Always faithful?

"Always faithful?" Continued...

Issue: "Death blow," June 17, 2006

Marine Corps Major Dana Hyatt confirmed that the military paid $2,500 in compensation per victim to the families of 15 dead Iraqis. Military officials say such compensation is a common practice in Iraq, and not necessarily an admission of wrongdoing by the military.

After residents of Haditha refuted the Marines' account of the killings, Pentagon officers reviewed their complaints and video evidence, and the U.S. military launched an investigation into the Haditha deaths in February. Late last month, officials briefed some members of Congress on the probe's progress. The congressmen reported that the initial findings suggested unprovoked killings by a few Marines.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice vowed that the United States would "get to the bottom of this," but insisted, "American forces are the solution here, not the problem." Gen. Pace agreed, saying: "Regardless of the outcome of these investigations, 99.9 percent of the service men and service women are doing what we expect them to do."

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki responded to the reports of U.S. misconduct with initial anger, saying coalition forces have shown "no respect for citizens . . . killing on a suspicion or a hunch." The next day Mr. Maliki vowed to clamp down on rising violence in Baghdad perpetrated by insurgent Iraqis. During the first week of June, Iraqi insurgents killed 22 civilians in the capital with bombs, mortars, and shootings. Iraqi police also found eight human heads stuffed in fruit boxes outside Baghdad. Four days later, they found nine more heads wrapped in plastic bags and stuffed in fruit boxes. The same week, kidnappers wearing uniforms of Iraqi police commandos staged a mass daytime kidnapping of 50 people in Baghdad.

The Dossier on Civilian Casualties in Iraq reports that the majority of civilians killed in Iraq die by the hands of Iraqis. The Iraqi government issued a statement responding to the report: "The international forces try to avoid civilian casualties, whereas the terrorists target civilians and try to kill as many of them as they can."

Still, U.S. officials aren't justifying reports of U.S. military misconduct by pointing to pervasive Iraqi violence. Gen. Michael Hagee, the top Marine Corps officer, said he is "gravely concerned" about the recent allegations of gross misconduct by Marines, and that anyone found guilty will be held accountable. Gen. Hagee plans to travel to Marine bases in California, Hawaii, and Japan to talk with Marines about proper conduct on the battlefield.

Meanwhile, Gen. Pace said the U.S. military would require all coalition troops in Iraq to complete a special ethics course, a refresher of ethics training that all military personnel receive when joining the armed forces. "Emotions on the battlefield are intense," he said. "It's good to stop and check your moral compass."

Intense emotions on the battlefield can sometimes overwhelm a soldier's moral compass, according to Brig. General Donald Campbell, chief of staff at the U.S. military headquarters in Iraq. "It doesn't excuse the acts that have occurred . . . but I would say it's stress, fear, isolation," the general said. "They see their buddies getting blown up on occasion, and they could snap."

The majority of U.S. troops serving in Iraq don't "snap," but all troops endure stress during war, according to Marine Corps spokesman Bryan Driver. Mr. Driver works in the Marine Corps Community Services (MCCS) division, which oversees issues related to health, wellness, and reintegration for Marines.

Mr. Driver told WORLD that the Marine Corps has extensive programs for helping Marines deal with stress and trauma before they deploy, while they are deployed, and when they return home.

While Marines are in the field, they're encouraged to seek help from chaplains or counselors when needed. In 2004, the Corps launched a program to embed a team of psychologists and physicians with units on a rotating basis. The team assesses physical and mental health problems and can provide counseling, prescribe medication, or even order evacuation if necessary.

The MCCS website offers an extensive guide for unit leaders to use in handling troops in distress. The guide covers everything from helping a Marine deal with the death of a unit member to helping him deal with marital difficulties back home. The guide represents the most visited section of the MCCS site, according to Mr. Driver.

Not all Marines who need help seek it, and there are still stigmas attached to reaching out for aid, said Mr. Driver. Some Marines think they're not living up to the ideal of Marine honor if they're struggling with stress symptoms. "That's the biggest challenge," Mr. Driver said. "To get people to seek help . . . to get them to see that it's not a sign of weakness."

Jamie Dean
Jamie Dean

Jamie lives and works in North Carolina, where she covers the political beat and other topics as national editor for WORLD Magazine. Follow Jamie on Twitter @deanworldmag.


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