Now is the time to start asking whether the "massacre" at Haditha is another Jenin. Readers might remember the "Jenin massacre" from April 2002, when Israeli soldiers were accused by the Palestinian Authority of killing of thousands of innocent civilians, only for the world to learn later that the casualties were lower by orders of magnitude and that the soldiers besmirched by the press actually took extraordinary risks to clear a West Bank suicide bomb factory and avoid the kind of mass killings of which they were accused.
The facts that emerged after the fact at Jenin did not deter many at the time from believing the figures from Palestinian propagandists during the week of the operation. The Arafat aid, Saeb Erakhat, first told the international press that 5,000 were killed. Then the number diminished to 500. When the United Nations finally finished its investigation, it concluded that 52 Palestinians died and 23 Israeli soldiers, a particularly embarrassing accounting for that body's Middle East Envoy, who had told Time Magazine soon after the first reports that Israel, in its war on terror, "had lost all moral ground."
Like the west bank terror nest at Jenin, Haditha by last November was under the effective control of the Iraqi Jihadist-Baathist alliance. Here is the lead sentence of an August 22, 2005 dispatch from the city in the British Guardian newspaper: "The executions are carried out at dawn on Haqlania bridge, the entrance to Haditha. A small crowd usually turns up to watch even though the killings are filmed and made available on DVD in the market the same afternoon."
So when lawyers for the marines who have already been accused of wanton slaughter told the Washington Post Sunday that on November 24 their clients were returning fire and following their rules of engagement, they deserve some benefit of the doubt (as is anyone accused under American law, where the sole burden is always on the accuser. Here is what the lawyer for one of the accused, Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, said, "It will forever be his position that everything they did that day was following their rules of engagement and to protect the lives of Marines."
This is a situation where the right newspaper instinct is to wait for the Marines side of the story. Yet in a matter of hours, the word "Haditha" seemed to fuse with "massacre." By June 4, the New York Times' editorialists concluded, "the affair cannot simply be dismissed as the spontaneous cruelty of a few bad men." Rep. Jack Murtha, the Pennsylvania Democrat who wants to exit Iraq immediately, told the cameras that the Marines were under too much stress and driven to becoming monsters. The Nation magazine concluded these marines were war criminals.
It is true that photos taken after the incident show the deaths of women and children that the after action reports did not match those of subsequent investigators. No one suggests that American soldiers are incapable of committing crimes. This is the nature of war. But we also know that our enemies routinely stack bodies, spread false stories, and coach and intimidate "witnesses" to killings that have not occurred. We know that our enemy, as a matter of war strategy, seeks to exploit the press and participate in the political dimension of the war.
The American left that is desperately seeking any evidence for their neutrality - if that's what it is - in this war against Islamic terror. Haditha, like Jenin, becomes the sort of unchallenged data point that will be cited and footnoted for a generation in the academic papers of the Middle East studies crowd and the acolytes of Noam Chomsky. Well to remember that this war has long had two fronts, the one at home and the one abroad. Even if our soldiers clear the terror nests and eliminate the Zarqawis from Iraq, we will lose this contest if the American people conclude that our troops are out of control killers. This is why it is so important that determined, sober investigations be made and the truth, as in Jenin, brought home.