Rush to judge: Soldiers deserve benefit of doubt

The Oklahoman Editorial Modified: August 19, 2007 at 8:45 am •  Published: August 19, 2007
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THE November 2005 incident involving U.S. Marines at the Iraqi village of Haditha, which left perhaps two dozen civilians dead, was said to suggest an American military frustrated, dispirited and debased by an unachievable mission. Such massacres happen when soldiers are put in no-win situations, they said.

Politicians and newspaper columnists said the Iraq war was causing the troops to snap psychologically and kill indiscriminately. "Our troops overreacted because of the pressure on them, and they killed innocent civilians in cold blood,” said U.S. Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania, himself a Marine Corps combat veteran.

Last week, a Marine Corps general dismissed all charges against Lance Cpl. Justin L. Sharratt, accused of murder in Haditha. Lt. Gen. James Mattis said Sharratt of Canonsburg, Pa., did his best to live up to time-honored military standards "in the face of life-or-death decisions made by you in a matter of seconds in combat.”

Basically, military investigators concluded Sharratt acted appropriately when he shot a group of armed men just hours after other members of his unit allegedly engaged in a deadly spree in response to a roadside bomb attack that killed a fellow Marine.

Two other enlisted Marines still face charges in connection with Haditha. There still could be convictions. But at a minimum, it appears judgments formed immediately following news of the incident were too rushed and too broad. Indeed, exonerated Lance Cpl. Sharratt must be wondering where to go to reclaim his reputation.

A couple of other points emerge.

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