by Nathaniel R. Helms |
Friday, January 13, 2012 | Day Seven
Camp Pendleton, Calif. – A former lieutenant, the first Marine
officer to testify at the General Court Martial of Staff Sergeant
Frank D. Wuterich, took the witness stand Friday morning and used it to forcefully dispute the Marine Corps’ contention that
his former squad leader had committed war crimes.
Wuterich is accused of leading a
counter-attack by four Marines that led to the accidental deaths of Iraqi civilians at Haditha, Iraq more than six years ago. Kallop was
his platoon commander and the officer who ordered Wuterich to “clear
South” before the Marines stormed two houses which they believed
were the source of insurgent weapons fire.
In the fifth day of testimony, Kallop (now a New York stock
broker--then the leader of 3rd Platoon., Kilo Company, 3/1
Marines) disputed government claims that Wuterich violated the ever-constricting Rules of Engagement. Kallop, 32, served four years in the Marines and was twice
sent to Iraq. His father is the president and chief executive of Nymagic, a commercial marine insurance company in New York, the
York Times society page says.
The tall, articulate Marine was the first
officer to take the stand when he was called Friday morning. During
his three-hour interrogation, he had nothing but praise for his men,
including Sgt. Sanick Dela Cruz, the Marine fire team leader in
Wuterich’s decimated squad who turned on his brother Marines to
testify against Wuterich and three other enlisted defendants.
“Dela Cruz was a fine Marine who had some
leadership issues as a team leader,” Kallop said.
As usual, testimony began with a reiteration of
what happened on November 19, 2005 after a remotely detonated IED
broke the calm the Marines had enjoyed for a brief period at
the end of Operation Rivergate, a regimental sized operation to wrest
control of Haditha from the burgeoning insurgency. Kallop was at Firm
Base Sparta about two kilometers away when he heard the roadside bomb
erupt and the radio come to life with calls for a medivac and
He told the eight member panel that intelligence
reports rolling in prior to the ambush indicated that the al Qaeda-led
insurgency was regrouping around Haditha to try and reestablish
control of the embattled region.
“There was fire around the city at this time. One
time Iraqi soldiers fired and told us they saw insurgents running. One
of our Marines had shot an individual running,” Kallop told prosecutor
Maj. Nicholas Gannon.
Kallop said he believed the ambush was the beginning of
the long anticipated counterattack by insurgents who had infiltrated
into the city since being driven out during Operation Rivergate the
When he arrived at the ambush site on Route
Chestnut on the southern edge of the city, Wuterich gave him a brief
report. After making sure the squad leader of the Quick Reaction Force began evacuating
the two wounded Marines still lying on the road, he gave Wuterich the
order to “clear South” to suppress incoming fire the ambushed Marines
had observed coming from what later became known as House 1 and
2--where 14 Iraqis would die.
“Did you have any reason to doubt the veracity of
the report Sgt. Wuterich was giving you?” Faraj asked.
“No, sir,” Kallop responded.
“If you are taking fire from a structure in your
opinion would you try and suppress it,” Faraj continued during his
cross examination. “Would you try and identify combatants and
non-combatants by risking your life?
Faraj used the opportunity to ask Kallop how the
investigation was triggered. He said he heard it started after a Time
magazine reporter, Tim McGirk, began telling the brass in Baghdad that Marines had
massacred Iraqi civilians. There was more. A Marine Public
Affairs Officer named Capt. Jeffrey Pool had put out an inaccurate press
stating the civilians died in the same IED blast that killed and
wounded his Marines. Kallop told Faraj that McGirk suspected the error was actually
“At one point a reporter from
Time magazine was
supposed to come visit us. We prepared a brief, told our Marines we
had done everything properly and to tell the truth. But the reporter
never appeared,” Kallop said. "He ended up not coming and put up his
story anyway. We had followed the Rules of Engagement and told the
Kallop thought the inquiry was over after US
Army Col. Gregory A. Watt conducted his AR-15-7 “Informal
Investigation” that concluded in late February. An Army JAG lawyer
who accompanied Watt told the Marines to relax, so neither Kallop nor
any of the other men involved sought legal counsel, he said.
In March, while Kallop was helping 3/3 Marines
move into the battalion’s area of operations to relieve 3/1, Kallop
learned his men were being investigated by the Naval Criminal
Investigation Service, he said.
“I was quite angry when I returned to Haditha Dam
and found out my Marines were being investigated. I went back to Haditha Dam to discover the NCIS had treated my Marines terribly. I
found out they had been interrogated, treated like criminals,
questioned in the holding cell where we held suspected insurgents. “
“I believe then and I believe now my Marines
followed the Rules of Engagement. I believe it was a tough situation
and my Marines handled themselves the best they could.”
Nathaniel R. Helms
Defend Our Marines
13 January 2012
Note: Nat Helms is a Contributing Editor to Defend Our
Marines. He is a Vietnam veteran, former police officer, war
correspondent, and, most recently, author of
My Men Are My Heroes: The Brad Kasal Story (Meredith Books, 2007).