Sunday, June 11, 2006

The Mooky End Of The Stick

Military justice often goes astray. Should a commander wish to rid him or herself of an individual who has committed no crime, but is a source of embarassment, there are ample administrative avenues available. Often the administrative route is considerably harsher than court martial and there is no appeal.

In November, marines of K Company, Third Battalion, First Marines operating in Haditha fell victim to a road side bomb and were then subjected to small arms fire. In the ensuing action a number of civilians were killed.

The marines involved claim to have scrupulously followed the rules of engagement. Iraqi witnesses told quite a different story – but, later on when it became obvious that newsies paid more attention to them when they told a tale of atrocity and murder.

The marines filed the required reports which went up the chain of command to Regimental Combat Team 2. Just another sad incident in a pointless war. Things were more or less hunky-dory after a civil affairs team worked with the families of the deceased.

Joe Galloway, author of We Were Soldiers Once … and Young and a revered icon among combat troops, visited Haditha in January. In the early days of Air Cav operations in Nam, he stood shoulder to shoulder with troopers when an intelligence screw up sent a battalion up against a VC main force regiment. It was another of those close run things, but the troopers escaped annihilation by the simple expedient of defeating three times their own number – at great cost to themselves. He had smelled the smoke, as is said, and is a hero among fighting men.

Please keep in mind that the command structure would treat Galloway as something akin to visiting royalty. The marines would put on the best show possible. To that end, only favored units, the fair haired so to speak, would be on his agenda. His briefer in Haditha was none other than the commander of K Company, Captain Lucas M. McConnell.

Also keep in mind the dates. The killings occurred in November and McConnell gets center stage in January, indicating he and his command are considered an exemplary unit by higher.

Also in January, two ministers spent three weeks with the company. They were there as embedded reporters for the K-LOVE Christian Radio Network, and reported nothing amiss. The story of the incident was told to them in general terms, but mildly enough to not cause serious questioning. No angst, no nervousness. Not the kind of thing to be expected from baby killers.

In late January the incident began to be cast as a deliberate slaughter of innocents rather than as incidental deaths of people who were being used as human shields. Even the dead insurgents have become innocent civilians in some of those versions, and the road side bomb never killed LCpl Miguel Terrazas.

Massacre of innocents; whole families wiped out? The outrage echoed throughout the liberal eastern press establishment who feel it their right of position to print any sort of libel as long as it casts the government in a bad light.

Time Magazine proudly takes the credit for breaking the “story” of the massacre in the US. The problem with the claim is the first reporter to call it a massacre was Ali al-Mashhadani, an Iraqi embedded reporter, who had spent 5 months in custody al Graihb for suspicion of having ties with the insurgents and later detained again as a security threat. Smooth move on the part of the Marine Corps to assign a reporter with decidedly anti-American sentiment to a line combat unit.

The incident snowballed and politicians piled on. Some of their utterances tend to be sensationalist headline grabbing, rather than factual accounts of events.

As a result of the pressure the Marine Corps had to be seen taking “corrective action” and did so in April by relieving three officers for vague cause. "Lack of confidence in their leadership abilities," was the way it was put.

Lt. Col. Jeffrey R. Chessani, commanding officer of 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment; Capt. James S. Kimber, commanding officer of Company I, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment; and Capt. Lucas M. McConnell, commanding officer of Company K, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, are the men reassigned.

The Commanding General of First Marine Division, Major General Richard F. Natonski, took the action for unspecified reasons, but Marine press releases strongly hint at a connection with the Haditha tragedy. At this point it appears the good general has the balls of a stud field mouse, to quote F. Lee Bailey’s characterization of Christopher Darden during the OJ murder trial.

I’ve already listed Capt. McConnell’s positive aspects. LtCol. Chessani was highly regarded up this point having been awarded a Bronze Star. Capt. Kimber has no connection with the Haditha incident, and claims he was fired because men in “India” used profanity while stating their opinions to the press on some Iraqi soldiers. (There you go; call a son of a b**** a son of a b**** and get the skipper sent back to the world. Sounds like justice to me.)

