by Nathaniel R. Helms |
May 16, 2008
The Marine Corps attorneys
representing Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich in the so-called “Haditha
Massacre” investigation are expected to step down without closure more than a
year after their client was charged. Baring unseen events, they will
be off the defense team by August 1 and likely earlier than that,
according to civilian co-counsel, Mark Zaid.
Meanwhile, Wuterich remains in limbo at Camp
Pendleton while government prosecutors wrangle with 60 Minutes
lawyers over video outtakes the government says will help prove the
incident at Haditha was a crime. Wuterich's trial will take
place sometime in the fall.
Lieutenant Colonel Colby C. Vokey and Major Haytham Faraj are scheduled to
leave the Marine Corps this summer. They have represented Wuterich
since being assigned to defend him in December 2006.
"It's going to cause a big
problem in the case," says Wuterich's lead civilian attorney, Neal
a retired Marine Corps military judge.
"Technically and legally, they're allowed to retire and leave the case
behind. But I think there has never been a case this complex with so
much at stake where both detailed military counsel were to be
summarily released from the case. Ethically, I think both of them feel
bound to figure out a way to stay on the case. But that puts their
second careers and families on hold."
The Marine Corps is required to provide
Wuterich with a military lawyer. Already stretched thin by a series of
complex criminal cases—including one
explosive case yet to be revealed—the
Marine Corps legal system is stretched so thin that it is routinely
recalling reservists to act as prosecutors and judges. Zaid is
concerned that Wuterich will be assigned a military lawyer without the
knowledge and acumen of the lawyers that are departing.
“All of the senior defense counsels from
Camp Pendleton are likely 'conflicted out' due to representation on
other cases. The fact is that they are irreplaceable given their
knowledge and skills,” Zaid explains. “This is
a significant detriment to the defense of Staff Sergeant Wuterich. The magnitude of the impact is off the scale.”
Corps spokesman Lt Col Sean Gibson is currently unavailable for
comment and there was no one else to provide a comment, a deputy PAO
at Camp Pendleton said Friday morning.
In an ideal world Vokey and Faraj would join the
civilian defense team but that costs big bucks the Wuterich defense
team doesn’t have. Puckett and Zaid depend on contributions from Wuterich supporters to sustain his complex defense.
Vokey, a smooth, polite interrogator with a
disarming manner, has been a thorn in the prosecution side of the
tight-knit Marine Corps legal system for a long time.
The former artilleryman caused quite a
ruckus last September
when he was fired from his jobas
Regional Defense Counsel for West Coast Marines for assigning too many
defense attorneys to the Haditha and Hamandiyah court-martials.
Vokey’s ignominious departure stirred
retired Marine Corps Staff Judge Advocate Brigadier General David M.
Brahms to comment, “I am pissed.”
The Harvard graduate, who rose to become the
Marine Corps’ top lawyer, said Vokey’s firing bode ill for the Corps.
“The danger here is not malevolence; it is
the appearance of evil and the effect upon those in the defense bar,”
caused a similar stir while representing a 15-year old Canadian
citizen accused of terrorism in Afghanistan. At the time the defendant
was locked up at the controversial detention facility at Guantanamo
Major Faraj, a former infantryman, performed brilliantly
on several occasions during the summer-long evidentiary hearings last
year. At the same time, Faraj was
Trent D. Thomas, a 25-year-old Marineaccused of
kidnapping and conspiring to murder an Iraqi civilian at Hamandiyah,
Iraq. Faraj convinced the judge that Thomas deserved a bad-conduct
discharge rather than the life sentence the prosecution sought.
Trial delay over
60 Minutes outtakes
Marine prosecutor Captain Nicholas Gannon said in court documents that
unaired 60 Minutesfootage is vital to the case because it
contains admissions by Wuterich of crimes in the attack in Haditha,
Iraq, on Nov. 19, 2005. The news show’s parent network CBS is trying
to quash the prosecution’s subpoena.
The 28-year old former squad leader is
currently accused of unlawfully causing the deaths of nine Iraqi
civilians while leading a counter-attack against insurgents. The
government claims that 60 Minutes recorded admissions by Wuterich that he intentionally killed the Iraqi victims.
Wuterich was initially charged with unpremeditated murder, but the
investigating officer in his case recommended last year that the more
serious charge be dropped. Wuterich is charged with nine counts of
voluntary manslaughter and related offenses arising out of the Haditha
Neal Puckett has called the tactic an
intentional delaying action as well as a “fishing expedition” since
the government moved on February 29 to overrule the presiding judge’s
decision not to compel CBS to produce the video.
“Admissions of guilt don’t end up on the
cutting room floor,” Puckett said at the time.
Already the combined defense costs of the
eight Marines accused of crimes in the infamous case more than a
million dollars and the government more than three million for the
prosecution merely to stage the initial hearings, authorities on both
sides of the issue have said.
The Marine Corps and the Department of
Defense have repeatedly refused to divulge how much it has already
cost taxpayers to mount the world-wide, two-year dragnet that thus far
has netted nothing.
The government did reveal that 65 Naval
Criminal Investigative Service special agents, numerous forensic
experts, most of the available prosecutors in the Marine Corps, and
military judges from as far away as Hawaii have been brought to Camp
Pendleton to hear the case.
Nathaniel R. Helms
Defend Our Marines
16 May 2008
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).