Retired Marine Lieutenant Colonel Robert Weimann recently documented the improper command influence that occurred throughout much of the Haditha investigation in a three-part report ‘Sins of the Generals’ on DefendOurMarines.com. Their sins were many and began even before Tim McGirk’s insurgent talking-points driven Time magazine article. The top brass violated both the spirit and intent of the 1986 ‘Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reform Act’. The combat commander was the convening authority yet politicians, those outside the chain-of-command, and others improperly interjected themselves, let media buzz and enemy propaganda into their decision cycles, and forced further investigation even after Army Colonel Watt’s independent review found that:
“No, there are no indications that [Coalition Forces] intentionally targeted, engaged and kill non-combatants. There is no denying that civilians died during the insurgent’s coordinated attack on the Marines on 19 Nov 05; however there is no evidence that Marines intentionally set out to target, engage, and kill non-combatants. …the four military age males in the WHITE CAR got out, failed to comply with orders and instructions from Marines and proceeded to run away… Anti-[Coalition Forces] were indistinguishable from non-combatants… The amount of force was proportional…appropriate in nature, scope and duration [and] hostile action set conditions that made it difficult for CF to [positively identify and] discriminate while executing offensive room clearing techniques.”
Nothing remains to support Congressman Murtha’s trial-by-media-microphone finding that Marines had murdered “civilians” and “women and children” in “cold blood.” After forty months, the Haditha “massacre” investigation’s results to date are as follows: all charges against five Marines were dismissed; one Marine was found not guilty of all charges; and, while they maintain their innocence, lesser charges against two Marines, Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani and Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich, are still pending.
Early on, Sgt. Sanick P. Dela Cruz was granted immunity from prosecution for allegedly murdering five Iraqi men (near the white car) in return for his testimony. Should SSgt Wuterich’s case ever come to trial, prosecutors will very likely have difficulty reestablishing Sgt Dela Cruz’ credibility after his past performance as a witness during Article 32 hearings (our military’s equivalent of a grand jury investigation).
On August 9, 2007, Lt. Gen. James Mattis dropped all charges against Lance Cpl. Justin Sharratt in the Haditha murder case and in part stated, “[H]e did his bes to live up to the standards, followed by U.S. fighting men throughout our many wars, in the face of life or death decisions made in a matter of seconds in combat.” Mattis came to those conclusions based upon the Article 32 Investigation officer’s report which reads in part, “To believe the government version of facts is to disregard clear and convincing evidence to the contrary … From as early as February 2006 LCpl Sharratt’s statements are supported by the forensic evidence.”
On August 9, 2007, Lt. Gen. James Mattis dropped all charges against Capt. Randy Stone in the Haditha murder case and in part stated, “I am aware of the line that separates the merely remiss from the clearly criminal, and I do not believe that any mistakes Captain Stone made with respect to the incident rise to the level of criminal behavior.” Stone, who was not present at the scene or involved in any of the deaths, had been accused of failing to properly investigate the incident.
On September 18, 2007, charges against Kilo Company 3/1 Commander Capt. Lucas McConnell were dropped. While McConnell was not present at the scene or involved in any of the deaths, he had been charged with dereliction of duty and, “Lt. Gen. Mattis determined that administrative measures are the appropriate response for any errors or omissions allegedly committed by McConnell.”
On March 28, 2008, all charges were dismissed with prejudice (bars the government from prosecuting the accused on the same charge at a later date) against LCpl Stephen B. Tatum as “the evidence shows that LCpl Tatum reacted to an enemy attack the way he was trained to do.”
On June 4, 2008, a Court Martial panel found 3/1 intelligence officer Lt Andrew Grayson not guilty on all counts. In addition to an NCIS agent’s testimony refuting the claim that Grayson had not been forthcoming, there was no formal investigation to obstruct when he was interviewed by Colonel Watt about Haditha. Grayson followed SOP when he ordered the destruction of photos that held no intelligence value. Both the forensic examination of computers and NCIS agent testimony supported Grayson’s account and refuted the testimony of the prosecution’s key witnesses. Finally, there was plenty of evidence to show why LT Grayson mistakenly believed that he could legally separate from the service while charges were still pending.
On June 18, 2008, “[Trial judge] Col. Steven Folsom dismissed charges against Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani after finding that a four-star general overseeing the case was improperly influenced by an investigator probing the November 2005 shootings by a Marine squad in Haditha. … ‘Unlawful command influence is the mortal enemy of military justice,” Folsom said. ‘In order to restore the public confidence, we need to take it back. We need to turn the clock back.’ … The charges were dismissed without prejudice, meaning they can be re-filed, but Folsom barred Marine Forces Central Command from future involvement in the case.” On March 17, 2009, “[A] military appeals court … upheld the dismissal of dereliction of duty charges against him. The unanimous decision by the United States Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals in Washington supports a finding that improper command influence unlawfully tainted the case against Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani.”
The 24 murder charges against Staff Sergeant Wuterich have been reduced to 9 counts of voluntary manslaughter (and related charges). His case remains in legal limbo. Prosecutors must now decide if they will appeal a March 12, 2009 decision denying them access to unaired portions of a CBS interview. In addition, “Wuterich’s attorneys have said they will ask for a dismissal of the nine counts of manslaughter and related charges against their client on the basis of the unlawful command influence found in Chessani’s case.”
Days of dishonor are owed and coming to John Murtha; a defamation suit has been filed. Akin to a public penance service, confessional testimony from a star-studded witness list would be good for many souls.