Official portrait of Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif.
Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif. CREDIT: Official portrait

Did defense secretary nominee Gen. James Mattis commit war crimes in Iraq?

U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter, a Republican from California who served as a Marine Corps artillery officer under Mattis during the bloody 2004 siege of Fallujah, has a message for anyone asking that question: “Get over it.”

“Did we utterly decimate? Yes,” he said in a statement. “We – as Marines – were a force to be feared. And we won.”

Hunter’s statement came hours after a new report from Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting documented cases in which Marines under the command of Mattis – who earned the nickname “Mad Dog” in the Fallujah siege – shot at ambulances and aid workers. We also showed how Marines cordoned off the city, preventing civilians from escaping, and posed for trophy photos with people they had killed.

Each of those offenses has landed other military commanders and members of the rank and file in front of international war crimes tribunals. The doctrine dates back to World War II, when an American military tribunal held Japanese Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita accountable for war crimes in the Philippines.

International law experts – including a former legal adviser to the International Committee of the Red Cross  and a deputy to the U.S. ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues in the Obama administration – said the report highlighted troubling questions that should be raised by members of the Senate Armed Services Committee in Mattis’ confirmation hearing, scheduled for Thursday.

But Hunter offered an opposing perspective.

He argued that “just to question whether Mattis committed war crimes in Iraq is absurd. This was real war. Mattis’ job was to kill America’s enemies and bring home America’s sons and daughters.”

To assume the position of defense secretary, Mattis needs to not only be confirmed by the Senate, but also be granted a waiver by Congress to a 1947 law that forbids recently retired officers from serving as the civilian leader of the military.

He would be only the second general to receive such an exemption. The first was Gen. George C. Marshall, appointed by President Harry Truman during the Korean War.

Aaron Glantz can be reached at Follow him on Twitter: @Aaron_Glantz.

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Aaron Glantz was a senior reporter at Reveal. He is the author of "Homewreckers: How a Gang of Wall Street Kingpins, Hedge Fund Magnates, Crooked Banks, and Vulture Capitalists Suckered Millions Out of Their Homes and Demolished the American Dream." Glantz produces journalism with impact. His work has sparked more than a dozen congressional hearings, numerous laws and criminal probes by the Drug Enforcement Administration, FBI, Pentagon and Federal Trade Commission. A two-time Peabody Award winner, finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, multiple Emmy Award nominee and former John S. Knight journalism fellow at Stanford University, Glantz has had his work has appear in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, NBC Nightly News, Good Morning America and PBS NewsHour. His previous books include "The War Comes Home" and "How America Lost Iraq."