So what we have is a tragedy of innocent life lost, suspect reportage, headline hunting politicians, command influence on the two running investigations which are: was there a massacre and was there a cover up? Then there are leaks from investigators to the press. The Naval Criminal Investigative Service is up to its usual tricks of trying suspects in the press before all the results are in.

The officers might well hang up the utilities. Chessani can retire with twenty in a few months, the captains will never again have meaningful assignments or fitness reports. The middle level NCOs in “Kilo” face a bleak future should they decide to make a career of the Corps and the senior sergeants can look forward being frozen in grade and hustled into retirement at the earliest possible moment.

Some people who didn’t deserve it are dead, politicians have postured and made statements unsupported by available facts, and the Marine brass has shown its true colors. NCIS remains its bumbling self, the self serving liberal press remains its smug self, an enemy agent is embedded with a Marine unit as a legitimate reporter, and some people whose actions have yet to be reproached have had their lives inextricably altered.

Semper Fi, Mac.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Nothing Changes If Nothing Changes

My disagreement with the conduct of the military adventure in Iraq has been almost, but not quite universal.

One more time I find myself critical of our efforts.

A couple of days ago an F-16 wrote finis to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi with a pair of precision guided 500 pound bombs. That part I’m in agreement with. His terrorist tactics applied against innocents were indeed horrifying; he deserved a bad end, and quite frankly his death was a little too gentle for my tastes. But it is what it is, and what it is is a step in the right direction.

al-Zarqawi was a creation of George Bush’s Operation Iraqi Freedom. Saddam would have had him and his fellow zealots in abu Ghraib prison in a heartbeat had he entered the an area controlled by Iraq’s pre-war security forces. He and his ragtag band of followers were squatting in a remote region bordering Iran; an area nominally controlled by the Kurds. Once coalition forces destroyed the security infrastructure of Iraq and failed to secure a goodly portion of Saddam’s extravagant arsenal, he and his followers took advantage of the vacuum to unleash a campaign of atrocity.

What I’m in serious disagreement with is the fanfare accompanying his demise; he should have gone quietly into an unmarked grave along with everyone who died with him. Eventually the news of his passing would get out, but in the meantime, he could not have been held up as a martyr. What’s most likely to happen is the formation of a brigade of blood thirsty zealots dedicated in his memory and to his goals.

War is as much psychology as it is a clash of arms. The age old observation that comes to mind is "You do not defeat the enemy by killing him. You defeat him by breaking his heart and making him run."

Had al-Zarqawi merely disappeared, a number of his followers might have thought it to mean that he had taken it on the lam. Rumors and confusion in his camp would not be a bad thing. But now that the world knows that after not being able to prevent his running amok for three years, someone finally decided it was safe to try to collect the $25 million Dubya put on his head.

Not only is the military losing the information war through ineptness, it seems to be fueling it, what with all the professed angst at upper levels every time some scintilla of misbehavior on the part of the troops pops up. Take, for instance, all the furor over the alleged massacre of civilians by marines in Haditha making headlines these days. Hand wringing and teeth gnashing abound and the facts of the matter have yet to be established.

The only person, military or civilian, who has spoken rationally on the issue is General Pace, himself a marine and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. AP quotes him as saying, "You don't want to have the emotions of the day weigh into the process, we need to stick with our judicial process. We want to be sure that it moves forward without any influence." Hooray for General Pace!

Our presence in Iraq will last long after my lifetime and today’s mishandling will just put a greater burden on the notional great grandkids. The Law Of Armed Conflict puts us at a decided disadvantage when an enemy wears no uniform and mixes indistinguishably into the indigenous population. Giving the foe the slightest bit of edge in any manner whatsoever is mistake, but then the decision to invade Iraq was about as big a mistake as could be made.

Dubya has led us into a massive screw up and continues on that course.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Election Year Phonies

Senator John Warner, (R-VA) Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee has announced the committee will investigate the killing of two dozen civilians alleged to have been done to death as a reprisal for the killing of an American marine in Haditha, Iraq, November, 2005.

