Saturday, December 23, 2006



Haditha K-3-1 Marines

December 23, 2006:

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. — The Marine Corps on Thursday charged four members of an infantry squad with unpremeditated murder in the deaths of Iraqi civilians in Haditha last year in a case that may raise questions about the rules of engagement that troops face in Iraq.

Four officers, including the Marines’ company and battalion commanders, were charged with dereliction of duty, including failure to properly investigate or report the alleged murders of the civilians, officials announced.

The much-anticipated charges came several months after major investigations into the actions of the leathernecks with 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines, who fired at Iraqis in a car and raided several homes, killing 24 residents including women and children, after a roadside bomb attack on their convoy. The Nov. 19, 2005, explosion killed Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas, 20, and wounded several Marines with Kilo Company, 3/1.

An initial official news release about the incident stated that civilians died in the roadside blast, not in the squad’s subsequent assaults on the nearby houses. But Marine Corps officials acknowledge it was an erroneous release.

Despite the severity of some of the charges, none of the eight men will be confined or restricted pending preliminary Article 32 evidentiary hearings, said Col. Stewart Navarre, chief of staff for Marine Corps Installations West and a former infantry regiment commander.

“They are not under restriction, and they will not be confined,” Navarre said during a press conference Thursday afternoon at the base.

The eight Marines charged are:

Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich, 26, who led 1st Squad, 3rd Platoon, Kilo Company, during the battalion’s recent deployment. Wuterich is charged with 12 counts of unpremeditated murder in the deaths of 12 Iraqis and one count of unpremeditated murder in the deaths of six other Iraqis. He is also charged with two counts of soliciting his team leader to make a false official statement and one count of lying.

Sgt. Sanick P. Dela Cruz, 24, a rifleman with 1st Squad. Dela Cruz is charged with five counts of premeditated murder in the deaths of five Iraqis and one count of making a false official statement.

Lance Cpl. Stephen B. Tatum, 24, a rifleman with 1st Squad. Tatum is charged with two counts of unpremeditated murder in the deaths of two Iraqis, four counts of negligent homicide in the deaths of four other Iraqis and one count of assault for an assault on two Iraqis.

Lance Cpl. Justin L. Sharratt, 22, a rifleman with 1st Squad. Sharratt is charged with three counts of unpremeditated murder in the deaths of three Iraqis.

Lt. Col. Jeffrey R. Chessani, 42, who was 3/1’s commander at the time. Chessani is charged with two counts of dereliction of duty for failing to report an alleged law-of-war violation and one count of violating a lawful order for failing to investigate the allegations.

Capt. Lucas M. McConnell, 34, who was Kilo Company’s commander at the time. McConnell is charged with two counts of dereliction of duty for failing to ensure that the allegations were accurately reported and thoroughly investigated.

Capt. Randy W. Stone, 34, a legal officer who was assigned as 3/1’s battalion staff judge advocate. Stone is charged with two counts of dereliction of duty for negligently failing to ensure reporting and investigation of an alleged law-of-war violation and one count of violating a lawful order for failing to ensure the allegations were reported and thoroughly investigated.

1st Lt. Andrew A. Grayson, 25, an intelligence officer who was 3/1’s Human Exploitation Team commander. Grayson is charged with two counts of dereliction of duty for failing to ensure that the allegation was accurately reported and thoroughly investigated. He also is charged with lying and impeding an investigation.

The Haditha investigations were prompted by questions from Time magazine and its March article detailing allegations of a massacre.

Neal Puckett, a defense attorney representing Wuterich, who faces the most serious charges, said the staff sergeant is keeping his focus. Wuterich’s pregnant wife, Marisol, was admitted to the hospital the previous night and is awaiting the birth of their third child.

He’s a little bit surprised” at the charges but maintains he followed the law in his and his squad’s actions that day in Haditha, Puckett said.

They did everything they were supposed to do in protecting themselves,” said Puckett, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel.

The lawyer remained optimistic. “We look forward to it,” he said of the prosecution. “We look forward to the opportunity to bring all the facts out.

