Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Hostage Rescue: A Devastating Implication

There is a devastating implication in the Indian Ocean rescue of the American flagged vessel and its crew that I haven’t seen mentioned anywhere.

By all accounts, the Rules of Engagement for attempting to free the Americans and their ship, as established by President Osama’s White House, were that lethal force was to be used against the pirates who were kidnapping Americans and their vessel, but only if Captain Phillips’s life was in danger.

Do you grasp the devastating implication here?

If the piratical savages were only kidnapping Captain Phillips by heading for the anarchistic hellhole of Somalia, no lethal force would have been applied. That would have left Captain Richard Phillips, an American citizen, just one more of the 200-some captives being held for ransom by the sub-humans who apparently control much of that African coastline.

In our book “Aid and Comfort”: Jane Fonda in North Vietnam (http://www.henrymarkholzer.citymax.com/books.html), Erika Holzer and I discussed the criminal Rules of Engagement which turned many of our pilots into sitting ducks for communist SAM missiles and cost some of them their lives and others years of brutal captivity.

The stupidity, arrogance, cowardice, political correctness and other non-military considerations that were at the root of the Viet Nam Rules of Engagement informed the Rules for some of our forces during the Iraq war.

I have the following report from a Marine officer who served two tours in Iraq, one in a very dangerous part of the country, who told me that during his time there every Marine battalion had its own lawyer. (I wonder what Marine Chesty Puller would have done with lawyers assigned to him in places like Korea.)

When a Marine discharged his weapon, the first two questions were always "why?" and "what was the result?" Was it a negligent discharge or was it purposeful? What did the round(s) impact?

The answers to these questions guided the follow-on actions.

If it was a negligent discharge and no injuries were caused, the Marine was usually punished through non-judicial punishment, ranging from loss of rank to extra guard duty with remedial training.

If it was a negligent discharge that harmed someone (which was extremely rare), there would be a preliminary inquiry to document all of the facts of the situation and either the battalion commander (in minor cases) or higher (cases involving death) would determine what should happen next.

When a Marine deliberately discharged his weapon, including in combat situations, we immediately had to determine whether or not it was in accordance with our rules of engagement.

This meant asking very detailed questions of the Marines involved in order to collect the relevant facts and evaluate them.

“Did you have positive identification of an enemy performing a hostile act or demonstrating hostile intent? What made you decide that you did have such positive identification? How many rounds did you fire? What types of weapons did you use? Did the target fire first or did you? Did the target return fire? What collateral damage did you cause, if any? What collateral damage did the enemy cause, if any?”

The list goes on.

If there was any reason to believe that a Marine discharged his weapon in a manner that did not meet our rules of engagement, there would be a preliminary inquiry conducted by a commissioned officer on behalf of the battalion commander to determine exactly what happened.

The officer would usually visit the site of the incident, take pictures, interview the Marines involved and their immediate chain of command, and prepare a report with all the relevant facts and a recommendation for the battalion commander.

If this inquiry found that the Marine(s) violated our rules of engagement, a full investigation would be initiated. This again would require a commissioned officer to conduct interviews and site visits and prepare a much more extensive report to the battalion commander. This report would be used by the battalion commander to decide what further actions were required.

If anyone believed to be a non-combatant was wounded or killed, there would be an automatic inquiry conducted by a commissioned officer on behalf of the battalion commander.

If there was a situation with extensive collateral damage, there would be an inquiry to document the facts surrounding the incident for the battalion commander to use in his report to the regimental commander.

Many (if not most) of these investigations were done purely for the sake of documentation, to make sure that we had all of the necessary proof that we did nothing unlawful in case accusations were ever made.

These reports were also used to validate claims made by Iraqis, either for remuneration or for justice.

We tried to make it clear to the Marines that we were not nit-picking their decisions or Monday morning quarterbacking.

We tried to explain to them that documenting these incidents was in their best interest, but I know that it made them feel insecure and uneasy. Many complained that it felt like we were waiting for them to screw up, and eroded their confidence in their chain of command.

Officers complained that they were constantly conducting time-consuming inquiries, to the detriment of their regular duties, on perfectly legitimate engagements. I personally conducted several inquiries after such deliberate engagements and never found any evidence of unlawful behavior or recklessness.

The American military, charged with defending America's national security, cannot afford to fight with this kind of burdensome, politically correct Rules of Engagement--Rules retroactively applied to their actions by lawyers second-guessing what happened when a weapon was fired. This incoherent approach to war emboldens our enemies, gets warriors killed, captured and wounded, and undermines our efforts to kill those who would destroy us if we give them the chance.

But alas, none of this seems to bother our leaders, including the current President of the United States, whose idea of Rules of Engagement is “Don’t fire until ……………you check with a lawyer."