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(Continuing a discussion begun here.)
The Calm Before the Storm
Returning to our chronology of events.
Even after Time Magazine broke their story in March, scant attention was paid by other media outlets - perhaps in part due to Time's contention that "The available evidence does not provide conclusive proof that the Marines deliberately killed innocents in Haditha".
The day after publication of the Time story, a similar atrocity was claimed by residents of the town of Ishaqi. It too was hardly noted in the media, perhaps due to the absurd aspect of some of the claims (Americans had handcuffed and executed 11 people from one family, ranging from a 75-year old woman to a 6-month old baby, then burned their vehicles, killed their farm animals, and blew up the house to cover up the crime) and when the story was effectively debunked by Iraqi police just two days later it also faded completely. (It would return briefly to prominence once the Haditha story "caught fire" - but with the more outlandish details purged.)
The Haditha story itself would be noted briefly again on April 7, when two of the officers in command of the unit involved (along with a third from another company not relative to the Haditha incident) were relieved by Maj. Gen. Richard Natonski, commanding general of the 1st Marine Division:
Marine Corps spokesman 2nd Lt. Lawton King said Natonski relieved the three of command because he lacked confidence in their leadership, based on their recent deployment to Iraq and a series of actions by the battalion.We covered those developments in a larger piece here.
Then, on May 17,
Rep. John Murtha, an influential Pennsylvania lawmaker and outspoken critic of the war in Iraq, said today Marines had “killed innocent civilians in cold blood” after allegedly responding to a roadside bomb ambush that killed a Marine during a patrol in Haditha, Iraq, Nov. 19.Murtha (a House Armed Services Committee member) had been briefed on the still incomplete investigations by DoD officials.
All bets were off, and now months of media silence could be used to the advantage of those who'd been scooped by Time. The story was suddenly "new", and the passage of tme since the original story broke could even be used to enhance the "cover-up" claims against the Marine Corps. While Murtha could be accused of influencing an ongoing investigation, he would instead be credited for exposing it and the Haditha story to the light. (At a minimum, he had assured that much future coverage of the story would include favorable references to or quotes by him, along with his picture.(4))
Reporters scrambled to make up for lost time. Officially the DoD could say nothing about the incomplete investigation, but quotes from "senior Defense officials who spoke only on condition of anonymity because the investigation was not yet completed" detailing the results of the investigation became common. And several news agencies interviewed Haditha residents who were willing to share their accounts (first-hand and otherwise) of the "cold blooded massacre". Some of those subjects were also quoted in the original Time story.
But as their stories were repeated, flaws began to appear.
(More to follow - note that comments will be "off" until completion of this post.)
4. Murtha: While Mr Murtha's opinions of the war in Iraq are subjective and open to debate, his abuse of facts to support them is not. A couple brief examples from a recent appearance on CBS News' Face the Nation (transcript in pdf) include claims that "...only 30 percent of the people [of Iraq are] getting water" and "We've lost almost 20,000 people in this war".
Both are broad exaggerations. If 70 percent of people in Iraq weren't getting water, they would die within days - and a check of the State Department Reports he cited as source reveals no water shortage of the sort he describes. And the number of "lost" can't be supported without including the number of wounded troops whose injuries were minor enough that they could return to duty within 72 hours. (Updated numbers can always be found in this pdf.) There are many other examples, but this post is not about Jack Murtha. However, it seems the congressman has rarely stated a fact on Iraq that he didn't feel needed to be exaggerated to make his point, and it's likely that his cold blooded killers comment may have been either a personal opinion/understanding of the results of the incomplete investigation, or another exaggeration for some unknown desired effect.