Several families and defense attorneys contend that the investigations and charges are politically motivated. But Marine Corps officials dismissed the notion that the charges are a political ploy. “There’s been no pressure from any member of Congress or any other folks further up the chain of command,” Navarre said.

Members of one family who attended the press conference said they were disappointed.

“Justin has given everything to his country and has done nothing to deserve it,” Theresa Sharratt, Lance Cpl. Sharratt’s mother, flanked by her husband Darryl and daughter Jaclyn, told reporters after the press conference.

“Shame on you for abandoning our son,” Theresa Sharratt said of the Marine Corps.

The Sharratts left their Pennsylvania home and came to Southern California because they were unsure whether their son would get his requested holiday leave to return home, Darryl Sharratt said. Their son spent the past two Christmas holidays in Iraq.

“It’s been hell. It’s been hell,” Darryl Sharratt said, tears streaming down his face. “We came here just to support Justin.”

In announcing the charges, Marine Corps officials did not release any portions of the investigations, said to include more than 10,000 pages of documents. Navarre promised “fair and impartial proceedings” under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

The maximum punishment for a conviction on unpremeditated murder is a life sentence, loss of all pay and allowances and a dishonorable discharge.

Eight Marines charged in Haditha case


CAMP PENDLETON ---- Marine Corps officials on Thursday charged eight Camp Pendleton Marines in connection with the deaths of 24 Iraqi civilians in the town of Haditha in November 2005.

The charges vary by individual, and include accusations of unpremeditated murder, dereliction of duty, false official statements and obstruction of justice.

Four enlisted men were charged with unpremeditated murder and other crimes;four officers face charges for allegedly failing to report or investigate the deaths of the Iraqi civilians after the Nov. 19, 2005 incident, which happened after a roadside bomb exploded in a convey of Humvees carrying U.S. troops. One of the troops was killed, two others were injured. In the aftermath of the explosion, 24 Iraqis, including woman and children, in nearby homes and a taxi were killed.

The Marine Corps announced this afternoon that it has charged the 26-year-old squad leader, Staff Sgt. Wuterich, with 13 counts of unpremeditated murder, as well as with charges related to soliciting another to commit an offense and making a false official statement.

Unpremeditated murder is the rough equivalent of second-degree murder charges.

The others charged include:

-- Sgt. Sanick Dela Cruz, 24, was charged with five counts of unpremeditated murder, as well as making a false official statement.

-- Lance Cpl. Stephen B. Tatum, 25, faces two counts of unpremeditated murder, and one count of negligent homicide (related to the deaths of four victims), and one count of assault.

-- Lance Cpl. Justin Sharratt, 22, is charged with three counts of unpremeditated murder.

-- Each of the four officers facing charges are accused of dereliction of duty. The charges also accuse Lt. Col Jeffrey Chessani of wrongfully failing to accurately report and investigated a suspected violation of the law of war. The 42-year-old also has two counts of dereliction of duty.

-- Capt. Randy Stone is charged with violating a lawful order, in that he allegedly failed to insure accurate reporting. the 34 year old also faces two counts of dereliction of duty.

-- Capt. Lucas McConnell, 31, faces one charge of dereliction of duty.

-- First Lt. Andrew Grayson, 25, is charged with dereliction of duty, false officials statements and obstruction of justice.

Attorneys for the some of the men from Kilo Company of the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment have said for months that the killings were the result of a legitimate action following a massive explosion that killed Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas of El Paso, Texas.

The Iraqi victims included six children and five women, all of whom died inside homes near the site of the bombing.

The accused Marines returned from Iraq in April. They were not taken into custody, but were assigned to tasks at Camp Pendleton as the investigation into what happened in Haditha, a city 125 miles northwest of Baghdad, ran its course.

Neal Puckett, the attorney for Wuterich, said his client "does not think the Marine Corps is abandoning him." He also said his client, from Meriden, Conn., has no plans to cooperate with prosecutors because "he didn't't do anything wrong."

"Everything he did that day was in an effort to protect his Marines after the IED (improvised explosive device) went off," Puckett said. "We maintain the tactics used that day were within his right to use."

