Read this in my latest Sgt Grit American Courage newsletter:
September 24, 2007
Officials Say Evidence Shows Justification In Some Haditha Shootings
By Rowan Scarborough, National Security Correspondent
WASHINGTON -- The prosecution of four Marines for killing Iraqi Civilians in the western town of Haditha had promised to highlight one of the military's worst war crimes.
But after the completion of the last pre-trial hearing this month, Evidence shows that Marines were justified in opening fire in at least some of the 24 deaths, officials have determined. The house-by-house clearing Operation was depicted by Iraqi witnesses in the news media as cold-blooded murder. It now appears to be a more complex case involving young enlisted Marines in a dangerous mission.
Of four Marines charged with murder, a hearing officer has recommended All charges be dropped against two. The Marines dismissed murder charges against a third in exchange for his testimony.
The remaining murder defendant is Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich, who appeared at a evidentiary hearing this month. Facing 13 murder counts, Wuterich justified his actions. He is now awaiting the hearing officer's report to Lt. Gen. James N. Mattis, who will decide whether to order a court-martial.
"Based on certain political agendas and scurrilous leaks from Defense Department officials, the media was led to exaggerate the facts on the ground insinuating there were massacres that day," Washington attorney Mark Zaid, who represents Wuterich, told The Examiner. "The evidence now clearly rejects that was ever the case."
To be sure, there was carnage that day in 2005 when Marines raided four homes in Haditha after suffering a bomb attack that killed a battle mate.
But Lt. Col. Paul J. Ware, the investigative officer for all three pre-trial hearings, has issued investigative reports that cleared two of the accused - Lance Cpl. Justin Sharratt and Lance Cpl. Stephen B. Tatum. Mattis accepted Ware's recommendation on Sharratt and dismissed murder chargers. His decision on Tatum is pending.
Sharratt shot and killed three Iraqis in a house with an M9 pistol several hours after the bombing. Sharratt said the men were armed with AK-47s and he fired in self-defense.
Ware wrote that forensic evidence showed the wounds were not consistent with an execution. The officer termed "not credible" the eye-witness accounts of Iraqis.
In the Tatum case, Ware said the evidence showed the Marine followed the rules of engagement when he and squad mates entered two houses in which 17 Iraqis were killed.
"Lance Cpl. Tatum shot and killed people in houses 1 and 2, but the reason he did so was because of his training and the circumstances he was placed in, not to exact revenge and commit murder," Ware wrote.
Ware's two exonerations have brought criticism on Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., who said at a 2006 news conference the Marines killed the Iraqis "in cold blood."
Said Zaid, "Murtha used these kids to help his anti-war agenda."
Murtha's spokesman declined to comment.