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IRAQ: Are rules of engagement real rules or just words?

July 15, 2008 |  6:55 pm

Gunsxx The talk at Camp Pendleton in recent days has been about the rules of engagement, which are meant to tell Marines in Iraq or Afghanistan when it's OK to use their weapons.

In HB0's new miniseries, "Generation Kill," which had its premiere on base last week, the Marines are constantly debating whether using deadly force in a specific incident is covered by the rules.

Much the same kind of debate is being heard in courtrooms where Marines are charged with abuses in Fallouja, Haditha and the Tharthar Lake region. Prosecutors routinely note that Marines get multiple lectures on the rules of engagement; defense attorneys counter that the rules are vague.

On Monday, a hearing officer in a case involving a Marine sniper who killed two Syrians and wounded two others seemed to want it both ways: He recommended that manslaughter and assault charges be dropped but that the Marine receive nonjudicial punishment for breaking the rules of engagement by not having positive identification that his targets were hostile.

Evan Wright, who wrote the book that is the basis for "Generation Kill,'' came to have a jaundiced view of the rules of engagement during his six weeks with a Marine reconnaissance battalion during the U.S.-led assault on Baghdad in 2003:

"However admirable the military's attempts are to create ROE, they basically create an illusion of moral order where there is none. The Marines operate in chaos. It doesn't matter if a Marine is following orders and ROE, or disregarding them.

"The fact is, as soon as the Marine pulls the trigger on his rifle, he's on his own. He's entered a game of moral chance. When it's over, he's as likely to go down as a hero as a baby killer. The only difference between [a Marine in the book] and any number of Marines who've shot or killed people they shouldn't have is that he got caught."

Tony Perry, at Camp Pendleton

Photo: Marines at Camp Pendleton training for deployment to Iraq. Credit: Los Angeles Times