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Sunday, August 26, 2007

They Convicted the Haditha Marines Without a Trial - Part I Newsweek

In May 2006 Americans were stunned to hear a sitting member of Congress proclaim that members of Kilo Company 3/1 Marines were guilty of “cold blooded murder”. Many Americans withheld judgment remembering the so-called slam dunk case against 2nd Lt. Ilario Pantano, who had all charges dropped against him.

The media, on the other hand, sensed the proverbial blood in the water. Not content to let the investigations and hearings run their natural course, the media tried and convicted the Marines in the court of public opinion. Even some conservative bloggers tossed the Marines under the bus – only to do an about face when the truth started bubbling to the surface. True to their “knee jerk believe anything bad about the US military” tendencies, the far left was willing to forego its anti-death penalty mindset and wanted to hang the accused Marines for war crimes.

I was one of the bloggers that refused to believe that our Marines were guilty. Some call that naïve or claim I was blinded by my support for the war in Iraq. I call it unwilling to believe the worst and an extreme desire to think for myself. I researched and read anything and everything I could find about Haditha. My research only reinforced my belief in the innocence of the Marines. I saved all of the articles and blog posts in a Haditha file. I wanted all the damning statements and innuendo easily accessible when the Marines were cleared of wrongdoing. I knew in my heart the time would come. And now it has.

Two of the three Marines charged with murder in the Haditha incident have been exonerated by the Investigating Officer in their Article 32 Hearings. Gen. Mattis agreed with the dismissal of charges against LCpl Justin Sharratt. The IO recommendation for LCpl Stephen Tatum was delivered to Gen Mattis this week. The Article 32 Hearing for Sgt Frank Wuterich, the only other Marine charged with murder, is scheduled to begin next week. Capt Randy Stone, charged with dereliction of duty, also had all charges dismissed by Gen. Mattis.

The media has been somewhat low-key when reporting on the dismissal of charges. At least in comparison to their coverage of the initial reports and the charges. This coupled with the silence from those who relished the opportunity to play judge and jury, is why I am throwing down the gauntlet. I am going to expose each and every person who tried the Haditha Marines without the benefit of knowing the facts. The arm-chair judges will have their statements and claims exposed as the ranting of partisans who would sacrifice their integrity for a chance to undermine the Marines and their service in Iraq. And even worse, serving as agents of propaganda for the very enemy our Marines are fighting in the war on terror.

Some may claim the stories were written with the best information available at the time. Some may say I'm guilty of playing Monday Morning Quarterback. I challenge those excuses - the stories could have been written without pointing the finger of blame at the Marines. But they wouldn't have been so lurid and attention grabbing.

I am going to skip the obvious terrorist enablers – Tim McGirk, TIME and John Murtha. Their actions and statements were so heinous that they deserve an article all to themselves. So let’s get the ball rolling and start demanding retractions and apologies. Let's put the shoe on the other foot and point the finger at the media for a change...

Evan Thomas and Scott Johnson
Haditha, Iraq: Probing a Bloodbath

June 12, 2006

Claim: “…the young Marines were worn out. This was their third tour in Iraq in three years… The Marine grunts of Kilo Company had been trained to kill, not to practice ‘counterinsurgency’, whatever that meant.”

Fact: Lucian Read, a freelance photographer who was imbedded with Kilo Company for 5 months called the Marines “the most human of the numerous units he was embedded with”. This is what Read had to say in the TIME article, The Ghosts of Haditha

“They were never abusive,” he said. “There was a certain amount of antagonism and frustration when people didn’t cooperate. But it’s not like they had KILL ‘EM ALL spray-painted on the walls”. Most of Kilo’s members had at least one Iraqi tour under their belt, Read noted; several had two and one was working on his third."

The NC Times reported this statement from Read in December 2006…

"It's real easy to come to like and feel for these guys," Read said of the Camp Pendleton company from the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment. "I would invite any of them to have lunch at my grandmother's on Sunday."

In their own article, Johnson and Thomas had this from Lucian Read…

"Their morale wasn't bad, it was more fatalistic; this is the grunts-get-screwed-every-time," he said. "They were not happy, not pleased, but not angry, either," Read said. "Nothing they ever did or said even hinted at this kind of event. I never saw it coming. No one saw it coming."