Puckett also noted that Wuterich's wife, Marisol, is in the hospital today, expecting to deliver the couple's third child.

Tatum's attorney confirmed Thursday morning that his client would be charged in the matter. However, that attorney, Jack Zimmerman said Tatum was not at Camp Pendleton today and has not had the charges read to him yet.

Gary Myers, attorney for Sharratt, said his client was also notified this morning of the charges.

Sharratt, Myers said, will not be jailed at this point but he did not know if his client would have other restrictions, such as not being allowed to leave base.

"Our position is now and always has been that these were combat-related deaths," Myers said.

The Haditha incident spawned two investigations, one looking into whether the Marines had committed war crimes, the other probing the reporting of the incident up the chain of command.

Dozens of reporters and camera crews descending on the base today for the formal charging announcement against the men and about what actions are being taken against Marine commanders, whose handling of the initial report of the civilian deaths and their subsequent investigation of what happened came under question.

The leveling of murder charges is not a surprise, according to one military legal expert.

"If we want to have a justice system that is taken seriously around the world, then we have to be capable of disciplining our own, of at least trying our own," said Kathleen Duignan, executive director of the Institute of Military Justice in Washington.

She said the likelihood of any plea deals for any of the men will depend on the strength of the evidence the prosecution has against the men.

If the evidence is strong against the men, then defense attorneys may be inclined to negotiate, she said.

"But, it will depend on whether the defense thinks it's in their best interests to roll the dice," Duignan said.

Reached by phone in Washington on Thursday, former military attorney and retired West Point Professor Gary Solis said that a lack of forensic evidence will complicate things for the prosecution.

"The lack of a body will make it difficult to prove the cause of death," Solis said, referring to the fact that U.S. officials were unable to obtain permission from the families of those who died to exhume and conduct autopsies on the bodies of those who were killed in the incident.

He said that he knows Wuterich's attorney Gary Puckett, who he referred to as an "outstanding legal mind."

"He is a first-rate defense council," Solis said.

He added that while he wouldn't't be surprised to see plea deals worked out between prosecutors and some of the "lesser players" in the case.

Solis said that maximum penalty that the accused could face for unpremeditated murder would be life in prison.

The Haditha case unfolded when the Marine patrol aboard four Humvees was passing through the city about 7:30 a.m. on Nov. 19, 2005.

Several of the Marines there that day have told investigators and the civilian attorneys they have hired have said they were told that minutes after the explosion the men were attacked by insurgents armed with AK-47 assault rifles, shots they said were coming from one or more nearby homes.

The first Iraqis to die were five men who emerged from a car and began running. None of those men have been determined by investigators to be insurgents.

The squad radioed word of the attack to commanders, and over the next few hours stormed through several homes in what they said was a search for their attackers.

The shooting that took place in two of the homes appeared justified, sources close to the case have said, but the assault on a third home may have violated the Marine Corps' rules of engagement.

Those rules allow a combat operation against any source of fire or suspected insurgent stronghold, but are clear in directing that lethal force not be used against children or apparent civilians unless absolutely necessary.

One week after major elements of the 3rd Battalion returned from Iraq in April, then-1st Marine Division Maj. Gen. Richard Natonksi, announced he was relieving the now-accused Chessani of his post as commanding officer of the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment also known as the "Thundering Third."

The mix of politics and the military justice system has been a major component in the Haditha story since it was first reported. Anti-war voices point to Haditha as the Iraq war comparison to the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam War in which U.S. Army troops killed hundreds of Vietnamese villagers. As in the My Lai case, politicians say the stress faced by U.S. troops in Iraq facing an uniformed enemy in an urban environment is a major factor in what happened at Haditha.

Two months after Time magazine wrote the first story on the Haditha incident, U.S. Rep. John Murtha, D-Penn., in May said the Marines overreacted to the death of Terrazas and, acting in rage, "killed innocent civilians in cold blood."