The marines involved claim to have been fired upon after a bomb killed LCpl Terrazas, K Company, Third Battalion, First Marines. They in turn took their assailants under fire with rifles and grenades. That civilians died in this incident is a sad fact of life in Iraq where hundreds meet their end in sectarian blood-letting on a weekly basis. The question is this: Were the marines returning fire from insurgents hiding behind “innocent” civilians, or did they adopt the Israeli method of retribution? There’s scant chance the truth will ever be known to anyone not there that day.

The Pres has already put his foot in his mouth on this incident and obviously the good senator is not to be outdone by a Texas hick. The chances of a fair trial for anyone charged with a crime in this case are nonexistent. Military officers who act as jurors in courts-martial will convict in a heartbeat. Careers in the military depend on their knowing what to kiss and when. Reviewing authorities are not under the same pressure will be obliged to set aside the guilty verdicts because of command influence.

Rumors are flying about the incident and outraged commentary abounds. The astonishing fact in this mess is that anyone would be surprised by this incident. So far as the facts can be established, a road side bomb killed a very popular marine. His squad mates immediately took nearby houses under fire with rifles and grenades. After that, accounts vary.

With Dubya and Warner joining in the media feeding frenzy, almost every headline hound who could claim to be knowledgeable of events that day will be giving interviews on the subject. One woman who claims to be married to one of K Company’s NCOs has even weighed in with a lurid story of a discipline breakdown fueled by alcohol and drug abuse. The heart break for Americans in this is her story was printed by Newsweek, a heretofore highly respected weekly news magazine.

The media circus is bad enough, but to claim that a whole company of U.S. Marines could behave like a gaggle of Americal Division Vietnam war druggies beggars the imagination. Look the world’s military establishment over and one can not find a higher standard of discipline than the Corps. Yes, a rogue or two can be found in any organization, be it military or civilian; the thought of a whole company of Marines going wonky is ludicrous.

On the other hand, the investigating agency for this incident is the Naval Criminal Investigating Service. When the pressure was on for answers to the turret 2 explosion of the USS Iowa, they’re the wonderful who folks who invented a homosexual lover murder-suicide plot and stuck to that tattered fabrication long after is was proved otherwise. They’re also the klutzes who could find nothing wrong with the groping and rape of a female Naval Officer at the infamous Tail Hook Convention of a few years back.

A look at the record of NCIS investigations will show a great reluctance to submit findings of criminal conduct on the part of officers and some truly absurd stories dealing with the perceived perversions of enlisted men. “If you can’t blame a sailor or marine for your problem, then you don’t have a problem.” Seems to be their guiding tenet. To say NCIS is a discredit to the Navy is an understatement.

Being a writer of fiction, I can hardly wait to hear their explanation of events.

Warner is more than likely to be positioning himself for a run for pres in ’08, Dubya has yet to utter a credible word regarding the Iraq war, and the press has gone nuts with scurrilous opinions being reported as fact.

Its too bad that Lance Ito is not a military judge and it is also regrettable that Johnnie Cochrane has gone on to the after life. The televising of the coming miscarriage of justice garnished with video of Marcia Clark striding angrily around in a micro-skirt should prove the same low humor as the OJ trial.

As long as Dubya insists on his bankrupt policy of nation building, young Americans will die in roadside ambushes and hundreds of Iraqis will meet premature ends at the hands of Americans and their fellow Iraqis. One only need look back to the end of WWII to see how to successfully occupy a country that doesn’t want to be occupied. The western allies occupation of Germany was a no nonsense approach that left few injured and almost no one dead.

What a God forsaken mess.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Americans Vs Iraqis

In 1989 the USS Iowa (BB-61), the last of the great gun ships, suffered the catastrophic destruction of number 2 turret. 47 lives were lost and someone had to be responsible. Barring that, a scapegoat had to be found.