CNN Reporter, Arwa Damon spent time with Kilo Company …

"I was with them in Husayba as they went house to house in an area where insurgents would booby-trap doors, or lie in wait behind closed doors with an AK-47, basically on suicide missions, just waiting for the Marines to come through and open fire. There were civilians in the city as well, and the Marines were always keenly aware of that fact. How they didn't fire at shadows, not knowing what was waiting in each house, I don't know. But they didn't."

"And I was with them in Haditha, a month before the alleged killings last November of some 24 Iraqi civilians."

Antonio Castaneda, an Associated Press reporter, also spent time with Kilo Company in Haditha. This is how he described the Marines…

"The Marines I observed were sharp, thoroughly searching homes as they swarmed Haditha's streets. Their commanders gave thoughtful responses to my questions. The unit fired only a few shots as it retook the city in just a couple of days."

"I spent about 10 days with the battalion, including three to four days with Kilo Company, when the Marines transformed a commandeered school into their headquarters. I remember talking to Marines on foot patrols, stopping to interview them as they nailed up fliers urging Iraqis to vote in the constitutional referendum."

Claim: “One of those houses was owned by Jamal Ayed Ahmed, 40, a used car salesman. He was there with his three brothers, a policeman, a local bureaucrat and a college student. “The Americans came and asked Jamal, ‘Erhab? Erhab? [terrorism? Terrorism?] and he said ‘no’ recalled Jamal’s wife, Asmaa, who was interviewed on videotape by a human rights investigator hired by Newsweek to help report. The Marines demanded to know ‘do you have any weapons?’ The brothers produced two ak-47s, one with five bullets inside."

“The scene apparently became chaotic. One of the women in the house was pushing frantically on a door to one of the rooms; the Americans tried to get the women to stop screaming. Shots rang out and the Americans left. The four brothers were found dead in a small room.”

Fact: The scenario published by Johnson and Thomas is almost identical to the version of events presented by the Government at LCpl Justin Sharratt’s Article 32 Hearing. According to Lt Col Paul Ware’s report

“The government version is unsupported by independent evidence and while each statement has within it corroboration, several factors together reduces the credibility of such statements to incredible. In addition, the statements of the Iraqis are unclear, contradictory in part and simply state self-interested conclusions as to what occurred within house 4. Finally to believe the government version of facts is to disregard clear and convincing evidence to the contrary and sets a dangerous precedent that, in my opinion, my encourage others to bear false witness against Marines as a tactic to erode public support of the Marine Corps and mission in Iraq.”

Another interesting tidbit is Asmaa was not identified as one of the witnesses in Sharratt’s article 32 hearing. A female identified as Asmaa was named as one of the victims in House #1 according to testimony from LCpl Stephen Tatum’s hearing.

Claim: “The Americans were soon shooting at Hiba’s door. They entered and started rounding up family members. Hiba heard two shots, then her mother in law saying “Oh my God”. There were more shots and Rashid cried out ‘they killed my mother’. Hiba tried to hush her husband and heard an American soldier say to her father in law ‘you, you’. They shot him in the chest as he tried to stand, recalled Hiba, crying as she spoke into the camera. The soldiers were laughing and saying ‘ok’ and ‘good’ as they counted the bodies. Hiba says she saw her mother in law lying on the ground, with her hands raised in the air. The American soldiers, she says, shot the woman as she lay there.”

Fact: According to Lt Col Paul Ware’s report from LCpl Stephen Tatum’s article 32 hearing, there was no rounding up of family members. House 1 was designated as “hostile” after the Marines received fire from the vicinity of the house. Khamisa Tuema Ali was shot and killed in the hallway by the stairs. Guhid Hasan was killed inside a room to the right of the hallway when he made a movement toward the closet. After hearing the sound of an AK-47 being racked in a room to their left, two grenades were tossed into the room. Only one grenade exploded and the Marines fired into the room.

In fact, Ware determined the evidence demonstrated that LCpl Tatum followed the rules of engagement in house 1.

