Rules of Engagement

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What do you take away from this story on what happened in Haditha, Iraq, where 24 of the town's residents were killed by U.S. forces?

Dear FRONTLINE,

I am a Vietnam war vet. and I cannot believe that the army or marines have not train their men correctly after having fought virtually the same type of war in Vietnam.I believe that the marines did murder those innocent people purposely; I have seen and lived that life before. Your out in the field, and for days there's no contact with the enemy; it almost insults you mentally. But finally when there is contact, and there are casualties amongst your men, you look to kill something, you really want to kill; and when you do it you feel that it was justifiable. But in the case of the Iraq war, from the beginning, there were no moral boundaries for a solider step over. Soldiers are taught to be killers, and after a while you don't even care who the enemy is; you just want to kill. So its no big surprise that they all walked for killing women and children. Yet, in their dreams the demons of their wanton evil deed, will haunt them for life.

bevil anderson
San Leandro, CA

Dear FRONTLINE,

I have been against this war from long before invasion day, but the Marines and soldiers who must make instantaneous, life or death decisions under fire, in urban environments where civilians are intermingled with combatants, where gunfire echoes unpredictably off walls and shooters are often impossible to pinpoint precisely, cannot be held accountable for such tragic killings. The full blame falls within the walls of the White House and civilian Pentagon, where chickenhawks have stupidly misused the best military in the world. President Bush and his advisers should be tried for mass murder, in both U.S. and international courts. Our soldiers and Marines are victims every bit as much as those Iraqis. Arrest Bush and the neocons, and let Marines be Marines; just give them the right battles to fight. That's this liberal's view.

Jonathan T.
Santa Cruz, CA

Dear FRONTLINE,

First, if the objective of the program was to illustrate just difficult it is to both know and follow ROEs, then it succeeded. As viewer, I came away from the program as untutored as when it began. Took the quiz; got 16 out of 19; but felt I was being PC all the way. I understand this is not WWII anymore [when all Germans and Japanese could legitimately be considered enemies]; and that our need for oil places us in a hazardous geopolitical posture.

Second, when we put our young men in harm's way, things will happen - sometimes less than comfortable things. The men were tired, on edge, inclined to action. Under these crcumstances, prudential reasoning inevitably takes a back seat to just staying alive. Third, the USMC has an broad agenda, and not unreasonably so. It has a position and an image it assiduously guards. In the larger scheme of things, the MC appears willing to sacrifce a few good men for the greater sake of the USMC. It's ashame, but this is the way it is nowadays. We will end up paying a price for this pussyfooting.

Robert Faje
Port Washington, NY

Dear FRONTLINE,

So many people willing to justify and excuse the murder of innocent women and children. This is the moral swamp that a large portion of our fellow citizens have willingly and with gusto jumped into. Let me say it for you. Thou shalt not kill! Not anybody - but for Gods sake - especially not the children.

Andrew Rigdgeley
Orlando, FL

Dear FRONTLINE,

Interesting techniques. It takes incredible skill to make a good case for mitigating circumstances in an event where small children were shot at close range. I especially like the fuzzy black outlines meant to convey a resticted point of view in combat. At least we were not subjected to the dark and blurry drive-by of the Pentagon with eerie music Why not do a documentary on Illario Pantano? Show us how his case was not clear cut either. Perhaps we will see SSgt Wutterich given a slot on the daily show as well? The public is rapidly becoming desensitized to your propaganda techniques.

kg bartle
quantico, va

Dear FRONTLINE,

Rules of Engagement is the clearest demonstration yet of the complete insanity of war. The people who should be standing trial for these murders are not the marines who bravely attempt to walk an invisible and shifting line between sanctioned murder and outlawed murder - while preventing themselves and their charges from being blown to pieces. Our president and his staff should be standing trial for these charges. Had they known that they would be held accountable for THEIR decisions, I'm sure they would have reached a very different conclusion about the necessity of invading Iraq. My heart goes out to all the victims - the families of the deceased and the marines who have been given a thankless - and increasingly impossible - task. Thank you for continuing to shine a light on subjects that have been given short shrift or sensational coverage elsewhere in the media.

Alex Hayes
Stratham, NH

Dear FRONTLINE,

As a Marine with 3/1 originally in Kilo Company my FIRST deployment and attached to 3/1 Kilo Company my SECOND deployment I can honestly say that no life is more VALUABLE to me than that of my Marines. America seems to think all life is equal and for the most part it is. However, my families life is more important to me than a random stranger. My Marines lives are more important and more valuable TO ME than that of anybody in ANY nation, let it be Iraqi or ANY other country. We do an amazing job and I think that America is begining to turn their back on us. I do understand that there is a MASSIVE amount of support out there and I thank them for that. I also have seen how the media can take a story and RUN with it. However in this video you seem to be the most accurate and I thank you for putting forth your best effort to be fair.

