Monday, January 17, 2005


By Jack Random

My recent commentary on the case of Andres Raya, the young Marine who lured police into a trap, killing a police officer, wounding another, and resulting in his own death, has triggered a backlash of critical response.

The critics have made a number of points: 1) Raya did not participate in the assault on Fallujah and may not have seen combat in Iraq at all. 2) Raya was a member of the California Latino gang known as the Nortenos. 3) A toxicology report found significant amounts of cocaine in Raya’s blood. For these reasons, it is wrong and somehow disingenuous to suggest that Raya was “a victim” or a casualty of war.

While I sincerely appreciate objective criticism, there is a line of civility which some critics cross all too easily. The mother of a Marine in New Mexico wrote to inform me that Raya could not have been involved in the attack on Fallujah. Her tone was civil and her argument persuasive. Hers is an example of objective criticism. She is proud of her son, as well she should be. Though I oppose the war as immoral, I respect those who put their lives on the line for what they believe. My prayers join with hers in wishing for his safe return home.

Other critics assume a less civil posture. They are quick to use derogatory terms and seem personally offended not only by the argument but by the character of the author. It is generally not useful to respond to such critics but in the interest of setting the record straight, I will respond to the factual bases of their objections.

First, there is a distinction between commentary and news reporting. A commentator observes the stories of the day and makes inferences, drawing conclusions that may challenge the reader’s view of the event. Often, as in the case of Andres Raya, a story’s power is in its immediacy. Unlike the reporter, the commentator has no obligation to report all the facts or to withhold conclusions until all the facts are available.

The Andres Raya story unfolded over the course of several days. As one who has long been on record regarding the untold consequences of war, from the veterans of Nam to the victims of the Gulf War Syndrome, the Raya story struck an immediate chord. My initial response was a commentary entitled “Casualties of War” which was posted by CounterPunch (1/12/05). When more information was available, including the statements of family members, I rewrote the commentary under the title “A Marine Comes Home.” This version was posted by (1/13) and Dissident Voice (1/14). Unlike the first version, this commentary stated, “the military denied he had participated in the assault on Fallujah.” Aside from observing that the statement is factually correct, the readers were right in perceiving the author’s doubt. It is uncharacteristic of the military to issue statements and denials without a comprehensive review. They were apparently concerned that the story would throw new light on what happened in Fallujah – a massacre by any objective standard.

On Sunday, January 15, Andres Raya’s hometown paper, The Modesto Bee, ran three front page stories under the banner headline: Marine’s Gang Ties Revealed. Local law enforcement uncovered evidence of ties to the Norteno gang from a safe in Raya’s room. Toxicologists reported cocaine in Raya’s blood. Raya’s service in Iraq consisted of driving Humvees and trucks in supply convoys. The four medals he received were given to all Marines serving in Iraq. He reportedly bragged to fellow Marines that he was a gangster and had purchased an SKS assault weapon. Authorities also implicated Raya in a break-in at the local high school, in which a flag was cut up and the words F--- Bush were spelled out on the gymnasium floor. The paper also reported that friends and family members, some 600 of them gathered at Raya’s funeral at St. Jude’s Catholic Church, denied the gang charges.

These are the relevant facts as I now know them. Let us each examine them and arrive at our own conclusions. The local authorities and the military would like us to conclude that Raya’s horribly misguided actions were not related to his involvement in the war. They want us to conclude that drug use and gang association are solely responsible.

I believe that is a flawed and simplistic explanation of what happened. It does not explain why this young man volunteered for service in the Marine Corps. Presumably, he could have written his own ticket out by revealing his own past. Presumably, at that moment in time, Andres Raya wanted to serve his country. Something changed. Something clouded his vision and turned his world to darkness. In my judgment, that something was the war in Iraq.

I stand by my analysis and its conclusion: With no apologies for his brutal and misguided act of violence, victimizing two innocent police officers, both Raya and the officers are casualties of the war.

I stand by my point of advocacy: Get the military out of our schools or, at least, give our young people both sides of the story.

As for my reputation as a modest contributor to public discourse, I stand by my words. Having written dozens if not hundreds of essays and commentaries over the past several years, I have made more than a few mistakes. For example, in a published commentary entitled, “Defending Dan? Rather Not,” I erred in blaming Dan Rather for killing the insider tobacco story. It was in fact Mike Wallace’s story and I should have blamed the network.

We all make mistakes. If they are honestly made, there is neither shame nor regret. To the contrary, learning from our mistakes is a measure of wisdom and the greatest assurance that we will not repeat them.

Let the readers draw their own conclusions.