Aiming A Moral Compass

June 5, 2006

By JESSE HAMILTON,
Courant Staff Writer  

FALLUJAH, Iraq -- When the general in charge of
the Marine Corps dropped by Camp Baharia
recently to talk to the battalion called "New
England's Own," he asked how many had heard
about the killing of Iraqi civilians at Haditha in
November.

Fewer than half of the Marines in the audience,
including many from Connecticut's Charlie
Company who had traveled from their base in
downtown Fallujah, raised their hands.

Most did not know that fellow Marines were
accused of killing about two dozen civilians in
Haditha, and that their leaders were being
questioned about whether they had covered up the
incident.

But it was clearly foremost in Gen. Michael W.
Hagee's mind. Although he said he couldn't talk to
them about the details because of the ongoing
investigations, he made a speech to remind the
Marines in Iraq that, even in the ugliness of war,
there is a right kind of killing.

Hagee dusted off his experience commanding
Marines in Vietnam as an example. He said that
they had relied on the Geneva Conventions, the
rules of engagement and the basic rule of law to be
their guides.

"We pride ourselves on being a nation of law. We
uphold the law. We do the right thing," he said. His
challenge back then "was to ensure that the
Marines always understood that the Vietnamese
were people, too, and we needed to take care of
them. The battlefield is really quite similar between
then and today. I need your focus on that."

He said that it was important to talk about right
and wrong and to speak out when other Marines
stray.

"Most religions, if not all major religions, say it's
wrong to kill. And yet, on the battlefield, we do
that. I have to think through that, and I'm sure
everyone thinks through that," Hagee said. "On
this battlefield, which I know is very complex,
very dangerous, I'm quite proud of what Marines
do."

If the current investigations find wrongdoing by
Marines, he said, they will be held accountable.

For Charlie Company and the rest of the 1st
Battalion, 25th Marines, there have been plenty of
other things to think about besides the Haditha
incident, which occurred months before they left
the States. At Charlie Company's base, although
battalion commander Lt. Col. Chris Landro came in
for a meeting to reinforce Hagee's words on
speaking out against immoral acts, Haditha hasn't
been a favored topic of conversation.

Until Hagee's speech, Lance Cpl. Craig
Washington, a Connecticut correction officer, said,
"I didn't know anything about it."

Charlie Company has hit civilians in firefights -
taking them to the surgical hospital at Camp
Fallujah for treatment. But Washington said he has
no worries about the guys in his company getting
involved in anything like Haditha.

"I think we keep a close eye on each other, because
emotions run high," he said. The unit has absorbed
the bad things that happened to it. "We take it like
a champ."

Washington was at the speech because the
company's leaders wanted him recognized. Under
sniper fire in Fallujah, the 22-year-old had pulled a
wounded comrade to safety.

Haditha might as well be on another continent.
Fallujah is right out the front door.
.