The Naval Investigative Service looked into to the matter. The explosion (deflagration in Nav-speak) wiped out most of the evidence. It is holy writ that the equipment, training, and morale of Naval personnel is beyond reproach, therefore the incident must have been the result of sabotage.

On the basis that one of the deceased had named another of the deceased his insurance beneficiary, investigators declared the two to be homosexual lovers. Furthemore that a "lover's spat" had triggered a suicide-murder and went on to try the two shipmates by means of press leaks. That despicable action saved the cost of courts martial for the Captain and the Gunnery Officer who rightfully should have been dipped in bleep.

Friends and family of the two men furiously took the Navy to task, and at long last were able to force congress to push the service into a realistic investigation. The Navy still came up with sabotage by suicide-bent homosexual lovers. Sandia Labs was then given the task of reconstructing events on the Iowa.

Untrained newbies in the turret, a screw up in loading, inconsistent construction of the propellant bags, a little fumbling and you have one trashed turret and a well done 47 sailor hash.

So here we go again. Marines are accused of having shot 24 Iraqi civilians to death. The president did not have the good sense to keep his mouth shut on the matter. Rather than to say it was under investigation and any comment would be premature, he promised punishment for those involved. That is known among the military legal establishment as “command influence.”

I guess no one got around to telling him that command influence in a court martial almost always guarantees conviction. Officers who sit on courts martial boards aren’t dumb. They know where their efficiency reports come from. The which is why said convictions are invariably overturned upon review by the Military Court of Appeals which is staffed by civilian judges appointed for life.

More recently, junketing congressmen queried the general overseeing the investigation to get a status report on the incident – some more of that command influence. The general allowed as how he was not going to sign off the investigation report until the now renamed Naval Criminal Investigative Service quits dragging its heels on the matter. They’re probably stymied trying to find the gay bar and bath house in Iraq where the accused gathered to pack a little fudge and plan the murder of 24 people.

Recently a man was arrested for having shot seven family members to death during a home invasion robbery in Indianapolis. I didn’t hear a peep from Dubya and congress seem to be ignoring the matter. Does that mean that the Chief Executive and members of congress care more for Iraqis than Americans? Or is it that even the dumbest public defender can get the killer off if the gov, or the pres, or the congress folk stick their nose into a case before it goes to trial?

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Blues Benefit

I was busy exploring the plethora of California Blues Festivals in 2001 when Al Qaeda did their number on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a Shanksville, PA field. That happened between Long Beach Blues Festival and the San Francisco Blues Festivals.

Musicians are like the rest of us. Tragedies could as easily force lethargy or fuel passion.

To tell the truth, the SF Festival was pretty damned flat, but a week later I attended the Central Valley Blues Festival in Merced. And let me tell you, the passions were fueled. Big Time.

One of the bands that played its passion was the Curtis Salgado Band. Small festivals are intimate and it’s easy enough to talk with the stars after their sets. Curtis was congenial and knowledgeable about the arcane niches of the American music world. We had a short, pleasant chat. I came away with the impression that he is a good guy. As a matter of trivia, Curtis is who John Belushi patterned Joliet Jake after in The Blues Brothers.

Curtis has been stricken with a rather nasty form of the Big C. Even though he is not a local musician, some of the local heavies are throwing a benefit for him this coming Sunday, June 11, at the Mojo Lounge, 3714 Peralta, Fremont. Tickets are $15.00. You can check out the impressive lineup, raffle, and auction at

In other Blues News

Chris Burkhardt is still doing well with his 1933 National Resophonic steel guitar. I was out to the Blue Rock Shoot in Saratoga to catch him today. Check out his upcoming gigs at

The Pittsburg festival was last weekend. I went up Sunday and caught the last 4 sets. They have a great venue there and the Bay Area Blues Society production was a great success. They’re doing more productions this season; Check them out at

The KKUP 91.5 FM Blues Marathon is on as I write this, and I can’t hear them on account of having moved to far off Cupertino from Campbell. A whole 4 miles as the crow flies. Anyway if you have a spare buck or two laying around, send it to them as they get no support from nobody but us listeners.

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