A leading voice in Congress for repositioning some U.S. troops to Kuwait and bringing the rest home, Murtha's remarks prompted a firestorm on Capitol Hill and led to a libel lawsuit filed against him by Wuterich. Murtha, a former Marine, has refused an offer to settle the suit by issuing a public apology and it is uncertain if his position as a federal lawmaker shields him from the suit.

Theresa Sharratt, mother of one of the enlisted Marines said to be facing charges, Lance. Cpl. Justin Sharratt, also is expected to be on the base and speak to the media this afternoon.

Sharratt's sister, Jaclyn Sharratt, reached by phone as she checked in at the base Thursday, said that she has faith that things will turn out well for her brother.

"We have faith and belief in them and know they did the right thing," she said. "They just followed the rules of engagement."

She said her family has been under the stress of not knowing what was coming since March.

"It's real now, not something hypothetical," she said. "Now that it's reality, we are just going to have to deal with it."

In his lawsuit, Wuterich provided the public account from any of the troops there that day about what happened.

In the lawsuit, Wuterich said five men in a taxi that came upon the scene shortly after the bombing were shot when they fled the vehicle and ignored orders in Arabic. The suit said the military's rules of engagement allowed troops to "shoot suspicious people fleeing a bombing. Therefore in following that policy the Marines opened fire killing the men."

A short time later, Wuterich's suit contends, AK-47 shots were heard and Marines saw bullets striking the ground near their position. A four-man team that included Wuterich entered one of the homes, tossed a fragmentation grenade into a room where they heard voices and then fired a series of "clearing shots." That pattern was repeated in two other homes.

"Any accusation that the Marines 'executed' civilians or deliberately targeted noncombatants is either a horrendous misunderstanding or intentional lie," Wuterich's suit contends.

Lawyers for other Marines involved in the incident have said Wuterich's account is consistent with what their clients have told them.

Critics of the case have contended that witnesses at Haditha, located in the heart of the dangerous Anbar province known as the Sunni Triangle and peppered with insurgents, have misled investigators.

The critics also point to the fact that none of the victims have been exhumed for autopsy because of resistance from their families and therefore no concrete forensic evidence of how they died is available.

Earlier news stories had reported that one of the men who would be charged would be 1st Lt. William T. Kallop ---- the commanding officer of Kilo Company who was the only officer at the scene of the Haditha incident. Kallop was not targeted in the charges filed Thursday.


Medal Recommended for Leader at Haditha
By PAULINE JELINEK, Associated Press Writer
Wednesday, August 30, 2006

WASHINGTON — The Marine who led an Iraq mission in which up to 24 civilians were killed is"an outstanding squad leader and undoubtedly"deserves a medal for his actions, his commander said in a memo weeks later.

Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich is among troops under investigation for allegations they deliberately killed Iraqis civilians _ many of them women and children _ after coming under attack Nov. 19 in Haditha.

Earlier this month, Pentagon officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told The Associated Press that evidence collected about the Haditha killings supported allegations that Marines deliberately fired on civilians.

His attorney released a document Wednesday to the AP in which Wuterich's platoon commander wrote that Wuterich had established security, then"led a counterattack on the buildings ... where his Marines were still receiving sporadic fire."

"That counterattack turned the tide of the ambush and killed a number of insurgents still attempting to fight or attempting to flee the area,"said platoon leader Lt. William T. Kallop.

In a two-page memo, Kallop laid out several previous missions in which Wuterich had participated.

"He is an outstanding squad leader and undoubtedly a worthy recipient of the NAM'V,'"Kallop wrote, referring to the Navy Achievement Medal with a combat distinguishing device.

"What it shows is that he was a good Marine, well respected, and he was put in for an award for heroic actions on that day,"said Wuterich attorney Neal Puckett.

The document was first revealed in Wednesday editions of The Washington Post, which said the memo was written in January and reveals that Kallop believed Marines were under attack when they stormed civilian homes and opened fire.
The Marines initially reported after the killings at Haditha that 15 Iraqi civilians had been killed by a makeshift roadside bomb and in crossfire between Marines and insurgent attackers. Based on accounts from survivors and human rights groups, Time magazine reported in March that the killings were deliberate acts by the Marines.