Sgt. United Stated Marine Corps

Richard Gilbert
Camp Pendleton, California

Dear FRONTLINE,

Frontline, What happened? I find you usually so even handed and yet this episode, I felt the Iraqi Civilians got the short end of the stick, but like the one human rights worker said, "We knew it from day one that this would happen".

My other main point, was that I found it very ironic that all those military (& your producer) enjoyed pointing fingers at the press who are "anti-war" & "anti-military", but conveniently forgot all times the press beat the drums of war without one single question being asked, were quivering w/ excitement at "shock & awe", and were embedded w/ the military to make sure only their viewpoint was aired (funny how no one complained then).

My heart goes out to those poor civilians & those poor young marines sent into a horrible situation by our failure as an uneducated populace.

placentia, ca

Dear FRONTLINE,

I take the Haditha story as a proof that people like me were correct in opposing the war and to see it end as quickly as possible. Ordering young men into harm's way necessarily means you are killing some of them and have also condemned women and children to violent deaths.

While it is shocking to me that my fellow citizens, the US media (including Frontline), and US politicians don't care much about Iraqi lives, the US military leadership is particularly disgusting. The politicization of the Armed Forces into a wing of the conservative movement in this country is disappointing. It is this politicization that enables them to refuse to discuss Iraqi civilian casualties, to refuge to change tactics on the ground, and to refuse to answer the questions of the American people. Since Vietnam they might have forgotten how to fight an insurgency, but they certainly improved their media management.

Lastly, a word for my fellow commenters. I understand sympathy for the Marines (and note the lack of any such concern for three year old Iraqis....or as Sgt. tatum described them "targets"), my cousin is a Marine Lt, who served in Haditha in 2006. But, calling the video a tool of insurgents is simply silly. The video's depictions of results of the "battle", according to the NCIS, was accurate.

Bad news can be fact, not just "enemy propaganda". To state it the manner many of you choose to do so, just proves that the death of women and children is less important to you than losing public support for a war. That is sad.

Tim Burns
Indinapolis, In

Dear FRONTLINE,

A superb piece on the event in Haditha. I have followed reportage of the event from early 2006, never thinking I could get close to understanding what actually transpired. After seeing Frontline's meticulous and balanced report of the defense and prosecution of these young soldiers, my heart goes out to them. Frontline's coverage of the Iraqi conflict does a great service to those of us who watch and wonder on the home front about what goes on and what is asked of our young men serving in Iraq.

Terrenc Dunlop
Los Angeles, CA

Dear FRONTLINE,

So I answered two questions wrong answering in the comfort of my secure location in the US. Does that mean I could get life in a military prison for any of my wrong answers if I were on the scene where my personal safety was an issue and I had only seconds to decide the correct response?

SIKESTON, MO

Dear FRONTLINE,

Wow! Thank you PBS for a balanced and thoroughly researched report that strips away anti-Bush and anti-Iraq political propaganda. As a Marine who has served twice in Iraq, the story is near and dear to my heart as it could have happened to any of us. However, a burst of laughter was my first reaction to Time reporter McKirk's comment that the Hammruabi organization "could not be pro-insurgent". Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) understands that first and foremost in their movement (call it a war, insurgency, whatever) that the media is their best friend. They bank on it as their most potent weapon to defeat a superior force. Those who drink the media kool aid without a critical eye to its veracity are precisely what the AQI propaganda campaign bank on. Those with an acid eye to the Bush presidency and the now waning conflict in Iraq are the most easily duped--and sadly want to be. Frontline's effort to get the Haditha incident right should be a sobering testimony to how the mainstream media has negatively influenced the people of the United States.

George Dragan
Whitehouse Station, NJ

Dear FRONTLINE,

I served in Haditha as the Civil Military Operations Center (CMOC) Director in support of 2d Bn, 3rd Marines (2/3), between Sep 06 to Mar 07.

From September to November 2006, NO PLACE in Al Anbar was more dangerous. That's not just hyperbole, but on a statistical attack per troop basis. I saw the deaths of 38 servicemen in the Haditha Triad AO during my entire time and had a few close calls myself. I HAVE NO LOVE FOR "ARHABI"(terrorist in Arabic)!

On 14 Oct 06, I paid compensation for the deaths of 9 Local Nationals (LNs) to 5 family representatives related to the "19 Nov" incident. It was for the members of "House 4" and the "White Taxi". Maj Hyatt had only paid compensation for the deaths of 15 LNs in Dec 05.

I met almost all the characters surrounding the incident, many shady, some genuine (never met the "Hammurabi" guy). I've been to the corner of "Chestnut" and "Viper". I've been on foot patrols and been shot at. I've seen the enemy in action. And during my tour, every leader on the Haditha FOB became VERY familiar with the "19 Nov" investigation, especially when prosecutors spent 1 week there in Jan 07 talking to LNs.

And you know what? Those bastards of 3/1 are guilty!! They are, it pains me to say it.

