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Get Off Your Duff and Fight Back

3 June 2007

Get Off Your Duff and Fight Back

The media continues to have a field day as the star of the Haditha circus. The story has been so distorted that it’s difficult to keep facts straight even as the hearings unfold.

Where are the Public Affairs Officers? Has anyone in the media been reminded that the Article 32 hearings are an investigation into the deaths of 24 Iraqis, not "24 innocent civilians" as the media says in every opening of every report?

Fact is that the accused have no further life as Marines--even if exonerated. Thanks to the Corps leadership's disdain for public opinion (except when it involves their own careers), the accused will be hounded forever in civilian life as well.

The media slept through this part of the Capt. Stone hearing, but two officers testified that eight insurgents were among the 24 dead that morning. This was established through human intelligence and electronic surveillance.

Tomorrow in the Lt. Col. Chessani hearing, there will be further testimony about this evidence. The testimony will be closed to the media because the information is classified. Naturally, no one (aside from the New York Times) wants insurgents to know how we know who they are.

But the evidence, exculpatory as it will be, will never reach the general public in any form.

Perhaps instead of dragging enlisted men to sensitivity training, maybe the Corps should take a look at redefining the roles of its Public Affairs Officers. They have signally failed throughout the entire Haditha episode.

Back in May 2006, when Congressman Murtha first claimed that there was no firefight in Haditha, that Marines were cold blooded killers, where were the PAOs to counter the slander of the Kilo Company Marines?

The hideously ironic thing is that it was a PAO who brought this entire nightmare down on the heads of the Haditha Marines in the first place.

That PAO is Major Jeffrey Pool (a captain at the time of the Haditha incident). He has not been charged and, so far, has not testified in the hearings.

Nor has Pool ever spoken out about his role in causing accusations of a massacre and cover-up to be leveled against Marines of Kilo Company. Perhaps he’s under orders. After all, he’s in charge of tracking media personnel in Iraq. Want to embed with Marines? Talk to Major Pool. If his veracity was called into question, would any of his press statements be trusted? Whatever the reason, his lack of mea culpa handed the enemies of our Corps and our nation the opening they needed.

So much nonsense has been said about Haditha that it’s worth laying out the basic facts. On December 21, 2006, the day charges were announced, Colonel Stewart Navarre (chief of staff, Marine Corps Installations West) made the following statement about what did, and did not happen, in Haditha:

On the morning of 19 November 2005, a four vehicle convoy of Marines from Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division was moving through Haditha when it was ambushed by insurgents employing an improvised explosive device and small arms fire

One Marine was killed and two were wounded by the explosion.  Over the next several hours, 24 Iraqi men, women and children died in the vicinity of the IED explosion. 

On 20 November 2005, 2nd Marine Division issued a press release stating that 15 Iraqi civilians were killed in an IED explosion, and Marines and Iraqi Army soldiers killed eight insurgents in a follow-on fire-fight. 

We now know with certainty the press release was incorrect, and that none of the civilians were killed by the IED explosion. 

Col. Navarre’s statement quietly refuted Murtha’s charge about “no firefight”. And the colonel clearly stated that the press release was incorrect.

Nonetheless, the media interpreted this statement to mean that SSgt. Wuterich and his squad, and the officers of Kilo Company were liars.

There was no further statement from the Corps about the press release. And no one asked who created it and how an erroneous statement was released. But Major Pool did speak to investigators on General Eldon Bargewell’s team. The Bargewell Report is a classified document, which, means of course, it’s been leaked to the press.

The New York Times ran a story about the Bargewell Report and buried in the article was this:

Jeffrey Pool, told Bargewell's investigators that he was given reports from battalion commanders that accurately described the Marines' killing of civilians, said lawyers who read the report. But Pool said he issued a news release blaming the insurgents for the deaths because he believed that they were ultimately the result of the roadside bombing of the convoy that led the marines to strike back, the lawyers said.

"The way I saw it was this," Pool told two colonels questioning him, according to a lawyer who read the report. "A bomb blast went off, or was initiated, that is what started, that is the reason they're getting this, is a bomb blew up, killed people. We killed people back and that's the story."

