by Nathaniel R. Helms and
David Allender |
Saturday, January 7, 2012
Camp Pendleton, Calif. – The events in
Haditha, Iraq on November 19, 2005 will be the subject of a great deal
of testimony during the upcoming weeks in the General Court Martial of
SSgt Frank D. Wuterich.
Defend Our Marines decided it would be
useful to provide a chronology of those events that are now the basis
for the trial.
The Ambush on Route Chestnut
The White Car Incident – Facts in evidence
Nov.19, 2005 - 0830/Haditha, Iraq – Twelve
Marines from 3rd Platoon, Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines
riding in four poorly armored Humvees were returning from resupplying
a combat outpost on at the southern edge of the contested city.
SSgt Wuterich – then a Sergeant (E-5) – was the
convoy commander and squad leader, as well as the driver of the third
vehicle. Upon reaching a road the Marines designated “Route Chestnut”
the convoy encountered a white car occupied by five Iraqi males coming
the other way.
LCpl Justin Sharratt – following established
procedure – waved the approaching vehicle to the side of the road.
Almost simultaneously the convoy was attacked from the north side of
the road by an unknown number of insurgents who triggered a remotely
detonated Improvised Explosive Device (IED) under the fourth Humvee of
a four-vehicle convoy, destroying the Humvee, killing 20-year old LCpl
Miguel “T.J.” Terrazas and wounding two other Marines, LCpls Crossan
and Guzman, riding in the same vehicle. The explosion was quickly
followed by automatic weapons fire seen hitting the road around the
• A quick reaction force was summoned by Wuterich
to help respond to the attack
• Small arms fire began outgoing and incoming
• A white sedan (sometimes referred to as "the white car" or "the
white taxi") was the only civilian vehicle on the road before the IED exploded
• Five men exited a parked white sedan within 100 meters of the convoy
• The five men left the vehicle doors open
• Sgt Dela Cruz’s vehicle was directly north of the white sedan
• The five men displayed no weapons or immediate threat to the convoy
although the white sedan was within the 100-meter security zone and
therefore could be perceived as a Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive
Device (VBIED) or the location where the IED was remotely detonated
• The situation was fast developing and chaotic
• Marines were trained that an IED blast is a hostile act and that
deadly force is authorized to prevent them from being triggered
Immediately upon exiting his vehicle after the
explosion, Wuterich noticed the occupied white sedan. As he moved
toward the vehicle he hears Sergeant – then Corporal – Sanick Dela
Cruz yell at the occupants of the vehicle. The
occupants exited the
vehicle leaving the doors open. Two men who exited on the driver side
moved to the south side of the vehicle. At least one man began to
either run or move further away from the car. Wuterich took a knee and
began firing. At the same time, Dela Cruz opened fire on the men from
a position to the north and rear of the vehicle. Each of the five men
fell from gunshot wounds. Sgt Dela Cruz then moved toward the bodies
and fired additional rounds into each body before urinating on one of
The Hostile Houses
House 1 – Facts in evidence
SSgt Wuterich then went to the damaged 4th
vehicle where he met 1stLt William Kallop, who arrived with the quick
reaction force. While near the 4th vehicle the Marines received small
arm fire from the South. Cpl. Hector Salinas identified a shooter in
the vicinity of House 1 (as identified in the investigation). He
alerted Kallop to seek cover and fired several M203 40mm grenade
rounds at House 1. Wuterich then advised Kallop they should assault
ordered Wuterich to “clear South” toward it. Sgt Salinas and another
Marine fired additional M203 rounds while Sharratt laid down
suppressive fire with his vehicle mounted M240G automatic weapon.
Wuterich then assembled a makeshift fire team consisting of LCpl
Steven Tatum, Salinas and Mendoza. Kallop initially headed south but
stopped when he received word that Marines may have located the
trigger house for the IED to the north.
SSgt Wuterich was left in command of the fire
team and assault. As they approached House 1, they received no
further small arms fire. SSgt Wuterich advised the Marines to "shoot
first, ask questions later" as he anticipated hesitation could cost
them their lives.
Salinas entered House 1 where he shot and killed Khamisa Tuema Ali Kalmias in the hallway by some stairs. Wuterich and
Tatum followed into the hallway with Mendoza entering last. Mendoza
moved to the room to the right of the hallway, observed Abdul Hameed
Husin Ali] inside the room, and shot him when Abdul made a movement
toward the closet. While Salinas, Tatum and Wuterich were still in the
hallway they heard a noise coming from the room to their left.
Salinas and Wuterich believed the sound they
heard was an AK-47 rifle being “racked” -- loaded. Tatum, a veteran of
close combat agreed, so he and Salinas threw grenades into the room.
One of the two grenades exploded. Immediately after the blast Wuterich
and Tatum entered the room and began firing at the occupants in the
room. Their fire killed Guhid Abdalhamid Hasan, Abdullah Waleed Abdul
Hameed, Ali Abdul, Hameed Husin and Asmaa Salman Rasif and wounded
Eman Waleed Abd Al Hameed and Abd Al-Ralunan Waleed Al Hameed with a combination of grenade fragments and bullets.