The unbelievable warriors of 2/3 had more action and deaths (24 in the battalion), killed more enemy (around 60) and killed fewer LNs (4). And they did it in a way that UPI reporter Pamela Hess documented had gained the love of the Haditha people. They too, got angry, but never engaged in slaughter.

There is a right way to do business and a wrong way to do business. I feel VERY comfortable in that judgement. This story ought to be about a once proud unit from the Nov 2004 Battle of Fallujah that was turned in to ill-disciplined rogue battalion. ...

I believe deeply in the liberation of Iraq. I will be returning next year for a 2d tour in Al Anbar. I don't know where, but I actually hope to return to Haditha because of the positive changes I have seen from many sources. IRAQ CANNOT BE ALLOWED TO FAIL!! American security depends on it. ...

The idiots in the anti-war movement, like John Murtha, don't really care about the 24 innocent LNs that died on 19 Nov 05. They want to exploit the tragedy for political purposes. Many of them don't really care about LtCol Chessani or SSgt Wuterich receiving punishment, because after all, they anti-war movement believes they were just executing the official policy of President Bush and Secretary Rumsfeld. But nothing could be further from the truth.

I hope for the sake of what is right, my Marine Corps doesn't "go wobbly" on us. Those involved in the tragedy need to be punished.

Sincerely,--Kirk Merritt

P.S. Good program. The prosecution interview tape you obtained showed shots of my humble little sleeping quarters. HAH!! HAH!! (smile) Never thought I'd see that dingy place on national T.V.

Kirk Merritt
Grand Prairie, Texas

Dear FRONTLINE,

FRONTLINE and most of the viewers whose comments I have read have missed the mark, it seems. It is the 'reason' for the engagement not the 'rules,' or the details of a tragedy that should never have happened, that should be questioned, especially in this presidential election year of 2008. For a start: when, exactly, did Iraq attack the U.S., and Congress declare the war? ...

For the U.S. Military to prosecute any of the courageous and dutiful Americans who volunteered to 'defend, protect and support America and the Constitution from enemies both foreign and domestic,' not attack, invade and occupy Iraq for politicians, oil companies and profits, is absolutely, positively ludicrous. Those Marines should never have been put in harm's way in Iraq, in the first place, and any guilt for their misconduct falls squarely on their 'Commander-in-Chief,' primarily; the U.S. Supreme Court that erroneously appointed him in 2000; the corrupt, incompetent, irresponsible and/or treasonous Congress which let him usurp their Constitutional authority in 2003; the American Media that fails (repeatedly) to remind readers and viewers to question issues of 'constitutionality' and the 2004 American voters who, apparently, didn't learn much from the Korean and Viet Nam conflicts, the oil embargo of 1973, the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983, the Silverado Savings and Loan scandal or the first Bush administration. Does this saying 'Those who don't learn from their mistakes are destined to repeat them.' sound familiar?

Charles Shaver
Westfield, WI

Dear FRONTLINE,

As a former Marine and very proud American, I am completely prepared to be underwhelmed by coverage of 'atrocities' by any news outlet (to say nothing of PBS or NPR.)

However, I am grateful for your coverage on this issue. Once again you prove that decent journalism still exists. I think we'd all like to believe that Marines are heroes and dead people in any theater of war are combatants. Neither are entirely true and the very fact that you had the guts to discuss the complex issues surrounding counter insurgency combat in an urban environment is commendable.

I was absolutely blown away when you exposed Murtha...no one in the mainstream does that! I was equally moved watching the coverage of the Iraqi dead...what a terrible cost war is to both the actors and the audience.

I must say that from my perspective the Marines are innocent (thank God that we have young men willing to bear that burden on our behalf) but thank you for your intellectual honesty.

Fred Newcome
Lino Lakes, MN

Dear FRONTLINE,

I am interested in the comments made by that full-bird Lawyer. He thinks it is a cop-out for an infantryman to say that the infantry does not receive the level of training sophisticated enough to give him the ability to distinguish between civilian and enemy every time. The lawyer says "we are the Marines; we're the biggest baddest guys on the block. To say we can't do something is a cop-out." I wonder if that lawyer's last infantry training occurred at The Basic School and would caution him not to believe his own legend.

The true mark of the warrior is humility. A warrior knows where he is strong and where he is weak. If the grunts are saying they are not good enough in an area of training (perhaps because they were given only two months of real training between deployments to Fallujah and Haditha), then maybe someone with his rank should listen to them and not accuse them of being less of a warrior than they are.

Everyone knows the famous Reagan quote about the Marines, about not having the problem of wondering if they did something in life. I'd like to borrow that thought and extend it one step further: Some Marines go their entire careers wondering if they have what it takes to succeed in combat. The Marines of Kilo Company, 3/1, don't have that problem. They are allowed to admit insufficiencies because they are true warriors.

Take heed, Colonel, and remember your place in the warfighting establishment.

Well done, Arun, and all of Frontline.

Atlanta, GA

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posted february 19, 2008

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