The Marine Corps and Navy prosecutors are reviewing evidence to determine whether to recommend criminal charges.

Marine Corps spokesman Lt. Col. Scott Fazekas said officials have found no record that any medal was awarded.


In Haditha, Memories of a Massacre
Iraqi Townspeople Describe Slaying of 24 Civilians by Marines in Nov. 19 Incident

By Ellen Knickmeyer
Washington Post Foreign Service

Saturday, May 27, 2006; Page A01

BAGHDAD, May 26 -- Witnesses to the slaying of 24 Iraqi civilians by U.S. Marines in the western town of Haditha say the Americans shot men, women and children at close range in retaliation for the death of a Marine lance corporal in a roadside bombing.

Aws Fahmi, a Haditha resident who said he watched and listened from his home as Marines went from house to house killing members of three families, recalled hearing his neighbor across the street, Younis Salim Khafif, plead in English for his life and the lives of his family members. " I heard Younis speaking to the Americans, saying: 'I am a friend. I am good,' " Fahmi said. " But they killed him, and his wife and daughters."

An image from a videotape shot by a Haditha journalism student Nov. 19 shows what appears to be a morgue after an alleged retaliatory raid by U.S. Marines. (Associated Press)

The 24 Iraqi civilians killed on Nov. 19 included children and the women who were trying to shield them, witnesses told a Washington Post special correspondent in Haditha this week and U.S. investigators said in Washington. The girls killed inside Khafif's house were ages 14, 10, 5, 3 and 1, according to death certificates.

Two U.S. military boards are investigating the incident as potentially the gravest violation of the law of war by U.S. forces in the three-year-old conflict in Iraq. The U.S. military ordered the probes after Time magazine presented military officials in Baghdad this year with the findings of its own investigation, based on accounts of survivors and on a videotape shot by an Iraqi journalism student at Haditha's hospital and inside victims' houses.

An investigation by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service into the killings and a separate military probe into an alleged coverup are slated to end in the next few weeks. Marines have briefed members of the Senate Armed Services Committee and other officials on the findings ; some of the officials briefed say the evidence is damaging. Charges of murder, dereliction of duty and making a false statement are likely, people familiar with the case said Friday.

"Marines overreacted . . . and killed innocent civilians in cold blood," said one of those briefed, Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), a former Marine who maintains close ties with senior Marine officers despite his opposition to the war.

Haditha is one of a chain of farm towns on the Euphrates River where U.S. and Iraqi forces have battled foreign and local insurgents without resolution for much of the war. The first account of the killings there was a false or erroneous statement issued the next day, Nov. 20, by a U.S. Marine spokesman from a Marine base in Ramadi: " A U.S. Marine and 15 civilians were killed yesterday from the blast of a roadside bomb in Haditha. Immediately following the bombing, gunmen attacked the convoy with small arms fire. Iraqi army soldiers and Marines returned fire, killing eight insurgents and wounding another.''

The incident was touched off when a roadside bomb struck a Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment supply convoy . The explosion killed Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas, 20, of El Paso, who was on his second tour of duty in Iraq. Following in the footsteps of two Marine uncles and a Marine grandfather, Terrazas had planned to go to college when it was all done, his family said.

Insurgents planted the bomb on a side road off one of Haditha's main streets , placing it between two vacant lots to try to avoid killing -- and further alienating -- Haditha's civilians, residents said. It went off at 7:15 a.m. [Marine] Terrazas was driving the Humvee, and he died instantly. Two other Marines in the convoy were wounded.

" Everybody agrees that this was the triggering event. The question is: What happened afterward?" said Paul Hackett, an attorney for a Marine officer with a slight connection to the case.

The descriptions of events provided to The Post by witnesses in Haditha could not be independently verified , although their accounts of the number of casualties and their identities were corroborated by death certificates.

In the first minutes after the shock of the blast, residents said, silence reigned on the street of walled courtyards, brick homes and tiny palm groves. Marines appeared stunned, or purposeful, as they moved around the burning Humvee, witnesses said.

