On April 26, 2006, in Hamdania, Iraq, seven Marines and a Navy corpsman (the term for an enlisted medical specialist) allegedly kidnapped Hashim Ibrahim Awad, a 52-year-old Iraqi civilian, from his home. Tying up the disabled Iraqi police officer (who was reportedly a known supporter of coalition activities in Iraq) and dragging him away from his rural village, they shot him several times, and then planted a shovel and AK-47 near his body to create the appearance that he had been caught in the act of setting up an Improvised Explosive Device, or IED.
Shortly after the incident came to light — through a complaint lodged with Marine authorities by Awad’s family, which sparked the initial investigation — the soldiers were returned to Camp Pendleton, California, were they were placed in confinement while awaiting further action.
Amidst the specters of Abu Ghraib and Haditha, the media held up these troops as yet another example of the lawless rogues which they continuously portray the American military to be. However, unlike those involved in the previous scandals, the "Pendleton Eight," as they would come to be known, elicited as loud and as forceful a response from troop supporters as they did from those who have made a habit of being maligners of America’s forces.
Pro-military demonstrators took root at the entrance to Camp Pendleton shortly after the troops’ arrival there, holding signs that read: "Free our Marine POWs," "God bless our heroes," and "Liberate the Pendleton 8," and protesting the physical treatment of the confined soldiers, which included being shackled while in prison. "[We] feel it’s not right to shackle Marines," said one protester. "They are caged like animals when we don’t even know what happened yet." Said another, "I think they should all be freed — it’s unjust what’s happening to them." Kit Jarrel, of the milblog "Euphoric Reality," penned a passionate defense of the eight troops, and appealed for donations to help support their families and pay for their legal defenses. "The seven Marines and Navy Corpsman…are innocent," wrote Jarrel. "I believe this with all my heart, and the upcoming courts-martial will vindicate these heroes."
Such a show of support for America’s troops in the face of the anti-war, anti-military protests, which those who risk their lives for our freedom have had to face since the Iraq war began, is extremely good to see. Our soldiers receive precious little benefit of the doubt as, on a daily basis, their every action is deconstructed and condemned by media, "human rights" groups, anti-war liberals, and Democrat members of Congress — a most unfortunate fact, as it seems that, even if we can offer nothing else, the benefit of the doubt should be afforded by a grateful nation to those who give their lives for it.
Unfortunately, it now appears that the faith placed in these troops, by those patriots who rallied to their defense, was misplaced. In June, kidnapping, conspiracy, and murder charges were filed against the seven Marines and the sailor. Six eventually entered plea agreements, and last Saturday a 22-year-old Marine lance corporal became the fifth of the eight to be convicted and sentenced. Under the terms of the plea bargain (which included a reduction in charges to conspiracy and kidnapping, and a reduction in sentence to eight years in prison), the Marine will testify against his three remaining comrades, "two of whom plan to fight murder and conspiracy charges."
The testimony offered in this trial shed a great deal of light on the grim reality of the situation and, unfortunately, showed that the course of events which many supporting the troops had hoped would be resolved as a misunderstanding, or as a defensible action, was, in fact, neither.
Apparently on a mission to apprehend a suspected insurgent in Hamdania on April 26, the Marines, "sick of suspected insurgents slipping through the justice system," made the decision that, "if [the squad] could not capture a suspected insurgent, [they] would seize and kill someone else." If an insurgent couldn’t be found, then the next-best thing was to "kill another military aged male in the town," the lance corporal testified. "We felt that capturing them was an exercise in futility…they would just be released a few days later."
It appears, tragically, that Awad was in the wrong place at the wrong time, with understandably frustrated — but inexcusably murderous — soldiers in the area and looking for a victim. Three of the Marines, the lance corporal’s testimony continued, "led Awad from his home. When Awad asked them what was happening, [he was told that] he was being taken to Abu Ghraib prison for the night and would be returned the next day."
The Marine lance corporal said that he "helped force Awad into a roadside hole and tried to silence the protesting victim by holding his hand over his mouth." Only minutes later, the shooting — all done by the Americans — began, and Awad was dead, and the cover-up began, leading to the present point.
"I want to help [my son] come back to life and be the good person I know he is," said the lance corporal’s teary-eyed mother Saturday, following his sentencing. "I wish he could come home today."
That feeling is doubtless shared by Awad’s 11 children who, due to the actions of the "Pendleton Eight," will never again see their father, as well as his four grandchildren, who forever lost their grandfather at the hands of those who had been sent to Iraq to protect them.
This episode was tragic on many counts. First and foremost, an innocent man was dragged from his home and murdered in cold blood. Second, the American military, which is made up of some of the finest men and women this nation has to offer, and which has long been fighting against the negative image which the media, congressional Democrats, and so many others have been attempting to label it with, has received another unfortunate black eye at the hands of eight deplorable individuals. Also extremely unfortunate is the message this sends to those who rushed to the defense of these bad apples, and who, after this, will be less likely to rush to the support of the troops in future situations.
In light of this, it is important that a point be reemphasized here: the vast majority of our armed services are honorable, heroic men and women who deserve every benefit of the doubt, and, while the negative actions of the few will always reflect on the many, it is important to remember that a small number of bad apples, removed from the barrel, do not spoil the entire crop, and, while the seven Marines and one sailor involved in this action may not have been worthy of the impassioned support offered them by the American patriots who came to their aid, the actions of those few should not detract from the support given the rest of the military in the future.