Information Warfare: Spinning Haditha Into A Wall


October 6, 2007: In the last of the U.S. Marine Corps Article 32 hearings on the Haditha incident, claims of a massacre were dealt a fatal blow. How? Because the hearing suggested that murder charges against the squad leader be dropped. In essence, the deaths of civilians at Haditha were ruled a tragic accident that will be dealt with through the military justice system via trial on negligent homicide charges, rather than trying the squad leader of the marines as being criminally liable for those deaths.

The terrorists at Haditha faced the same problem that the Palestinian terrorists at Jenin faced in 2002. They have been unable to win in a straight fight with troops that are highly trained and motivated. American and Israeli troops tend to be among the best in the world on a soldier-for-soldier basis. The terrorists needed a different approach. That approach was to try to make the Americans (or Israelis, as the case could be) look bad while winning. Sometimes, this involves exacting a high price on the attacking force in terms of casualties, but this is difficult against much better troops. More often, it involves creating the impression that the American or Israeli troops are indiscriminate killers, who routinely slaughter civilians. This would boost both recruiting (to avenge a massacre by the Americans/Israelis) and it would also get media play, undercutting the American war effort (by giving opponents of the global war on terror ammunition to demand a withdrawal).

The recommendation for negligent homicide charges is the ultimate result of a mishandled aftermath in which the events were not accurately reported. That meant that when claims of a massacre were made, discrepancies were found in the reports, leading to a further investigation. Politicians and anti-war activists claimed a massacre and cover-up had occurred. They were banking on a court-marital at the very least. Well, they will get the court-martial, but the charges will not be murder. What this means is that the entire trial will not give them ammo to slam the troops.

Instead of widespread coverage where Marines are accused of murder, the issue at the trial will be just how much care needs to be taken in combat. What coverage there is of this trial will be outlining those issues - and providing those who follow it with an understanding of what troops in combat go through, as well as the training they receive, particularly with regards to trying to avoid civilian casualties.

In this case, the media manipulation was helped out through the fact that the aftermath was mishandled - and so, there will still be claims of a cover-up. And the terrorists have not emerged empty-handed. The claims of the massacre were trumpeted, and that will aid recruiting for a while. Some foreign press outlets still refers to Haditha as a massacre, which will still lessen the sting of the dismissals. As such, a larger talent pool for future attacks is likely.

However, the U.S. military will be learning its lessons from this media battle - as well as the events of the incident at Haditha. Lessons learned will be passed throughout the military, and the training will be improved if shortcomings are discovered. That will make it much harder for future phony claims of massacres to stick. In essence, one can really only try to exploit an incident like this once - and the fact that this media offensive has largely failed will make it harder to use it in the future. Meanwhile, the military justice system will determine whether the charges can be proven. - Harold C. Hutchison (


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