.

August 26, 2008 at 1:39 PM  
Blogger Brant said...

One more thing. As we've seen, particularly since the advent of DNA testing, being convicted of a crime doesn't mean you're guilty.

August 26, 2008 at 1:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brant, the charges were dropped because they were innocent (as in innocent until proven guilty). Murtha declared them guilty before a court had even reviewed it. That is the travesty that Russell is speaking of, more than anything.
Honestly, this is the most disturbing piece I have ever read from you.
Murtha condemned men for no other reason than politics. Some poor child that was serving his country was being condemned to serve a political agenda.
Not only was it obvious from day one given the facts on hand, but regardless, Murtha condemned them first.
I have truly lost a great deal of respect for you after this article.

August 26, 2008 at 3:33 PM  
Blogger Brant said...

I'm interested in what your firsthand knowledge is of the situation in Haditha. I'm guessing that all 24 people didn't commit mass suicide. Certainly, our troops have to be aware that some people who appear to be civilians could actually be insurgents with bombs strapped to their bodies. Even women are increasingly getting into the act over there. But the children??? I suppose that's just what apologists like to call collateral damage. And if you condone killing defenseless children, in whatever circumstances, then I certainly have no respect for you. It clearly was not obvious from day one what happened in Haditha, or the Marine Corps would not have conducted this huge investigation, or reprimanded three officers for their handling of the matter. And no, these were not the officers that were charged and later had charges dropped. And there is still one person facing trial in this case. Murtha got his information from people he trusted in the senior level of the Marine Corps. We can argue about whether he should have chosen his words more carefully, but to this day, none of us knows what really went down there. If there's something else you'd like to say about this, perhaps you'd like to sign your name to it, because I lose a lot of respect for people who like to make bold statements such as yours, question my character, and then hide behind anonymity. Will you come out of hiding? I'll bet not.

August 26, 2008 at 4:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your statements like so many are based on a preconceived notion colored by the Vietnam War. You attacked Russell's character and questioned the character of some servicemen of this nation. Many people are not afraid to speak up. Sometimes they keep their names quiet for their own reasons. If you are so proud of your comments, than why are you angry that they are questioned. You knew when you wrote the article that they would be questioned. You knew that someone from the more conservative side would leap to Russell's defense. Are you really that angered? Who are you honestly kidding, other than maybe yourself.
I would be lying if I had not stated I had lost some respect for you. That is not to say you are a bad person, only that my opinion of your judgement and reason has been lowered.
You entered this article with a bias against our servicemen.
I stated I lost respect, I guess that no one that disagrees with you should dare speak up or they are "questioning your character"
Give it a break man.. If you don't know what happened then why are you so upset. Could not Russell, who was serving in the Pentagon have "insider" information like Murtha?

August 26, 2008 at 4:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brant, it does not encourage people to respond freely here if they must worry that you will "call them out" as you did. Do you want a free discussion, or are you interested in a few of your friends agreeing with you and no discussion?
You can't have it both ways..

August 26, 2008 at 4:34 PM  
Blogger Brant said...

Number one, I'm not angry. I enjoy a good debate. However, you've totally ignored the substance of everything I have said and just wrapped yourself in the flag and the our-servicemen-and-women-can-do-no-wrong approach. I've made it clear that you, I, Mr. Russell and Congressman Murtha don't have precise knowledge of what happened in Haditha. But to flatly say that Murtha's statements are dead wrong is unsupportable. There remains the possibility that he and his initial sources in the Marine Corps were absolutely right. This is not about liberal or conservative. It's about what's right and what's wrong. There's no middle ground when it comes to killing kids. It's WRONG! There's no evidence any of the Haditha Marines killed the kids, but there's a chance one of them did. It can't just be brushed aside. I don't know what your military background is, and of course since you're cloaking yourself in anonymity, you could claim to have been a three-star general, but I proudly served in the Army, thankfully in peacetime, and my sister's boy did two tours of duty in Iraq, so don't try to paint me as anti-military. If you have a valid point to make, it would be nice if you would start making it. You speak in generalities and you answer none of the issued I've raised. Try making a real argument. I've already said that Murtha's comments can be called into question. What else have you got?

August 26, 2008 at 4:37 PM  
Blogger Brant said...

Um, latest anonymous person, you should note that the previous anonymous poster was the person who, in your words, called me out and initiated the current discussion, which I am more than happy to continue. We don't all have to get along. In fact, it's more fun if we don't. Let's keep up the debate, but it's also good to have a point and be able to support it through intelligent argument.

