Defend Our Marines / August
Fallujah burning in the distance on D-Day)
Nine days before former Marine Corps Sgt. Jose Luis Nazario Jr. was charged with voluntary manslaughter at Fallujah, Iraq almost
three years ago he was publicly disgraced by two Naval Criminal Investigative
Service special agents in the course of his arrest.
The probationary patrolman on the Riverside Police
Department was reportedly lured into his police station August 7 under false
pretenses, stripped of his badge and gun, handcuffed by two Naval Criminal
Investigative Service special agents, and forced to take a humiliating “perp
walk” past his fellow officers for allegedly killing two Iraqi prisoners of war
during the heat of battle. Then he was fired within sight of ending his
A few days later the Riverside Police Officers' Association
asked that the police department place Nazario back on the force, and put him on
paid administrative leave until the investigation is concluded.
"We are concerned that due to a flaw in that process, a new
Riverside police officer nearing the end of his probationary period has been
dismissed without any evidence of police misconduct," President Ken Tutwiler
said in a statement. "While the Riverside Police Officers' Association is not in
a position to cast judgment, or assess guilt or innocence, we are here to call
attention to a police officer's right to due process."
Probationary patrolmen in Riverside can be fired without
Nazario is accused of “unlawfully and intentionally”
killing two unarmed men on Nov. 9, 2004. The complaint was filed in an affidavit
by Special Agent Mark Fox, an NCIS investigator. It was filed in U.S. District
Court for Central California because Nazario served eight years active duty and
without a reserve obligation is outside the reach of the Uniform Code of
Thirty months ago Nazario was the 3rd Squad leader,
assigned to 3rd Platoon, Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines, which took
part in the second battle of Fallujah in November and December 2004. It is the
toughest fight the Marine Corps has been in since the Battle of Hue, South
Vietnam in February and March, 1968.
To completely understand the disgraceful manner in which
Nazario was handled by NCIS, it is useful to revisit Fallujah,
when Nazario and his squad stood at the gates of the Pantheon of Heroes in
Marine Corps lore. It was a hard fall from hero to alleged felon, one that
plenty of people say should never have happened.
From the command chronology, “Task Force Brahma,” After
Action Reports, and eye witness accounts of Marines from 3rd
Battalion, 1st Marines, Regimental Combat Team -1, Nov. 1, 2004
through Jan 31, 2005 – Operation AL FAJR.
Location: Fallujah, Iraq
3/1 Strength on Nov.1, 2004 - Reinforced rifle battalion –
approximately 1,250 Marines and sailors.
Situation: In the attack
Mission: Clear Fallujah of insurgents from north to south.
Probability of success: Strong
Intelligence summary of “general characteristics” of combat
in al Anbar Province preceding Operation Al Fajr:
Multiple 4-8 man cells that had the ability to
regenerate and were well paid.
The enemy understood Coalition detention procedures
Insurgents had secreted weapons caches throughout Fallujah, i.e.; accessible roads, light to medium vegetation, near canals, in
between multiple farm houses, inside empty houses, under floors, in oil filled
Intimidation was key, local leaders played both
IED and IDF [indirect fire] were the norm (minimal
Enemy Strength: Insurgency, Al Qaeda, and foreign fighters
– estimate 3,500 active fighters, up to 5,000 logistical supporters and
part-time combatants. Enemy combatants from 17 nations captured at Fallujah.
Situation: Fanatical defense.
Mission: Repel attackers for as long as possible, create
maximum carnage, instigate and/or heighten distaste and dissatisfaction for war
among Iraqi and American civilian populations by creating maximum casualties
among Marines, Soldiers, and non-combatants.
Probability of success: Assured
Weather: Clear, warm days, cool nights, some overcast and rain. Conditions and
visibility diminished as battle progressed. Generally good night vision.
Co., 3/1, moves into Fallujah 0700, D+2, November 9, 2004)
Kilo Company (Reinforced) – codename “Spartans” – crossed
the line of departure at 0700, November 9, 2004 (D+2) on the heels of the 2nd
Battalion, 7th Cavalry, an armor heavy US Army formation that first
found glory at Little Big Horn. The armored cavalry battalion’s primary weapons
are the M1A2 Main Battle Tanks and M2 Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles that
battle planners inserted into the fight to break through the hard shell of the
insurgent’s main line of resistance on the outskirts of Fallujah.