So a PAO was given a report that said 15 civilians were killed in the vicinity of an IED and he wrote “by” an IED. It was that preposition that jumped out at Time magazine’s Tim McGirk. Here’s how Time explained how Haditha came to their attention:

…In mid-December, President George W. Bush announced the military's estimate that 30,000 Iraqi civilians had died since the start of the war. Time's Tim McGirk, posted in Baghdad, began to investigate cases in which Iraqi civilians had been killed by U.S. troops. In the course of his reporting, he obtained a copy of [a video shot in Haditha]. There was plenty in the grisly images to raise suspicions, including the U.S.-issued body bags into which the victims were zipped and the scattering of shells that appeared to have come from Marine rifles.

McGirk contacted Marine headquarters in Ramadi to inquire about the incident. The Marines sent back an e-mail saying there were 15 civilian deaths in Haditha on Nov. 19 but that the victims were killed by the roadside bomb and by a firefight that erupted when insurgents fired on the Marines. But the videotape showed that many of the dead were pajama-clad women and children. The bodies had wounds from bullets, not shrapnel, and the scene suggested that they had been murdered inside their homes.

It’s possible that the Kilo Company Marines could have survived the Time story, published on March 19, 2006. An investigation was underway and it could have cleared them in Iraq. But then Congressman Murtha seized on the story to bash President Bush as part of the Democrat's plan to regain control of Congress.

To make headlines, Murtha claimed that Haditha was even worse than Time had reported. According to Murtha, 24 civilians were killed in cold blood. And that's been the story, without even a pretense of presumption of innocence, in the media ever since.

The media continues to cover the Haditha story through the lens of Iraq as a lost American war. Their best ally lately has been JAG prosecutor, Lt. Col. Paul Atterbury.

In the Lt. Col. Chessani hearing, the prosecutor is playing to the media day after day. On Thursday, he put a DoD lawyer on the stand. The lawyer, William Hays Parks, was asked to speculate about the meaning of gunshot head wounds as seen in photographs. Lt. Col. Atterbury suggested the wounds indicated execution-style killings and the story went around the world.

In the Capt. Stone hearing, Lt. Col. Atterbury elicited the gratuitous testimony from Sgt. Sanick Dela Cruz that he peed on a dead Iraqi after the IED blast.

Sgt. Dela Cruz was not cross-examined (neither was William Hays Parks), and his testimony was irrelevant to Capt. Stone's case, but the prosecution got the headlines they wanted. There were more than 11,000 hits on Google for "urinated Haditha" last I checked. Reuters' Marty Graham got so carried away with the spirit of things that he lied in two stories, printed around the world, that the peed-upon man's hands were tied as well.

Well, why not? It's open season on Marines.

And some have had enough.

There is now a campaign underway, led by retired Marine officers, to express grave concern directly to Maj. Gen. Conway, Lt. Gen. Mattis and his staff JAG, Lt. Col. Riggs.

One retired mustang wrote to Lt. Col. Riggs:

If this everlasting circus going on with K/3/1 & K/3/5 continues much longer, the Commandant is going to experience rough days ahead on recruiting and I don't think these huge bonuses he's offering will entice these young, very intelligent, Marines to extend or reenlist, as we did years ago, when we were sure our leaders were watching our 6 o'clock & not locking us up for doing the job we enlisted to do and that is to fight this country's wars.

When I read some of these articles where the prosecutor gets some witness on the stand and they discuss bullet holes in the heads of civilians, etc., that tells me that the prosecutor or the witness has never been in a fire fight with lead flying all around you. You put a weapon on full automatic and start firing at enemy positions that you are receiving fire from and some innocents are bound to get killed. War is hell.

It would now appear we have lost two good 2nd Lt's. First, it was Patano and if Phan is smart, he will resign his commission. His career has now been wrecked by thoughtless actions of those who should have stood by his side.

Messages like these (via e-mail, phone calls, and in personal meetings) may finally alert the leadership to the danger the Corps is in. At the very least, fighting back beats doing nothing except watch the train wreck happen.

Maybe you'd like to join in.
 

David Allender
Defend Our Marines

 

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