Then one of the Marines took charge and began shouting, said Fahmi, who was watching from his roof. Fahmi said he saw the Marine direct other Marines into the house closest to the blast, about 50 yards away.

It was the home of 76-year-old Abdul Hamid Hassan Ali. Although he had used a wheelchair since diabetes forced a leg amputation years ago, Ali was always one of the first on his block to go out every morning, scattering scraps for his chickens and hosing the dust of the arid western town from his driveway, neighbors said.

In the house with Ali and his 66-year-old wife, Khamisa Tuma Ali, were three of the middle-aged male members of their family, at least one daughter-in-law and four children -- 4-year-old Abdullah, 8-year-old Iman, 5-year-old Abdul Rahman and 2-month-old Asia.

Marines entered shooting, witnesses recalled. Most of the shots -- in Ali's house and two others -- were fired at such close range that they went through the bodies of the family members and plowed into walls or the floor, physicians at Haditha's hospital said.

A daughter-in-law, identified as Hibbah, escaped with Asia, survivors and neighbors said. Iman and Abdul Rahman were shot but survived. Four-year-old Abdullah, Ali and the rest died.

Ali took nine rounds in the chest and abdomen, leaving his intestines spilling out of the exit wounds in his back, according to his death certificate.

The Marines moved to the house next door, Fahmi said.

Inside were 43-year-old Khafif, 41-year-old Aeda Yasin Ahmed, an 8-year-old son, five young daughters and a 1-year-old girl staying with the family, according to death certificates and neighbors.

The Marines shot them at close range and hurled grenades into the kitchen and bathroom, survivors and neighbors said later. Khafif's pleas could be heard across the neighborhood. Four of the girls died screaming.

Only 13-year-old Safa Younis lived -- saved, she said, by her mother's blood spilling onto her, making her look dead when she fell, limp, in a faint.

Townspeople led a Washington Post reporter this week to the girl they identified as Safa. Wearing a ponytail and tracksuit, the girl said her mother died trying to gather the girls. The girl burst into tears after a few words. The older couple caring for her apologized and asked the reporter to leave.

Moving to a third house in the row, Marines burst in on four brothers, Marwan, Qahtan, Chasib and Jamal Ahmed. Neighbors said the Marines killed them together.

Marine officials said later that one of the brothers had the only gun found among the three families, although there has been no known allegation that the weapon was fired.

Meanwhile, a separate group of Marines found at least one other house full of young men. The Marines led the men in that house outside, some still in their underwear, and away to detention.

The final victims of the day happened upon the scene inadvertently, witnesses said. Four male college students -- Khalid Ayada al-Zawi, Wajdi Ayada al-Zawi, Mohammed Battal Mahmoud and Akram Hamid Flayeh -- had left the Technical Institute in Saqlawiyah for the weekend to stay with one of their families on the street, said Fahmi, a friend of the young men.

A Haditha taxi driver, Ahmed Khidher, was bringing them home, Fahmi said.

According to Fahmi, the young men and their driver turned onto the street and saw the wrecked Humvee and the Marines. Khidher threw the car into reverse, trying to back away at full speed, Fahmi said, and the Marines opened fire from about 30 yards away, killing all the men inside the taxi.

After the killings, Fahmi said, more Americans arrived at the scene. They shouted among themselves. The Marines cordoned off the block; then, and for at least the next day, Marines filed into the houses, looked around and came out.

At some point on Nov. 19 , Marines in an armored convoy arrived at Haditha's hospital. They placed the bodies of the victims in the garden of the hospital and left without explanation, said Mohammed al-Hadithi, one of the hospital officials who helped carry the bodies inside. By some accounts, some of the corpses were burnt.

The remains of the 24 lie today in a cemetery called Martyrs' Graveyard. Stray dogs scrounge in the deserted homes. " Democracy assassinated the family that was here," graffiti on one of the houses declared.

The insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq said it sent copies of the journalism student's videotape to mosques in Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, using the killings of the women and children to recruit fighters.

