Rules of Engagement

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humvees in the deserthumvees in the deserthumvees in the desert
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?


I had a hint that this Frontline wouldn't be up to decent journalistic standards when interviewed marines, at the beginning of the show, noted an influx of 'foreign fighters' into the Haditha area. How, Frontline may have asked, were the marines able to identify these people as 'foreign fighters?" Did they have out-of-country licence plates? Did they have funny accents? And if that's the case, why weren't they apprehended on the spot?

And what about the 'fighters' seen fleeing after the initial explosion? What happened to them? Were they apprehended? Killed? Why were the only people killed those who were in their homes? Not trying to flee? Did Frontline confirm if these were indeed their homes? Would 'insurgents' attack the troops from their homes?

This are just a couple of examples of how Frontline credulously accepted every marine pronouncement as fact, no matter how patently absurd. And, of course, the show only got worse!

Please Frontline, you can do better than this. T

bill bergren
Ontario, CA


I am surprised that I only had eleven answers correct out of the nineteen.[of the quiz on rules of engagement on this Web site]

I am a veteran of the Vietnam War, USMC. In Southeast Asia From December 1966 until JULY 11, 1969. Have seen and have known children and women to kill Marines and Army. At one time I was given an order not to fire unless fired upon. I could not understand the order, nor did I ask why; however, I had made up my mind to accomplish my mission and safeguard the lives of my men under my command.

Seventy-seven Marines from my outfit names are on the wall. The rules of engagement should be Fight to win, cowards use civilians as shields! when and wherever you engage one or many tap'em in their grapes and move on to the next! Murder is killing someone that cannot defend themselves, and are not combatants.Gunnery Sergeant USMC 1958-1978

Gene Cooper
Oceanside, California


I served with a Marine Corps village Combined Action Platoon in Vietnam in 1968. We lived and moved among villagers every day. While I am inclined to give the rank and file the benefit of the doubt in the house clearing incident in Haiditha, it appears that a crime was committed when the five men were shot near the white car; they appear to all be within twenty feet of the car and not in a fleeing mode the way their bodies are positioned. Wuterich's inexperience may be a contributing factor, but justice needs to be served for what happened.

Al Treska
San Diego, CA


I could not agree more with Jason Dare.As for these guys taking an extra moment to address the situation that moment might be the last one of their lives.

It is very unfortunate that these civilians had to die but until you are those marines shoes you don't know what you would do. It is easy for someone sitting in a court room to say what they should do. If we keep court martialing these guys for doing their jobs we won't have anybody left to do them.

Dave Ackert
Harmon, IL


Poor training, results speak for themselves, know what your target is, engage it with only necessary force to accomplish the mission. Killing innocents, friendly fire, over kill, are all examples of poor training and lack of control of your weapons or your men. Those who kill others who are not a threat, is because they are without control, their own or their superiors. Results speak for themselves!

Ron Walker
Tacoma, WA


Very disturbing especially for this combat vet of Vietnam 66-77, 3/5 kilo company USMC.

These young men will have to live with this for the rest of their lives. Another useless war this goverment has put us in and the combat vets will suffer for the rest of their lives.

I am grateful to Murtha for speaking out and trying to bring these kids home. He too knows about combat.

I wish that all the vets that did not serve in combat during Vietnam keep their John Wayne to themselves. They know not what they speak.

God help these soldiers they will need it. What happened will be a blight on this country.

seal beach, ca


It has often been said that this is a war of ideas. The US military does make mistakes, but it does not intentionally lie to the media. Our enemies have no compunction about lying--especially to the western media. Some of these insurgent groups are very sophisticated propagandists--and the media must guard against being their mouthpiece.

I put the Time Magazine articles in that category. Even worse, I put Representative Murtha's commentary in that category. How a fellow Marine can be so blind and carry the message of the enemy into the homes of America is just breathtaking.

The bottom line is that the media, incluing PBS, share responsibility for helping to win the war--by digging deep in seeking the truth and not just transmitting the lies of the Hammurabi group and others.

Ken Beebe
Portland, Oregon


That these marines were charged & prosecuted for the event in question is an ABSOLUTE DISGRACE. Were this an unprovoked incident, then it would be a different story. But it is clear that they were reacting to an attack and not acting out of malice.

Those who charged & prosecuted them ought to be prosecuted themselves, because they are kind of individuals who would want to convict every air pilot who ever killed civilians as a result of their bombing. Collateral damage happens. There is no such thing as a touchy-feely war. If you cant accept it, then you have no business asking other people to sacrafice their lives in wars that protect you & your way of life, & you should go fight it yourself.

Ted Cooper
Huntington Beach, Calif


I thought the story was good. Another glimpse as to why America is becoming more and more a ridiculous nation. I love the Marines and the fighting spirit of the men and women, it's not that. That America sends it's fighting men in harm's way with silly smiles on their faces saying "Hi, we're nice, be nice to us OK?," then expect the soldier to go in a house both unarmed mentally and in demeanor where his life could be gone in a second is too much. If they are not fighting a war with the intent to win, then get out of Iraq and send in the UN or the Peace Corps.

This crap about being nice soldiers where if your gun goes off there is a federal investigation only explains why the West is losing its way. Those boys were innocent. What a stupid travesty.

