US Marines react to the Haditha massacre:
Mr. Harper expressed doubt that the marines knowingly committed crimes in Haditha, saying that they undoubtedly acted on instinct, as trained, in the heat of battle.
"When a bullet comes at you and you turn around and half your buddy's head is blown off, it changes the way you think forever," he said.
Jerry Alexander, the owner of G.I. Joe's and a Navy man who served with the Marines for a dozen years, had much the same perspective, saying, "If I saw my buddy laying there dead, there is no such thing as too much retaliation."
While Mr. Alexander said "unacceptable kills" should not be covered up, he worried about the unfairness of judging those who were in Haditha.
"In the heat of combat, you cannot hesitate; he who hesitates is lost," he said. "I would not prosecute these young men because they were just doing their jobs."
"In Iraq, everything you do has to be cleared with a commanding officer," said Cpl. Michael Miller, 25, who has served two tours of duty and fought in Falluja and Ramadi. "You just can't go clearing houses without the permission of higher-ups."
Corporal Miller said he believed that the marines would be vindicated in the inquiry. "I just think the marines did what they had to do," he said. "I don't know why innocent people are dead, but someone must have seen a gun." Several retired senior officers agreed. Col. Ben Mittman of the Air Force, interviewed as he got his regular military buzz cut at the Beachcomber Barber Shop in Oceanside, worried that the young servicemen were being made scapegoats.
"If this thing really happened, they had to radio communication and get the go-ahead," he said. "The frontline grunts these days do not do anything without the commanders knowing, especially something like that."