August 26, 2008 at 4:46 PM  
Blogger Ellipses said...

In the past, I have utilized a philosophical tool to address some of these debates... Whether it was on Brant's blog, in the comments section of the Letters to the Editor, or in the poll comments section, I cannot recall. So far, the main point I have brought up is the "Motivation Fallacy." I don't want to get too far into this one because it is tertiary to the argument at hand, but it basically posits that a person's motivation for taking a position on a subject does not impact the validity of the position.

Another fallacy that seems to be at work here is the Authority Fallacy... which reads something like this:
An "Authority" may make a statement that requires action based solely on his authority. Your parents may tell you to eat your vegetables "because I said so." The authority in this case would be the person with control over your dietary intake. The authority may have reasons to have you eat vegetables, but the ultimate catalyst for you choking down broccoli is because the person in control of your food is telling you to.
This Haditha debate hinges on Authority... The authority is bestowed upon people within the pentagon who are expected, due to their position, to "know what they are talking about." However, the fallacy in this case is that the events that transpired did so independent of authority. The events occurred whether a 4 star general said they did or not. What seems to come of this argument is which authority should be trusted... should we trust Murtha? Should we trust the source of Murtha's information? Should we trust the executors of the investigation? Should we trust the first hand accounts of the events? Which "authority" do we trust? Ultimately, this question sidesteps something extremely important... something that, inarguably, is the only thing that is important... the events. We can dispute motivations or interpretations of what happened, but what remains stable throughout is that 24 people were alive on one day and dead on the next. What happened to cause those deaths is important only in whether the action was justified. If we say that military personnel are never justified in killing children, then regardless of what happened, someone did something wrong. If no one bears responsibility for the deaths, then justice has not been done. If we cannot determine who is responsible, that is one thing. If we are unwilling to make that determination, that is something completely different.

August 26, 2008 at 4:55 PM  
Blogger Ellipses said...

I'd like to cite Jamie Whyte's "Crimes Against Logic" pages 11-21 on that last post.

-ellipses

August 26, 2008 at 4:57 PM  
Blogger Ellipses said...

While I was out smoking a cigarette, I had a thought that seemed brilliant to me... since most of my thoughts are inherently brilliant, this comes as no surprise :-)

What I am going to put forth is purely a hypothetical "game," if you will... I do not necessarily condone this, but it does act as a barometer of a number of things.

For years, the official position on certain interrogation techniques has been that they are humane, necessary, and can produce useful information. We have used sleep deprivation, water boarding, and other psychological techniques on "enemy combatants." Given that these techniques are said to be humane and useful, what deterrent is there to waterboard, sleep deprive, or otherwise mentally torment the accused "actors" in the Haditha situation in order to arrive at an understanding of who killed whom and why?

This proposition requires that we would either "torture" United States servicemen into possible self-incrimination... or admit that we cannot take these steps because the disputed techniques are, in fact, torture. Also, if the validity of the information that comes from these techniques is questioned due to the circumstances and actions that brought them out, we must then admit that information received from enemy combatants under similar circumstances is not viable.

Thoughts?

-ellipses

August 26, 2008 at 5:08 PM  
Blogger Brant said...

Interesting. I would have to fall into the camp that opposes all extreme measures of torture, whether against our perceived enemies or our own people. I've always questioned the validity of information obtained through means such as waterboarding because I know if it were I who was being waterboarded, I would spout off whatever information I thought my interrogators wanted to hear, whether it was true or not. I'd confess to the Lindbergh kidnapping, if I thought that would make the torture stop. And the idea of using, in court, confessions extracted through torture, is simply repugnant.

August 26, 2008 at 8:09 PM  
Blogger Ellipses said...

That's the point! Everyone (mostly) is against "torture."

The problem is that people play fast and loose with the definition of torture... If waterboarding IS torture, we shouldn't use it... if it ISN'T torture, why do we only use it on "enemies?"

-ellipses

August 27, 2008 at 9:00 AM  
Blogger Brant said...

Maybe because waterboarding IS torture, even if "certain people" don't want to admit it.

August 27, 2008 at 9:17 AM  
Blogger PRIguy said...

We got a bit off topic toward the end there, but I wanted to chime in with my thoughts on this. First, let me say that I think Murtha is a horse's ass. I don't like the man one bit. However, to completely dismiss his comments as factually wrong just isn't fair. We really don't know if Russell's comments are factually true.

