As the last two Haditha cases continue to drag on, I still
keep asking the question: what exactly is going on here. This
question has been nagging at me for almost five years.
SSgt Frank Wuterich’s Courts Martial is now scheduled for
September, and LtCol Jeff Chessani's case is still pending the BOI
(Board of Inquiry) endorsements from the US Marine Corps
Commandant, General Conway and Secretary of Navy, Ray Mabus. To
put it in “polite” Marine terms; the general officer decision
making process in the Haditha mess “boggles” my mind. A quick case
review demonstrates what happens when you move political
expediency into the light of an open legal process.
The military legal system has proven repeatedly that the Haditha
Marines followed their training, their rules of engagement and the
Laws of War, yet the legal proceedings still continue. Five of the
eight cases stand dismissed because of lack of evidence. In one of
those cases, General Mattis basically apologized in his acquittal
of Cpl Justin Sharrett with praise. General Mattis quoted to the
The events of November 19, 2005 have been exhaustively reviewed
by Marine, Army, and Naval Criminal Investigative Service
investigators. An independent Article 32 Investigating Officer
has considered all the facts and determined that the evidence
does not support a referral to court-martial for LCpl Sharratt.
Based on my review of all the evidence in this case and
considering the recommendation of the Article 32 officer, I have
dismissed 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 innocent
people, does not comply with any aspect of the law of war, and
routinely targets and intentionally draws fire toward civilians.
The challenges of this combat environment put extreme pressures
on our Marines. Notwithstanding, 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.
The experience of combat is difficult to understand
intellectually and very difficult to appreciate emotionally. One
of our nation's most articulate Supreme Court Justices, Oliver
Wendell Holmes, Jr., served as an infantryman during the Civil
War and described war as an 'incommunicable experience.' He has
also noted elsewhere that 'detached reflection cannot be
demanded in the face of an uplifted knife.'
Marines have a well earned reputation for remaining cool in the
face of enemies brandishing much more than knives. The brutal
reality that Justice Holmes described is experienced each day in
Iraq, where Marines willingly put themselves at great risk to
protect innocent civilians. Where the enemy disregards any
attempt to comply with ethical norms of warfare, we exercise
discipline and restraint to protect the innocent caught on the
battlefield. Our way is right, but it is also difficult.
With the dismissal of these charges LCpl Sharratt may fairly
conclude that he did his best 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. And as he has always remained cloaked in the presumption
of innocence, with this dismissal of charges, he remains in the
eyes of the law - and in my eyes - innocent. (Emphasis
General Mattis is probably the Marine Corps premiere “war fighter”
and his praise of LCpl Justin Sharratt is significant and I am
sure it was not given lightly.
Lt Andrew Grayson’s case is the only one to date that has gone
before a Courts Martial. Of Lt Grayson’s four charges, one was
dismissed (obstruction of justice) by the judge before the court
martial. Dropping or dismissing the charge before a trial is the
judge’s way of saying to the prosecutor; “You are kidding me,
Lt Grayson was found not guilty on the other three charges (two
charges of making false official statements and a one charge of
attempting to discharge himself from the Marine Corps). The
dismissal and the three findings of not guilty demonstrate an
extreme case of a prosecutor grasping at straws for the sake of
plea bargaining, and I might add, at Lt Grayson’s expense.
Lt Grayson’s defense lawyer basically presented standing Marine
Corps Orders, demonstrated that the Lieutenant followed those
orders and their associated procedures. Another sad fact is the
investigating officers could not figure out Marine Corps Orders
and procedures when they were trying to collect evidence. Lt
Grayson’s only revenge is that the prosecutor and therefore the
convening authority (in this case the commanding general) looked
pretty silly when Lt Grayson’s lawyer presented his case. A Marine
might say that the prosecutor and convening authority looked like
a couple of “monkey butts”. On a positive note, Lt Grayson’s
exercise of honor and demonstration of courage for not taking a
plea bargain is exceptional and deserves admiration.
In LtCol Jeff Chessani’s case, because the Court Martial was
thrown out based on “undue command influence”, his persecution is
continued with an administrative process. Lt Col Chessani awaits
his BOI endorsements from the Marine Corps Commandant, General
Conway and Secretary of Navy, Ray Mabus. Despite the BOI
recommendations, the Commandant is free to recommend anything he
wants. As I stated before, what the Commandant could not get from
the MCM (Manual for Courts Martial), he is getting from Marine
Corps administrative procedural shenanigans.
General Conway will hit the four year mark as Commandant this
November. Defense Secretary Gates has commenced interviewing his
potential replacements. I am beginning to believe that General
Conway will wrap up LtCol Chessani’s BOI as he leaves and retires
from the Marine Corps. Politically a wise move by the Commandant,
but in the legacy leadership category, it demonstrates a lack of
SSgt Frank Wuterich now has a court martial date after the judge
pronounced that there is no undue command influence in his case.
SSgt Wuterich’s military judge, LtCol David Jones, worries me
greatly on this ruling, since LtCol Chessani’s and SSgt Wuterich’s
case is the same; same incident, same location, same
investigations, same investigating officers, same unit, and the
same chain of command. One thing that is different is the judge.
Col Ewer, a Marine lawyer, conducted the investigation that
established the case against both LtCol Chessani and SSgt
Wuterich. Col Ewer is credited with the undue command influence
“goof” . If Col Ewer “goofed it up” in the Chessani Case, how
could he not have “goofed it up” in the SSgt Wuterich case? If
your brain is starting to tingle with a very uneasy feeling
because your common sense is not agreeing with your eyes and ears,
that is the onset of a BMS (Boggled Mind Syndrome).
If the government finds undue command influence in the battalion
commander’s case, how can they not do the same for the squad
leader? We must remember that the prosecution appealed the
judge’s finding of undue command influence (in the LtCol Chessani
case) to the highest military appeals court that exists. The
appeals court upheld the undue command influence finding. It
troubles me that SSgt Wuterich’s judge, LtCol David Jones, would
ignore that appeal and the legal precedent that undue command
influence did exist.
Military judges have a boss and that boss is the convening
authority. In LtCol Jones case that convening authority is the MEF
Commanding General (three stars). What decisions Jones make
reflect directly upon the MEF Commanding General. I wonder why
LtCol Jones' Commanding General does not relieve and replace him
because of his very bad undue command influence call. LtCol Jones
call sets up the perception that the fix is in. Again, the Marine
Corps looks as if it is playing politics instead of following the
MCM (Rules of Law) and the Laws of War.
I believe LtCol Jeff Chessani’s fate is set. The Commandant has
made his decision and he is simply awaiting the politically
correct time to release the endorsements to the public.
SSgt Frank Wuterich is the last Haditha Marine. His case will go
before a military judge who apparently is a judicial “wild card”.
For that reason, the epic legal odyssey
continues with an unknown destination.
The two best ways to support SSgt Wuterich is to keep the public
eye on his proceedings. Keeping a light on the Headquarters Marine
Corps political and administrative manipulations also provides a
light to exhibit the generals' red faces. In addition, let
SSgt Frank Wuterich and his
family know there are a large number of people in this country
that would be glad to shake his hand with pride for his exception
LtCol, USMC Ret.
Former Commanding Officer, Kilo Company, 3/1
Bob Weimann, a veteran of the first
Gulf War, is the
former Commanding Officer, Kilo Co., 3/1,
and a senior contributing editor to Defend Our Marines.