seems that no sooner than Time magazine reporter Tim McGirk
personal odyssey through a maze of misinformation at Haditha, Iraq
than New York Times reporter Paul von Zeilbauer was denied his
“defining atrocity” in the ancient land.
Zeilbauer shared his angst in a
news story of sorts he penned from Baghdad October 5 lamenting the
recommendation of a Marine Corps investigating officer to dismiss 10
murder charges against Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich and reduce seven
others to negligent homicide without ever having his heart in it.
von Zeilbauer’s obvious disappointment he still managed to get the
infamous massacre at My Lai, South Vietnam in his lede paragraph; no
doubt for the sake of objectivity. That is no mean trick considering
the people that really matter don’t think anyone at Haditha was
murdered - much less that 24 innocents were massacred.
apparently happened, at least according to Mr. von Zeilbauer, is that
the pesky military law he knows almost nothing about took his defining
moment away. It was denied by Lt. Col Paul J. Ware, best known in the
Corps as one of its crackerjack prosecutors, who announced he was not
convinced a malicious crime had been committed.
“Finally, although I believe the Government will fail to prove beyond
a reasonable doubt that SSGT Wuterich committed any offenses other
than dereliction of duty, due to the serious nature of the charges, I
recommend referral to a general court-martial,” Ware wrote in his
to drop the murder charges.
New York Times, Time magazine, the Washington Post
and all the other self-anointed purveyors of truth, justice, and the
American way still have one last chance to earn vindication for
rushing to judgment. Ironically, their last hope is Lieutenant General
James N. Mattis, the convening authority and final arbiter in the
Haditha matter. He can still disregard the recommendations of Lt. Col.
Ware and find that SSgt Wuterich woke up that terrible morning on
November 19, 2005 and decided to slaughter a hamlet full of innocent
experts in military justice I talked to said that isn’t very likely.
Unlike the experts in Mr. von Zeilbauer’s camp who think the Marines
must be guilty because Time magazine said so, my experts
pointed out that Lt. Gen. Mattis has so far shown remarkable rectitude
for not prosecuting Marines he doesn’t think are guilty of anything.
Zeilbauer’s favorite expert, Georgetown University law professor Gary
D. Solis, apparently thinks it is unsporting of Ware to base his
recommendations solely on the rules of evidence. Solis is a former
Marine Corps judge and constant critic of the way the Haditha
investigation has been adjudicated. He apparently believes even
specious charges should be prosecuted vigorously to salve the national
you have an investigating officer like Ware, who says ‘don’t go there
if you can’t prove’” your case, we’re left with what appear to be very
reduced charges.” Mr. Solis reportedly said. “He’s aggressive, and he
seems to make his judgments without regard for anything but the law.”
temerity of Lt. Col. Ware! How dare he base his recommendations solely
on the law! What about McGirk and Time magazine, and the New York
Times and Mr. von Zeilbauer? They have feelings too! Von Zeilbauer
wrote 34 stories decrying the inhumanity of his countrymen. Perhaps he
and his colleagues can dig up another alleged atrocity to pillory our
warriors over – America’s enemies can always hope.
time itself turned on Mr. von Zeilbauer and the other reporters
seeking truth, justice and the American way at Haditha, he claims. In
von Zeilbauer’s arcane world malevolent time allied itself with Lt.
Col. Ware and Lt. Gen. Mattis to vanquish the omnipotent forces
of extant truth who just happen to control the headlines.
vanished, witnesses evaporated and memories paled,” Mr. von Zeilbauer
suggesting Father Time is a Marine and not affiliated with the New
York Times after all?
element of the case that remains clear almost two years after the fact
is the charges leveled by Time’s McGirk. They remain based on the word
of two well-known Iraqi counter-intelligence operatives who beguiled
him into believing a squad of Marines shot their way through four
houses full of civilians to avenge the death of a fellow Marine. That
particular Marine, a young man from El Paso, Texas named Miguel “T.J.”
Terrazas was killed by a remotely detonated IED explosion that ignited
a day long fight in Haditha.
problem Mr. von Zeilbauer discussed in his colloquy is the reluctance
of the dead Iraqi’s relatives to disinter their loved ones so Naval
Criminal Investigative Service investigators could discover how they
really died. The relatives were so adamantly opposed to the idea they
actually shot at the investigators who went to Haditha to discover the
Conversely, the relatives of the decedent in the Hamandiyah murder
case cooperated fully by allowing the corpse of their relative to be
flown to Dover, Maryland for an autopsy to determine how he died. The
forensic evidence uncovered during the autopsy led to convictions in
Finally, Mr. von Zeilbauer
complained vigorously and eloquently that the hearings were conducted
at Camp Pendleton, California, in the bosom of the Marine Corps,
rather than Haditha, a hotbed of unrest in al Anbar Province.
For once we find common
ground. This observer thinks it would have been just dandy to hold the
summer-long Article 32 investigatory hearings in Haditha, perhaps at
the combat outpost where
Haman and 4th Platoon, Kilo Co were out-posted that
day. Haman said it was a really nice place despite a daily dose of
enemy incoming; it even had a barbeque pit.
There is a good
likelihood that each day of the hearings would have received a strong
measure of realism to help illustrate the context of the moment when
all the unfortunates died. There is simply nothing like an incoming
RPG or a round or two of mortar fire to keep reality in perspective.
It would be good for
these old bones to watch from my well manicured hidey-hole while
McGirk, Mr. von Zeilbauer and perhaps even Mr. Solis danced in the
incoming pontificating over the great imponderables of war. It would
be instructive to discover if they could occupy the same high morale
ground in an atmosphere filled with lethal objects rather than hot
Nathaniel R. Helms
Defend Our Marines
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).