Published 1:00 am, Wednesday, June 21, 2006
It was a grim discovery. Before the bodies could be recovered, an ordnance team had to check the area in case it had been booby-trapped to kill more Americans.
The missing soldiers were identified as Pfc. Kristian Menchaca, 23, of Houston and Pfc. Thomas Tucker, 25, of Madras, Ore.
American military officials say DNA testing will be done to confirm that the bodies are those of Menchaca and Tucker.
This episode is another tragic reminder of the dangers faced in Iraq by American military personnel.
Menchaca and Tucker, along with Spc. David Babineau, 25, of Springfield, Mass., were the targets of a well-coordinated attack by insurgents at a checkpoint by a Euphrates River canal, 12 miles south of Baghdad.
There were three Humvees at the checkpoint. Two of them left to pursue insurgents that were firing at them. The third Humvee was then swarmed by other insurgents. Babineau was killed and Menchaca and Tucker were kidnapped.
An Iraqi defense official says the hostages were "killed in a barbaric way." Al-Qaida in Iraq claimed responsibility for the murders, using language that suggested they had been beheaded.
Menchaca's uncle, Ken MacKenzie, criticized the U.S. government for his nephew's death. He says Washington had no plan in place for the taking of military personnel as hostages, that the offer of a $100 million reward or the release of insurgents from prison could have saved Menchaca's life.
If the United States offered a reward for military personnel taken hostage, of course, there would simply be more hostage taking.
Although his grief and heartache brought him to the wrong solution for dealing with a hostage taking, MacKenzie was right in raising questions about whether Washington has plans for this war and for protecting American military personnel.
The death by bombing of the insurgency's leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, was a triumph for U.S. forces, but not an ending or a step toward an ending.
President Bush continues to leave it to Iraqi politicians to decide when American troops will come home, and that is not a plan.
The Bush policy keeps American military personnel as targets, indefinitely, and allows Iraqi leaders to avoid taking responsibility for their own nation.