After Haditha leaders complained, the Marines paid compensation put variously by townspeople at $1,500 or $2,500 for each of the 15 men, women and children killed in the first two houses. They refused to pay for the nine other men killed, insisting that they were insurgents. Officials familiar with the investigations said it is now believed that the nine were innocent victims. By some accounts, a 25th person, the father of the four brothers killed together, was also killed.

As the official investigations conclude and fresh information continues to surface in Haditha, several aspects of the incident remain unclear or are in dispute .

For example, John Sifton of Human Rights Watch, which helped break the news that spurred the military investigation , said he had been told by Marine officers that the rampage lasted three to five hours and involved two squads of Marines.

Although Marines' accounts offered in the early stages of the investigation described a running gun battle, those versions of the story proved to be false, officials briefed by the Marines said.

Also, one member of Congress who was briefed by Marines said in Washington that the shooting of the men in the taxi occurred before the shootings in the houses.

Another point of dispute is whether some houses were destroyed by fire or by airstrikes. Some Iraqis reported that the Marines burned houses in the area of the attack, but two people familiar with the case, including Hackett, the lawyer, said warplanes conducted airstrikes , dropping 500-pound bombs on more than one house.

That is significant for any possible court-martial proceedings, because it would indicate that senior commanders, who must approve such strikes and who would also use aircraft to assess their effects, were paying attention to events in Haditha that day.

The Marines of Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines have rotated back home, to California. Last month, the Marine Corps relieved Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani of command of the 3rd Battalion. Two of his company commanders were relieved of their commands, as well . Authorities said a series of unspecified incidents had led to a loss of confidence in the three.

In Haditha, families of those killed keep an ear cocked to a foreign station, Radio Monte Carlo, waiting for any news of a trial of the Marines.

" They are waiting for the sentence -- although they are convinced that the sentence will be like one for someone who killed a dog in the United States," said Waleed Mohammed, a lawyer preparing a file for Iraqi courts and the United Nations, if the U.S. trial disappoints. " Because Iraqis have become like dogs in the eyes of Americans.''

A Washington Post staff member in Iraq and staff writer Thomas E. Ricks and staff researcher Julie Tate in Washington contributed to this report.

August 1, 2006: Navy ends Haditha investigation
From Mike Mount
CNN Washington Bureau
Tuesday, August 1, 2006; Posted: 1:59 p.m. EDT (17:59 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A U.S. naval investigation team has wrapped up its investigation into the murders of 24 Iraqi civilians in Haditha, allegedly at the hands of U.S. Marines, U.S. military officials told CNN.

The case has been handed over to a military prosecution team that will look further into the allegations and see if there is enough evidence to build a case, the officials said Tuesday.

U.S. Marines are alleged to have killed the civilians in a bloody rampage November 19, following the death of a Marine by a roadside bomb.

The Naval Criminal Investigative Service will assist with additional interviews as the prosecution proceeds with the investigation.

Once the findings are reached, Lt. Gen. John Sattler -- the commander of Marine forces in the U.S. Central Command region -- will determine whether any Marines will be charged. There is no timetable for when that decision will be made.

Military officials expect some of the Marines to be charged.

Hindering the investigation is the fact that relatives of the victims will not allow the bodies to be exhumed for examination because their religion forbids it.

[NOTE: The body of the Muslim, alleged to have been murdered by the "Pendleton 8" was exhumed, sent to Dover, Delaware for autopsy and returned to Iraq for re-burial]

Although the U.S. government is still trying to persuade the families to change their minds, prosecutors are building their case under the assumption they will not get autopsy results , according to U.S. military officials.

Last month, a separate investigation into the military response to and reporting of the incident concluded that senior leaders failed to sufficiently investigate the killings in spite of conflicting information, according to a defense official.

The findings, which have not been been made public, came as part of a voluminous report prepared by Maj. Gen. Eldon Bargewell and reviewed by Army Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli.

Chiarelli forwarded copies of the report, along with his recommendations, to Gen. George Casey, commander of forces in Iraq, and Gen. John Abizaid, the commander of the U.S. Central Command.