The enemy had been preparing its defenses at Fallujah since
the abortive fight for the city the preceding April. Largely abandoned by its
civilian population of 160,000, Fallujah had been converted into a Byzantine
labyrinth of death traps waiting to be sprung. Before the battle began the
“Thundering Third’s” Marines had been instructed to kill every Iraqi insurgent
they discovered. It was kill them now, or face them again, they were told.
On the Spartan’s right flank was India Company – codenamed
“Raider.” To their rear was Lima – codenamed “Warrior” – and elements of
Combined Action Platoon India still at the massive Fallujah train station it had
captured the night before. On both flanks of Task Force Brahma were other 1st
Marine Division rifle battalions also moving south on similar clearing missions.
Overhead Marine Corps, Navy, and Air Force fast movers
laden with smart bombs, dumb bombs and cluster bombs “shaped” the battlefield in
preparation for the coming ground assault. They shared the air with Marine Corps
Cobras and Army Apache helicopter gunships. At night Air Force AC-130 Hercules
“Spectre” gunships worked over the city with 105mm cannon and high speed rotary
Outside of town the Army’s massive 120mm “Mad Mortars” were
pummeling the city with red phosphorous, and high explosives. Adding to the
cacophony of noise was the 105 and 155 millimeter artillery plastering
pre-selected targets on the predetermined routes of march the Marines would
take. The fall of shot was watched by Unmanned Aerial Vehicles with cameras
slaved to video receivers showing the war in real time. Fallujah was total war –
no quarter was offered and none was given. Pretending now it was something else
is simply silly.
dead inside fighting position. Letter home from a jihadist.)
The 1st Marine Division’s objective was the
total destruction of the insurgent forces in and around Fallujah. Their orders
were to destroy the enemy wherever it was encountered. The Marines intended to
finish the fight they started the preceding April before the Coalition
Provisional Authority called a halt to their imminent conquest of Fallujah.
The Rules of Engagement were fluid and flexible both in
spirit and application. By D+5 most of the restraints of D day were gone through
expedience to get the job done. The Thundering Third was the guys who actually
had to do it. When they got it wrong they died.
The Spartans moved out line abreast with the Raiders
against surprisingly light resistance. Behind them was Lima Company, tasked with
clearing “bypassed urban areas” to “back clear” buildings left unsecured by the
The weather was
surprisingly cool, with a slight overcast. Already the air was chalky with
concrete dust and smelled of cordite and fresh death. For 24 hours preceding the
Spartan’s attack the nearly abandoned city of 160,000 Sunni Muslims had been
pounded unmercifully by every weapon the Coalition juggernaut could bring to
Dead bodies, debris and destroyed buildings filled the
narrow streets. The Marines called the deluge of destruction “red rain” for the
red phosphorous that poured down from the sky.
The Warriors of India made quick progress against light
resistance on Kilo’s east flank. It was a different story for the Spartans.
Almost immediately the “light” resistance – small arms
fire and the occasional rocket propelled grenades India was receiving – turned
into “heavy resistance.” Light enemy small arms fire exploded into “volleys of
rocket propelled grenades” and machine gun fire that poured into the Spartan’s
ranks. The insurgent’s AK-47s joined in when the Spartans encountered
“significant pockets of enemy” fighters.
The enemy fought
in cells of four to eight fighters who had already pledged their lives in
goodbye letters found on their corpses. Conversely the Marines wanted to live.
Their letters home were full of hope.
The fight had barely begun when two M-1 Abrams tanks
assigned to support the Spartans were “significantly degraded” due to multiple
RPG impacts. At the same time the battalion command element “traveling in trace”
of Kilo Company “came under indirect fire and heavy, close proximity small arms
fire along Phase Line Isaac.” Marines later reported the battalion commander
shooting it out with the attackers from a roof top. At the same time Lima
Company started taking heavy small arms fire. In the parlance of war, the battle
M1A2 takes on insurgents. Notice RPG hit about midway across turret.