“…in a troops in contact situation, or if a house is declared hostile because you received fire from the direction of the house or while inside a structure you hear a sound that you honestly and reasonably believe is an indication that a weapon is being prepared, that is positive identification of a hostile act and/or intent and no specific individualized positive identification is required within the room while employing deadly force to clear the room.”

According to the interview of Eman Waleed Abd Al Hameed, who was injured in house 1, “her Aunt Hiba picked up her sister Asia and ran out of the room when a grenade exploded.” If Aunt Hiba ran out of the room when the grenade exploded, how did she see the events she related in the article?

Claim: "When the Marines entered Safa Younis’ home that morning, she fled with her mother into a bathroom. A soldier followed them, shooting she says. When the soldiers left, Safa tried to talk to her mother but she was covered with blood."

Fact: In the interview presented at LCpl Stephen Tatum’s hearing, Safa Younis placed the family in one of the bedrooms – “The grenade caused them all to move to the back part of the room near the bed.” Safa also stated that she “dived to the corner between the wall and bed” when the shooting began.

Claim: “There were problems in Kilo Company with drugs, alcohol, hazing, you name it” said the woman (the wife of a staff sergeant in the 3/1 battalion). “I think it’s more than possible that these guys were totally tweaked out on speed or something when they shot those civilians in Haditha.”

Fact: The eyewitness reports from impartial reporters embedded with Kilo Company contradicts this inflammatory and defaming statement from an anonymous source. There has not been one shred of evidence presented during the Article 32 Hearings to suggest such as far-fetched claim. General Mattis said it best when he dismissed the charges against LCpl Sharratt…

“Operational, moral and legal imperatives demand that we Marines stay true to our own standards and maintain compliance with the law of war in this morally bruising environment. With the dismissal of these charges you may fairly conclude that you did your best to live up to the standards, followed by US fighting men throughout our many wars, in the face of life or death decisions made by you in a matter of seconds in combat.”

Claim: “It is possible that Kilo company was determined to ‘leave a calling card’, which is to say, to warn Haditha that IEDs would be met with heavy retribution. It’s an old and primitive counterinsurgency tactic.”

Fact: One of the prime tactics of terrorists is to use civilians as a cover for their attacks and then blame deaths from the response on those initially targeted. It is a “terrorist calling card” and quite an old tactic. Gen Mattis recognized this and commented on it in his statement dismissing the charges against LCpl Sharratt…

"LCpl Sharratt has served as a Marine infantryman in Iraq where our Nation is fighting a shadowy enemy who hides among the innocent people, does not comply with any aspect of the law of war, and routinely targets and intentionally draws fire toward civilians.

In their attempt to cast guilt on the Marines at Haditha, Johnson and Thomas chose to ignore this well known and well documented fact.

Claim: “Haditha may turn out to be the worst massacre since My Lai. And Iraqis may be entirely justified in their outrage.”

Fact: Despite attempts by many media sources and Jack Murtha to paint the Haditha incident as another My Lai, the testimony and decisions from the Article 32 Hearings completely debunks the insinuation. The only outrage should be directed at those that convicted the Marines without knowing even a modicum of the facts and it should come from Americans who support the Marines. As Gen Mattis so eloquently stated in his statement to LCpl Justin Sharratt…

"And as you have always remained cloaked in the presumption of innocence, with this dismissal of charges, you remain in the eyes of the law – and in my eyes – innocent."

Unfortunately for the Kilo Company Marines, Evan Thomas and Scott Johnson embraced the enemy propaganda fed to them by questionable sources and repeated it as truth. The very same rights that many on the Left demand for terrorist detainees were withheld from the Haditha Marines. Once the trumpet of accusations is blared, it cannot be silenced. It hangs in the air forever despite facts presented to the contrary.

The Haditha Marines will forever have the specter of massacre hanging over their heads in part due to the efforts of the writers such as Thomas and Johnson. The Marines deserve, at the very least, a public apology from those that denied them their basic rights. We’re all waiting…

**This is Part 1 on a multi-post series exposing those that convicted the Haditha Marines without any evidence**

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