Ken Anders
Calgary, Alberta


Any discussion about military activities such as Haditha should be prefaced by two facts. One is that every military objective is to win. Every soldier is trained to complete their assignment with a victory, not a stalemate and certainly not a loss.

The second fact is that basic trainees in the U.S. military are informed at the completion of basic training that "You are now professional killers."

As a veteran of the Korean War these two facts were drilled into us over and over. Marines in Haditha were on hair-trigger alert. Weapons are made to be used to achieve an objective. Civilians in war have always been fair game.

Since World War II to attack civilians was part of Strategic Bombing. It should be no surprise that "collateral damage" is the strategic bombing of the Iraq war. Who has the moral authority in war time? The guys with the most weapons.

Pre-emptive war is a mindset dating back to the Indian wars in America. "Shoot first, ask questions later." Why is anyone surprised?

David Rothauser
Brookline, MA


I have been watching Frontline for years because of your in depth, no-holds barred reporting. After watching your program on "Rule of Engagement" my first thought was about the eye witness accounts.....everyone who follows the news knows that the insurgents put the fear of God into the civilians who will say anything to stay alive. Our men do not have an easy positon, and in this war the insurgents are kidnapping innocent people and beheading them; our troops have the right to survive and if collateral damage is done so beit no matter how sad. I work for the Veterans Administration Medical Center as a Registered Nurse and have cared for some of the men who have been sent to this war. Does everyone forget 9-11?

Leave it to the jounalists and opponents of the war to speak out, and as for the journalist at the Times who had the chance to go and see first hand what this war is all about.....nothing more to say than what a coward and a cop-out on the Time not to send him. Why not get first hand accounts on how terrible the situation is for our troops. Everyone knows how we are hated and what the insurgents will do to kill or degrade us. My first thought that it was nothing more than propaganda from the insugents.

chris aluisa
Saint Louis, Missouri


Those Marines should never have been brought up on charges.

Having followed this (the Haditha incident), since the begining, I don't blame the Marines. They acted within the ROE as prescribed prior to Haditha. One is asking A LOT from these young men who, for the most part have been in combat, some in previous combat, such as in Fallujah and expect them to be like what! They just had one of their humvees blown up and 4 of their comrades WIA with one torn in half and KIA, after which they were fired upon by men in civilian clothes that run and hide amoung the populace, how do you do you expect Marines to perform? like police officers?

Unless one has been in combat, you'll never know how you're going to react in a situation like that. As tragic as the deaths of those civilian was, take into consideration that MANY of those Marines are in their second, third and some, in their FOURTH tour of duty in this war. How much more do you want from these 19, 20 yr olds?

And Murtha? He's more of a politician these days than a former combat Marine. Especially in trying to compare it to My Lai. not even in the same league! Seeing that he didn't get all the facts, he truly spoke out of pocket. Maybe it's been a long time since his experience in Vietnam and forgot what it was like to be in those young Marines boots. In trying to make a point about Bush's war, he hung out to dry 4 young Marines.

I honor the courage, resovle and dedication of the Marines of 3/1. Not just to their call to duty, but more importantly, to each other, cause in the end, that's ALL they have!

As a former Marine, I salute them all!

Semper Fi!

Angel Davila
Bronx, NYC


I am surprised at the "black and white" tone of almost all your mail.

I spent 31/2 years in Iraq - in the Field as a Civil-Military liaison for a non-profit. I was captured outside of Fallujah in Sept. 2004 (at the time, the first American female civilian) and held for eleven hours until my driver and I escaped. I have lost too many soldiers, too many marines and too many innocent Iraqis - not to care about what's happening there.

There is never a cut and dried solution and I found myself in many terrible situations, but one cannot dehumanize all the people in any side of the conflict. We chose to go to Iraq and therefore it is our responsibility to convince the population of our constructive intentions - we will never achieve that with massacres involving women and children, particularly when no one has been able to prove that they either helped or harbored Al-Qaeda.

It is very sad when we only present our "own" people with lives and faces. The tragedy here is that everyone is human - and no individual involved is absolutely "evil"!

Hali Jilani
Alexandria, Virginia


Marines may be criticized for placing the safety of their team above that of a potential threat, but is that not straight out of the FBI training for civilian police in this country?

How many times have I seen (from the 1968 Democratic Convention, to Waco, Ruby Ridge, civil rights demonstrations and newspaper strikes to post football campus parties) film clips of police over reactions that are far worse given the potential threat.

Yet we accept that violence at home by those older more experienced, better trained and paid in the name of law enforcement.

The civilian loss of life,injury and terror depicted in the story is both tragic and unacceptable. It should not happen there and should not happen here.But I am not hopeful "Law and Order" violence will end any time soon.

Columbus, Ohio


I can't believe that this has gone so far. The boots on the ground have so little time to think between their lives and a possible enemy. You cannot change the rules in the middle of a fight and expect everyone to get the message. Does anyone really think that these American boys really wanted to go out and kill women and children? That's not what we teach our Marines and Soldiers! This is just what it is a casualty of war. These men and their families have been through enough!

Corporal USMC (86-90) 0311

David Klassen
Kansas City, Missouri


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posted february 19, 2008

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