I have not commented much on the Haditha incident, mostly because I trust the military to determine whether wrongdoing occurred in the deaths of Iraqi civilians in the November 2005 incident, or whether they came as a result of the fog of war. Time Magazine’s investigative report appeared to indicate the former, and the Pentagon opened an investigation shortly afterwards. They brought charges against eight Marines ranging from murder to willful disobedience to a lawful order.

Now it looks as though the prosecution made a big mistake. Five Marines got exonerated even before coming to trial, and a sixth just won a not-guilty verdict from his court-martial:

A court martial has acquitted a US Marine for his role in the deaths of 24 civilians in Haditha in Iraq in 2005, the sixth man to be exonerated in the affair.

Lieutenant Andrew Grayson, 27, was declared “not guilty on all charges” by a jury, said a spokesman for the Camp Pendleton military base in southern California where the hearing started on May 28.

Grayson had been charged with making false statements and attempting to fraudulently separate from the Marine Corps. He was also charged with obstruction of justice, but the military judge dismissed this charge Tuesday.

He was the first Marine to stand trial in connection with the killings of 24 men, women and children in Haditha, the most serious war crime allegations leveled at US forces since the 2003 invasion to topple Saddam Hussein.

Prosecutors have more responsibility than just litigating. They represent the community as a whole, as crimes are injuries to the reputation of the whole. They have an obligation to determine whether the charges they file can win conviction based on the evidence at hand, and to avoid charging people when the evidence does not support the indictments.

It seems clear by now that, at the least, the JAGs did not have the evidence necessary to support these charges against the majority of the Marines in question. That doesn’t mean that everything went by the book at Haditha, but in a war zone where terrorists attack under cover of civilian populations, one should give the men in uniform at least the benefit of the doubt. These trials seem more concerned about maintaining appearances than about seeking justice.

Losing the first six cases out of eight gives a strong indication that the Pentagon got this one wrong, as did those who attempted to use Haditha as a political weapon, most egregiously John Murtha, but also including Barack Obama. The remaining cases should get reviewed by a fresh set of JAG prosecutors with a mission to determine whether the DoD should embarrass itself further.

Update: Gary Gross has been keeping close tabs on the Haditha story and has more here.

Update II: Bruce Kesler has also written extensively and in great detail on Haditha. Start here and follow his links.

Update III: Fixed both links; they should work now.