After the gunfire ceased, someone announced that there was a “runner”
fleeing the building. Wuterich noticed the open door to the rear and
ordered the Marines to leave House 1 and pursue the runner.
House 2 – Facts in evidence
The fireteam headed toward House 2 (as identified in the investigation)
where Wuterich, Salinas and Mendoza took positions outside two doors.
One of the Marines knocked or rang a bell at the front door. As Yunis
Salim Rasif approached Mendoza shot through the door and killed him.
Then Wuterich and Mendoza entered House 2.
When Tatum arrived at the
door Wuterich ordered him to “frag” the next room in the home. Tatum
obtained a grenade from Salinas and threw it into the room adjacent to
the kitchen. It exploded, damaging the pipes in the shower room.
Unknown to the Marines at that time, two adult women and six children
were in the far back corner room of House 2. Wuterich ordered the
Marines to continue to clear House “2. Salinas stayed outside the
residence on guard.
Mendoza later testified that he went to the back room of House
opened a closed door. He stepped inside the room and saw women and
children. He then closed the door to prevent the people from hearing
what he said while speaking to Tatum. He claims he told Tatum that the
room had women and children inside to which Tatum responded, “kill
them”. Mendoza testified that in response he repeated that there were
just women and children in the room and left to take a position inside
Tatum’s statements disavow this conversation with Mendoza, claiming he
did not know who was in the back room of House 2 when he entered it.
Tatum’s version of events is that while checking a room, he heard
gunfire erupt from the room to his right. He responded to the gunfire
and saw Wuterich engaging targets in the far corner of the room. He
entered the room and fired his weapon at targets on the bed.
Survivor Safah Yunis Salim Rasif – through an interpreter
– claims a
Marine threw a grenade into the room and closed the door. The grenade
did not explode. The grenade caused the room’s occupants to move to
the back part of the room near the bed. After hearing what sounded
like pipes bursting and running water coming from down the hall, her
aunt opened the door and saw Yunis lying on the ground. Her aunt
started to scream and was then shot through the doorway by a Marine.
That Marine continued into the room and started shooting at everyone
on the bed. She described the Marine as being shorter than her at
somewhere around 5 feet 8 inches tall. She also has several
inconsistent statements with regard to small details but ultimately
her version is that a Marine sprayed the room with M16 fire after
shooting her aunt. Because she dove to the side of the bed she did not
see the actual shooting. After the shooting she passed out and
remembers pretending she was dead when some Marines came into the
room. She heard a Marine say “they are all dead”. When the Marines
left, she went to her uncle’s house.
By the time LCpl Sharratt covered the 200 meters
(about 600 feet), running down and then up through a shallow wadi, the
firing had ceased. Sharratt later estimated it took him about 90
seconds to reach the rest of his squad mates. By the time he arrived
on the scene both House 1 and House 2 had already been cleared. He
then joined the three Marines heading for House 3, which he helped
secure and search.
Forensic analysis of the photographs of the deceased inside the room
in House 2 conclusively indicates that there were three shooting
positions and at least two different shooters. This is based on the
trajectory associated with each wound depicted in the photographs and
a forensic reconstruction of the most likely sequencing of gunfire.
Wuterich provided statements to an interviewer of the 60 Minutes
program and an unsworn statement at the Article 32 hearing saying he
did not fire his weapon inside House 2.
House 3 – nothing of significance happened at House # 3.
House 4 - Undisputed facts
On 19 November 2005, LCpl Justin Sharratt fatally shot Jasib Aiad
Ahmed, Kahtan Aiad Ahmed and Jamal Aiad Ahmed in Haditha Iraq.
Sharratt engaged each with a M9 service pistol in a back room of a
house owned by the Ahmed family. A fourth person, Marwan Aiad Ahmed
was fatally shot by Wuterich after Sharratt's pistol magazine ran out
When the evidence was examined in a courtroom, LCpl Sharratt and SSgt
Wuterich were exonerated of murder charges for their actions in House
4. The prosecution followed
the media's lead and presented a case of cold-blooded executions. The
case failed for the best reason: it simply wasn't true.
Forensic evidence supported the defense
presented by the prosecution was largely hearsay testimony. And much
of it conflicted with forensic evidence.
Statements by LCpl Sharratt and SSgt Wuterich about the incident were
supported by forensics. The prosecution's witnesses were not. The
forensic evidence was obtained by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service
Without question, the forensic evidence
demonstrates that the three men shot by Sharratt all suffered fatal head
wounds consistent with 9mm rounds fired from a distance beyond two feet.
The investigating officer found that it was difficult, if not
impossible, to believe that trained and experienced Marines would
decide to execute four unarmed men by leading them into a house,
moving them to the a back room with no light (curtains were closed)
and allow them to move about the room while trying to shoot them with
the least effective weapon in their arsenal.
