by Nathaniel R. Helms |
Thursday, December 29, 2011
"The 400 pages of interrogations [regarding the incident in Haditha], once
closely guarded as secrets of war, were supposed to have been destroyed as
the last American troops prepare to leave Iraq. Instead, they were
discovered along with reams of other classified documents...by a reporter
for The New York Times at a junkyard outside Baghdad. An attendant
was burning them as fuel to cook a dinner of smoked carp."--Michael S.
Gives Up Secret Accounts of Massacre in Iraq",
The New York Times, December 14, 2011
Three weeks afterThe New York Times carped about the fellow in Iraq cooking fish
with scraps of “classified” U.S. documents, “once closely guarded as
secret of war” the long declassified observations of the witnesses
detailed in the 400 pages of purloined interrogations are finally going to
come out – maybe. That is if the scuttlebutt is dead wrong and no
miraculous last minute intervention by someone on high puts a merciful end
to arguably the most divisive event to ever test the honor of the United
States Marine Corps.
Whether anyone cares enough to notice either way is a much bigger
question than why a New York Times reporter wouldn’t bother to
actually check the classification status of the documents he was
peddling before selling it as fresh fish. He could have found out
everything he needed to know just by clicking on Defend Our Marines.
Ultimately, the unfortunate timing of Michael S. Schmidt’s dubious
claims, whether intentional or another in the long, calamitous string
of coincidences, inferences, and presumptions surrounding the
so-called “Haditha massacre”, will soon be forgotten. What does matter
is that four days into the New Year, SSgt Frank Wuterich will once
again be battling for his life in a war that is already over.
Interest in the events at Haditha on November 19, 2005 that cost so
many lives have waxed and waned ever since an IED blew up under a
Marine Corps Humvee driven by a young guy who was later laid to rest
in El Paso, Texas. Most recently the aforementioned cooking account
ignited a little brush fire that blazed about as long as it took for
the Iraqi to cook his carp.
was said in the Times of LCpl Miguel “T.J.” Terrazas, the first
person to die in the insurgent ambush that ignited the bloody
skirmish. T.J. was still a teenager when he earned his Marine Corps
moniker for his unauthorized exploits in naughty Tijuana between two
tours in Iraq. He wouldn’t live to see 21.
Another Marine who deserves special mention is former LCpl Justin
Sharratt, an unlikely prosecution witness. Sharratt twice faced
no-quarter death duels with insurgents in Iraq. He was among a handful
of young Kilo, 3/1 Marines who already had first-hand experience in
close combat when events at Haditha erupted.
The government granted Sharratt testimonial immunity to appear. His
statement may be among the 400 pages of “secret” testimony that wound
up in the Iraqi’s camp fire. It was obtained in a urine-soaked
basement by a tag team of Naval Criminal Investigative Service special
agents who wouldn’t even stop their hounding to let Sharratt pee.
In November 2004, Sharratt survived the vicious Battle of Fallujah
where he distinguished himself at the diabolical Hell House. In that
engagement he was in a room-to-room shootout with an unknown number of
insurgents that left one Marine dead, 10 Marines seriously wounded,
and earned Kilo Company, 3/1 a permanent place in Marine Corps lore.
Sharratt’s deadly encounter with similarly disposed insurgents a year
later at Haditha helped ignite allegations in Time magazine
that a gang of out-of-control Marines slaughtered old men, women, and
children in a revenge killing following the death of a squad mate. It
turned out that Sharratt had displayed remarkable courage and combat
savvy when he took down several Iraqi men armed with AK-47 assault
rifles using only his pistol. In other times and places he would have
earned a high award for valor. Instead, the young man from
Pennsylvania was charged with murder.
Lt. Col. Paul Ware, the hearing officer who recommended that charges
against Sharratt be dropped, said murder charges brought against him
were based on unreliable witness accounts, poor forensic evidence and
questionable legal theories.
“The government version is unsupported by independent evidence,” Ware
wrote in an 18-page
“To believe the government version of facts is to disregard clear and
convincing evidence to the contrary.”
Nothing has changed.
Sharratt was eventually exonerated by then Lt. Gen. James N. Mattis,
the original convening authority in the Haditha matter. While
dismissing the charges one of the Marine Corps’ greatest living
for his remarkable bravery. It was a portent of things to come.
Eventually seven of the eight defendants were exonerated by a variety
of means and three senior Marine officers saw their careers destroyed
with Letters of Censure from the Secretary of the Navy. Wuterich is
the last Marine standing, still full of fight more than six years
after the first one.
If the court-martial of SSgt Wuterich proceeds as scheduled, it will
last three weeks or more, the Marine Corps says. Defend Our Marines
will be in the court room every day. Each evening it will post a brief
accounting of the day’s events, colored by the reflections of other
legal proceedings against the seven defendants who have already been
The names of many of the witnesses, lawyers, and senior officers who
are playing out this drama will appear one last time. If the Fates
don’t intervene each weekend DOM will post a longer, more
elaborate account of the entire week’s events as they unfold in the
remarkably dynamic atmosphere of a Camp Pendleton, California court
Nathaniel R. Helms
Defend Our Marines
29 December 2011
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).