Two Marine Corps M1s assigned to support 3/1
were damaged by multiple RPG strikes in the opening hours of the fight.)
In the middle of it all was 3rd Platoon, Kilo,
where New York native Sgt Jose Luis Nazario led 3rd Squad. Marines
who know him say he was the quietist of the platoon’s squad leaders, a Marine
who kept his own counsel. Among his men were Corporal Ryan Weemer, a former
FAST Marine from southern Illinois and Corporal Jermaine Nelson, an assaultman
from New Jersey. Today Nelson is a sergeant charged with unpremeditated murder
for allegedly killing a prisoner at Fallujah.
Collectively there were 13 men in the 3rd squad,
a typical group of Marines trying to survive in a maelstrom of death. None of
them suspected on November 9, 2004 they belonged to one of the most celebrated
and scandalized units in Marine Corps history.
The Spartans took their first blow at 0730 when Lance
Corporal Juan E. Segura, a fire team leader in 3rd Squad, was killed.
A sniper shot him between to SAPI plates on his body armor from a concealed
sniper position. He was the first of 33 Spartan fatalities during the battle and
the first of five fatalities in Kilo. Weemer, the squad’s other fire team
leader, was huddled next to Segura holding his hand when he died. It would
profoundly affect him. Nazario and Nelson were there as well.
There was no time for mourning on D+2. Soon after Segura’s
body was sent to the rear 3rd Squad was ordered to go after a cell of
insurgents seen scuttling between two houses. One of them could have been the
triggerman who shot Segura. The Iraqi insurgents were hunkered down inside one
of the buildings when Nazario’s squad cornered them. A 25-pound satchel charge
against the wall erased the threat. It was merely the first among dozens of such
contacts Kilo Marines would survive.
who fought there say Segura’s death inspired the Marines instead of cowering
them. They fought mercilessly, efficiently, using cover, explosives, and sheer
guts to root out an enemy who didn’t want it any other way. Sometime after
Segura’s death – nobody knows for certain - Nazario’s 3rd Squad
allegedly encountered another group of Iraqi insurgents slipping away from a
fight. They were unarmed and breathless, Weemer later said. They had just run
from another fight with Marines a few buildings away. After holding them for a
few minutes Nazario allegedly inquired by radio to higher command what to do.
“They are still alive?” was the reported cryptic response.
Taking the response as an order to eliminate the insurgents, Nazario allegedly
ordered his squad to kill the prisoners. Along with at least two other members
of the squad Nazario allegedly carried out the executions of four men, according
to the affidavit filed in support of Nazario’s complaint.
Sometime during the encounter the eight Iraqis Weemer
claimed were captured was reduced by four. The government did not say what
happened to the other four reported captives. Perhaps it doesn’t matter. They
don’t know who any of them are. There is no bodies, no location, no complaining
witness except the government, and no corroborating physical evidence. Whether
it was four or eight victims, the unidentified bodies were left where they died
– somewhere in Fallujah.
(Right: Marine riflemen from Kilo Co shoot it out with
Then it was time for 3rd Squad to get back in
the war. Apparently the incident was quickly forgotten. Only Weemer still
remembers it. Before the morning was over the squad would face desperate combat
several more time. According to the command chronology the three line companies
received “significant amounts of enemy rocket, small arms, and mortar fire
throughout this portion of the attack.” By the end of the morning the matter of
the dead EPWs was set aside until Weemer revealed his story two years later.
By all accounts Third Platoon, Kilo was full of gung ho
hotshots. One 3rd Platoon Marine who later lost his leg said it all
with a pair of tattoos that screams “Bring The Violence” when he raises his
arms. He was a point man at Fallujah – he got to go first.
Combat savvy Marines say 3rd Platoon’s former
platoon leader is one of the finest small unit combat leaders in the Corps.