In addition, forensic
evidence proves that one person was standing in the doorway and shot
to the face while the other three men were further inside the room.
Under such circumstances one would reasonably expect that the others
would then attempt to run or fight. None of the victims received
defensive wounds to their hands or arms nor did they receive wounds to
their backs or rear of their heads. Each was shot facing forward, from
a distance, and with a 9mm pistol, which forensic investigators found
inconsistent with an execution or persons reacting to an execution.
Furthermore, there is no evidence to suggest Sharratt attempted to
hide the fact that he shot these individuals.
The statements by four Iraqi witnesses (none of whom witnessed the
shooting itself) were not supported by forensic evidence obtained by
The Iraqis' first statements to NCIS were taken in a group setting,
five months after the events occurred and with knowledge that other
families in Haditha had received monetary compensation from the United
States for events that occurred on 19 November 2005. The interview
that resulted in the witness statements were taken by Special Agent
Nayda Mannle in a group setting, with each witness adding details and
discussing the events in Arabic with one another in front of Special
Agent Mannle who does not speak Arabic. Additionally, although $10,000
does not appear to be a large amount of money, testimony from Marine
Civil Affairs officer Major Dana Hiatt suggested that such a sum of
money was equal to four times the average annual salary of a typical
resident of Haditha. Prior to making these claims, no payments were
made to the Ahmed family.
The Ahmed family was represented by an attorney who represents other
families who received compensation for Marines killing their family
members. Shortly after making these claims, the Ahmed family was paid
$10,000 in Solatia payments.
The interviews of Khalid, Nagham, Nagia and Ehab by Major Daren C.
Erickson were conducted almost a year later in January 2007. These
witnesses were placed under oath, although the form of the oath was
translated in three different manners, the witnesses were not subject
to American law of perjury and testimony. Dr. Barak A. Salmoni
suggested that cultural and religious beliefs in Iraqi suggests that
these statements would not be considered under oath in an Iraqi court.
In addition, Dr. Salmoni opined that statements by women and children are
considered inheritably less reliable than a man's statement in Iraqi
law. Although such discrimination is not recognized in our society,
the fact that these Iraqis have this cultural understanding suggests
that they would believe United States authorities would likewise view
their statements as less reliable and may suggest they would feel less
need to be fully truthful.
Finally, each witness was accompanied by
the attorney who represented the family for Solatia payments, and the
interviews were conducted in Arabic through a translator and Major
Erickson could not understand the Arabic conversations, relying on
translation and in parts, interpretation by one Mr. Alkaysey.
The statements made in Jan 2007 are contradictory to each other in
parts. Some of the key contradictions are:
Khalid states that the Marine with a pistol guarded them and did not
go into house number. He also describes the Marine who guarded him and
the women in house 3 as having a weapon on a tripod (SAW) and that he
heard only 4 shots separated by a few seconds. He describes the men
who left house 4 both had AK-47's slung on their shoulders. He later
claims that the men also had pistols in their holsters but only after
several prompting questions by Major Erickson. Ultimately, he could not
identify where the pistols were, but concluded that all the "men" had
Note: LCpl Sharratt had a SAW and pistol, SSgt Wuterich and Cpl
Salinas had Ml6s only. Khalid's description suggests that LCpl
Sharratt was the one guarding them at house 3 and that can not be
factually supported. Khalid's account of seeing 2 AK-47s begin removed
from house 4 further supports LCpl Sharratt's account that two of the
Iraqi men had AK-47s when he shot them.
Witness Nagham states that the Marine with the pistol was in charge
giving orders to the other two. She also says that no one moved the
bodies before the Marines arrived to take photographs. Finally, she
stated that they were planning on taking a trip to Baghdad later that
day and that is why Kahtan's suitcase was packed with clothes and a
Note: It is highly unlikely that two senior Marines, SSgt Wuterich and
Cpl Salinas would defer in authority to LCpl Sharratt and allow him to
issues orders to themselves and the Iraqis. Because we know that only
LCpl Sharratt had a pistol, her account that the one with the pistol
was in charge appears to be factually false. Forensic evidence clearly
proves that the bodies must have been moved from the location where
they fell to where they were covered with sheets and later
photographed. Finally, it is incredible to believe the family was
traveling to Baghdad that day if only Kahtan was packed and ready for
Nagla states that the man with the pistol was in charge telling the
other Marines what to do. Again we see the theme that the "one with
the pistol" was the person in charge. Clearly by now, these witnesses
know that their loved ones were killed with 9mm rounds from a pistol
and that LCpl Sharratt is the one accused. To facilitate a story of
execution, placing LCpl Sharratt in charge would make the story more
plausible except for the fact it is incredible to believe that two
senior Marines would subjugate themselves to LCpl under these
Ehab states that Kahtan was about to travel to Trabeed (ph) and that
she assisted in packing his suitcase so she knew what was inside it.
This contradicts Nagham who said the "family" was traveling to
Baghdad. Again she reiterates that the "one with the pistol was in
Nathaniel R. Helms
Defend Our Marines
7 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).