I've never served in the military. I support the gallant efforts of our troops in this war. I think it's naive to think that every now and then, to a select group of individuals, the pressure of being in a combat zone can cloud rational thinking and actions. I don't know much about what happened, but I do know that it's possible that some of these soldiers may very well have done something horrible. So before we start rattling our own sabers, either at Murtha, Russell or even Brant, we need to have all the facts from all sides in front of us.

Ellipses, I've stated before on this blog that if a person makes a compelling argument repudiating something that I believe differently, I will certainly consider the comments. You've done just that with your comments on torture.

One more thing...if people want to continue to post anonymously, can you do the rest of us a favor and try to indicate which anonymous poster you are if you're going to make repeated posts? You could call yourselves Anon1 or Anon2 depending on your place in the blog. Those of us with screen names don't know with whom we're debating. Besides, how can we know who you are by using a screen name? They're just as anonymous as "anonymous."

August 28, 2008 at 8:54 AM  
Blogger Ellipses said...

Priguy, I am kind of surprised that this blog post hasn't garnered more commenting than the "annoying advertisements" one... it's really divisive content. Perhaps I shouldn't have prefaced my last comment with the fact that it was just a hypothetical game... Then we could have some people say that I hate America and want to torture 18 year old boys and girls who fight for my freedom and I should love it or leave it :-) That's always a lot more interesting :-)

While I agree with the "spirit of the argument" that Brant is making... The last line in his blog... -paraphrasing- that to say that Murtha's accusations were factually wrong IS factually wrong... I think we have agreed that there isn't enough evidence to make a definite determination of whether anyone's argument is factually right or wrong. It's like:

All quogs are quarks and some quarks are smings... there is not enough information to say that ALL quogs are smings... although there IS enough to say that some quogs MAY be smings.

So... Russel's assertion that Murtha's accusations are factually wrong MAY be factually wrong... Therefore, there is no "factual" conclusion we can draw from this yet.

Anyone watching any of the Democratic convention? The "journalists" are driving me crazy... In the words of Larry the Cable Guy... they are happier than a retard in a room full of bouncy balls.

-ellipses

August 28, 2008 at 9:10 AM  
Blogger Brant said...

Of course now, according to the most recent edition of the Associated Press stylebook, we should no longer refer to someone as retarded. They are now to be called mentally disabled or some such sh!t. More PC crap. We've had the convention on at the office every night, and it's mostly background noise. I wanted to see what Hillary and Biden had to say, but who wants to see Ed Rendell talking about energy independence. It's an important issue, but c'mon. I try my best to totally ignore the talking heads. I really don't need someone interpreting for me what I have just watched with my own two eyes. And they're soooo predictable. The GOP operatives say Obama and Biden are the devil, then the Democratic operatives say that McCain and his yet-to-be-named running mate are the devil. They start with the assumption that the American people are saps who can be led around like sheep by the use of misinformation and absolute lies. Oh, wait, they're right.

August 28, 2008 at 9:42 AM  
Anonymous draysharratt said...

Brant,
The truth on Haditha has been published on the DefendOurMarines website. The testimony for the L/Cpl Justin Sharratt Art 32 is there for the reading. The Investigating Officer Col Paul Ware called the Iraqi testimony unbelievable and incredible. The truth is THE IRAQIS LIED and the evidence proves this. The forensic evidence proves L/Cpl Sharratt and Wuterich acted appropriately when they killed 4 insurgents in House four. 24 minus 4 equals 20
Murtha stated he met with the "higher ups" in the Marine Corps. Problem is, his meeting with Marine Corps Commandant Michael Hagee took place on 24 May 2006, a week after he made his "cold blooded murder" statement on 17 May 2006. A memo from the office of General Hagee confirms the 24 May 2006 meeting and none prior to this. Read the evidence. The problem with Haditha was there were too many ANONYMOUS leaks. The material I had, all 20,000 pages were all marked--Secret-Classified-For NCIS eyes only. The ANONYMOUS leaks gave the media what they wanted--enough for them to criticize the War in Iraq and not the evidence to exonerate these eight Brave Marines. Their silence is deafening now.
Darryl R Sharratt-proud father of a United States Marine

September 1, 2008 at 3:27 AM  
Blogger Brant said...

Mr. Sharratt,
Thank you for providing your input on this issue. As I noted, I would in no way suggest that your son or any other of the individual Marines committed misdeeds in Haditha. I still believe something "bad" went down there, but that doesn't mean your son was involved. I thank him for his service, and I'm glad things turned out well for him.

September 1, 2008 at 9:31 AM  

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