by Nathaniel R. Helms |
Monday, January 9, 2012 | Day Three: Opening statements
Camp Pendleton, Calif. – Haytham Faraj,
retired Marine major and now civilian defense attorney for SSgt Frank
Wuterich, revealed startling new evidence in his opening statements
According to Faraj, “30 percent” of the expended
cartridges found in what is now called House Number Two were
Kalashnikov 7.62mm AK-47 cartridges and a number 9mm pistol rounds
that weren’t fired by attacking Marines where eight people died.
The government ignored it, “ Faraj added
incredulously. “Where did this come from, where did the 7.62 come
from? Who was in the back bedroom, who shot the 9mm rounds?”
Opening statements began promptly at 8:30am
Pacific Time today when Major Nicholas Gannon, lead prosecutor for the
government, faced off with Faraj: two Devil Dogs who began their
personal battle more than four years ago in the same arena. Gannon
told the eight-man panel of senior Marines that Wuterich is solely
responsible for the deaths of 19 Iraqi citizens.
The deaths occurred after a squad of United
States Marines was ambushed on November 19, 2005 by a remotely
detonated roadside bomb at Haditha, Iraq.
When the smoke finally settled late that
afternoon one Marine was dead, two men in Wuterich’s squad were
wounded, and Iraqi men, women and children lay crumpled on a road and
in the shattered rooms of their nearby homes. Two hundred meters from
the charnel houses where the civilians died, a smoldering Humvee was
still smoking amidst the blood stains covering the road. The press
called the counter-attack at Haditha a massacre, the Marines called it
a vicious fight.
Wuterich “never lost control of his squad, never
lost control of his fire team, and lost control of himself,” Gannon
told the panel of eight senior Marines deciding his fate.
Using so-called “outtakes” the government
obtained from the CBS news show “60 Minutes“ after a three-year court
battle, Gannon tried to show that Wuterich was responsible for the
Iraqi deaths. In one clip a much younger looking Wuterich is heard
telling newsman Scott Pelley that he is “proud” of his Marines,
claiming that they had done exactly what Marines are trained to do.
Several times Gannon used the videotaped remarks to revisit his theme
of personal responsibility.
Much of Gannon’s short summation was a rehash of
the government’s frequently disabused argument in which rules on a
yellow card trump bullets in the conduct of war. According to Gannon,
Wuterich failed to follow the Rules of Engagement, he failed to make a
positive identification (PID) of the targets he took out, and he
disregarded his training when he took a knee and began shooting
seconds after one of his Marines was blown in half.
Seven fellow Marines from 3rd Platoon,
Kilo Company, 3/1 Marines charged with massacre and cover-up in the
months that followed the skirmish have been exonerated of violating
the sacrosanct rules that sometimes defy logic in the crucible of
modern war. The three enlisted men who followed Wuterich in the
counter attack that led to the deaths of the civilians have already
been cleared of violating those same rules.
For the defense, Faraj told a different story,
one filled with emotion and revelations of his own. It was if the two
antagonists were talking about events that happened in different times
“The story you just heard from Maj. Gannon was
not made on November 19, 2005,” Faraj countered. “When you hear the
testimony of SSgt Wuterich – what he did or what he failed to do – he
was a squad leader who did the best he could on November 19.”
It was a battle, Faraj explained, the
continuation of a year-long effort by US Marines to bring order to the
chaos in Haditha that had already cost another Marine battalion dozens
of lives. He recounted the gruesome deaths of six Marine snipers from
a reserve infantry battalion from Ohio and the destruction of an
amtrack from the same unit by an IED that took 12 Marine lives.
“On November 19, 2005, although not engaged, they
fully expected contact,” Faraj said. “This was still a combat zone.”
The first witness to take the stand was retired
US Army Col. Gregory A. Watt, the officer Multi-National Corps – Iraq
commander Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli sent to Haditha to discover whether
charges of massacre and coverup made by Time magazine reporter
Tim McGirk were true. McGirk was sending Army Public Affairs Officer
Lt. Col. Barry Johnson and other officers excited reports of massacre
at Haditha in which Marines reportedly hunted down Iraqi civilians
The US military had an image to uphold and
hunting down innocent Iraqis in retaliation for killing Marines was
not part of the public relations program. Coming from a reporter who
worked for arguably one of the most influential news magazines in the
country made the situation serious indeed.
Watt said he went to Haditha to conduct an
Article 15-7 “informal Investigation” to determine if there was any
merit to McGirk’s remarkable histrionics. If there was, Chiarelli
intended to institute Article 32 pre-trial proceedings to determine
if any crimes had been committed. (Read
Investigation Report on Haditha.)
Gannon used the opportunity to once again drive
home his theme that Wuterich alone was responsible for the civilian’s
“I told them to shoot first, ask question later,”
Wuterich reportedly told the colonel.
“I remember it specifically,” Watts added.
“Talking about his fire team that cleared south, the forced entry,
hostile environment, returned fire with M-203 (40mmm grenade
launcher). They formed a four-man stack, entered the houses. “
Perhaps the most significant testimony
Watts offered was telling the panel that Wuterich used the word “I,”
denoting personal responsibility. “He said shoot first and ask
questions later. I will deal with it later,” and “My Marines did what
I told them.”
After a three hour interview Wuterich signed the
damning document and went back to work. Little did he know that he had
just started a chain of events that would change the way the marine
Corps fights its battles.
Testimony continues tomorrow.
Diagram of House Number 2 from the NCIS
Nathaniel R. Helms
Defend Our Marines
9 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).