Luckily the Marines got him back as a captain recently. His men proved it every
time they got in a fight. Before Fallujah officially ended on December 23, 2004
one 3rd Platoon member earned the Navy Cross and the entire platoon
is enshrined among the Marine’s immortals for their individual performances at
the Hell House. A photographic history of 3/1’s magnificent campaign at Fallujah
is on permanent display at the National Museum of the Marine Corps at Quantico,
At least that was 3/1’s richly deserved legacy for awhile.
Then Haditha happened and 3rd Plt, Kilo was plunged under a media
microscope it still hasn’t emerged from under.
Co. handling detainees. Detainees at the PUC facility. A defeated and captured
Then Ryan Weemer took a polygraph examination for a Secret
Service job. He was going to school at the time in Belleville, Illinois and
working at a Starbucks restaurant while he got his life in order. He thought he
was stepping into high cotton when he was selected for consideration as a
uniformed Secret Service officer. It was his first big step into the world of
federal law enforcement where he wanted to be, he said at the time.
Then the polygraph examiner asked him if he had ever been
involved in a wrongful death during his military service. That is the moment the
bottom fell out of his life, dragging with it at least two more of 3rd
Platoon’s gallant Marines.
Before Fallujah got back in the news Weemer detailed his
allegations during a moment of introspective reflection. In his original story
the Iraqis were insurgents fleeing between two houses when they were captured.
They had fled from another firefight down the road. Like other Marines who
encountered them, Weemer anticipated they would fight again if let go. As a
result very few of them survived their ordeals. That is an ugly truth history
has already shown.
Then an order came down to kill them and move on. If it
happened it is a violation of the laws of land warfare – if it even happened,
Nazario’s lawyer says.
After that Weemer said he locked his memories away and
tried to get on with his life. They stayed hidden, he later said, until he
decided to try for the job guarding the White House.
The ripples that spread from the revelations Weemer made at
his polygraph examination spread very slowly across the Corps. Unlike the
Haditha incident, or the Soldier’s murderous behavior at Mahmoudiya that
exploded like a tidal wave across the world’s newspapers, the ripples Weemer
made stayed small for a long time. A few Marines knew of the allegations soon
after Weemer made them. A few more heard something about them eventually, and
still more thought they were a lot of crap. Not a single Marine who fought at
Fallujah besides Weemer ever said they were true.
Naval Criminal Investigative Service Special Agent Mark Fox
chose to believe them. So did somebody else in the Corps; or maybe it was in the
Department of the Navy, or the Department of Defense. Nobody who knows is
talking, but somebody drove forward the investigation. It certainly can’t help
polish the already tarnished image of the Corps in Iraq.
The NCIS had the legal mandate to initiate the
investigation on its own, and that is probably the case, the lawyers say. It has
a “responsibility” to investigate allegation of war crimes, NCIS spokesman Ed
Buice has said.
Current and former Marine Corps lawyers watching the case
unfold say that because NCIS chose to reveal its “evidence” in federal court
instead of the Marine Corps, NCIS didn’t find a lot of support for investigating
the matter inside the Corps. Neither NCIS nor the Marine Corps has revealed a
convening authority that wants to look into Weemer’s allegations.
Whatever the reason, SA Mark Fox went to work investigating
the case with all the considerable resources he could muster. Fox would pop up
to interview an active duty Marine at Pendleton and then unexpectedly show up at
a former Marine’s home in a far away state to shake up his life. Some former
Marines claim Fox and other NCIS agents told them they could be recalled for not
cooperating. One attorney said his client was threatened with recall in his
presence by a Marine Corps prosecutor.
In every reported instance he was looking for several
Where was 3rd Squad on November 9 or 10,
Who was talking on the radio?
Did you ever hear about anyone killing enemy prisoners
When did you first hear about the allegations of murder?
Did you murder anyone?
A spokesman at Camp Pendleton said the Marine Corps has a
legal responsibility to investigate alleged war crimes and prosecute the
offenders. What is still waiting to be answered is whether it has any
Nathaniel R. Helms
Defend Our Marines
Note: Nat Helms is a Contributing Editor to Defend Our
Marines. He is a Vietnam vet, journalist, combat reporter, and, most
recently, author of
My Men Are My Heroes: The Brad Kasal Story (Meredith Books, 2007).