While Bargewell found the reporting of the incident untimely, inaccurate and incomplete, according to a Defense Department source, Chiarelli questioned the motivation of senior Marine leadership in failing to investigate the incident properly.

Any finding of negligence could lead to a range of actions, from administrative reprimand to criminal charges.

August 2, 2006: Marine Names Murtha in Defamation Suit
Congressman Discussed Killings Involving Serviceman's Squad in Haditha, Iraq
By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 2, 2006; A05

A Marine Corps staff sergeant who led the squad accused of killing two dozen civilians in Haditha, Iraq, will file a lawsuit today in federal court in Washington claiming that Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) defamed him when the congressman made public comments about the incident earlier this year.

Attorneys for [Staff Sergeant] Frank D. Wuterich, 26, argue in court papers that Murtha tarnished the Marine's reputation by telling news organizations in May that the Marine unit cracked after a roadside bomb killed one of its members and that the troops " killed innocent civilians in cold blood." Murtha also said repeatedly that the incident was covered up.

Murtha argued that the questionable deaths of 24 civilians were indicative of the difficulties and overpowering stress that U.S. troops are facing. The congressman, a former Marine, has been a leading advocate for withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq.

In the court filing, obtained by The Washington Post, the lawyers say that Murtha made the comments after being briefed by Defense Department officials who " deliberately provided him with inaccurate and false information." Neal A. Puckett and Mark S. Zaid, suing for libel and invasion of privacy, also wrote that Murtha made the comments outside of his official scope as a congressman.

Telephone calls yesterday to Murtha's office in Washington were referred to his district office in Pennsylvania, and calls there were not returned. A Marine Corps spokesman declined to comment yesterday on the Haditha investigation or the lawsuit.

The suit could have interesting legal ramifications because Wuterich and the other members of his squad have not been charged and have not received any official investigative documentation about the Nov. 19 incident. A Naval Criminal Investigative Service investigation is expected to determine possible charges this summer, said officials familiar with the case.

Zaid said the filing is designed partly to force Murtha to disclose what information he received from the Defense Department and the Marine Corps commandant to form his opinion, essentially trying to speed up the discovery process in a potential criminal trial.

" This case is not about money; it's about clearing Frank Wuterich's name, and part of that is to identify where these leaks are coming from," Zaid said in an interview. " Congressman Murtha has created this atmosphere that has already concluded guilt. He's created this environment that really smells, and he's the only one who has done that."

The move by Wuterich is rare, as statements made by members of Congress generally are protected under the "speech or debate" clause in Article I, Section 6, of the Constitution. But legal experts said the clause grants immunity only for what lawmakers say in legislative proceedings and does not apply to news releases, speeches and other public comments.

Rodney A. Smolla, dean of the University of Richmond Law School and a libel expert, said yesterday that Wuterich would have the burden of proving that he is innocent and that Murtha's statements were false, but he added that the quotations appear to be actionable in court . He said the suit shows that Wuterich probably thinks he did nothing wrong.

" Part of the subtext of this is it's a showing of confidence and a preemptive strike of sorts," Smolla said. " The congressman's statement does not sound as if it is merely hyperbole or opinion or name-calling. Instead, it conveys the idea that the Marines violated professional standards and perhaps the law."

Wuterich, through his attorneys, has maintained his innocence and has said that the Marines killed two dozen people that day because they were engaged in a firefight with suspected insurgents. He told his lawyers that he and other Marines used grenades and rifles to clear two houses they thought were hostile.

Another Marine's detailed account of the incident, obtained by The Post, corroborates Wuterich's version.

Donald Ritchie, associate historian in the Senate Historical Office, said that such defamation suits happen from time to time but that they tend not to go anywhere because of the constitutional protections members have. He said the most famous case was in 1979, when the Supreme Court ruled that Sen. William Proxmire (D-Wis.) was not protected when he made defamatory statements to constituents in a newsletter.

" The Supreme Court has suggested that speech and debate has limits to it, and that makes people vulnerable in certain areas," Ritchie said.
Researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.


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