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New charges arising from action in Fallujah: Déjà vu all over again

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Who won in Haditha?

It won't be over till the fat lady sings

© Nathaniel R. Helms 2007

Defend Our Marines | July 11, 2007

Who won in Haditha?: It won't be over till the fat lady sings

One of the most successful counter-intelligence coups perpetrated by the Iraqi insurgency to date happened under the very noses of the world without anyone except the United States Marine Corps ever knowing it happened.  

The counter-intelligence victory was conceived and executed in Haditha, Iraq on November 19, 2005 by Thaer al-Hadithi and Ali Omar Abrahem al-Mashadani, two Sunni Muslims working both sides of the war.

Mr. Hadithi is best known for videotaping the alleged murder site at Haditha after the horrific fight that left 24 Iraqis and one Marine dead, three Marines wounded, and seven others still fighting for their lives.  Hadithi and Mashadani subsequently founded the Hammurabi Organization for Human Rights and Democracy Monitoring Association in January 2006, about six weeks after the events at Haditha had passed. Coincidentally it is the same amount time that Mr. Mashadani had been out of Abu Gharib Prison.

Mr. Mashadani was incarcerated at Abu Gharib for five and one-half months between July and December 2005 while Marine interrogators questioned him about his counter-intelligence activities.  A lot of his family members were there with him, he said. Mashadani was released on a general amnesty “kick out” along with 500 other suspects in December 2005, his warders said. Three months later Mr. Mashhadani was the darling of Time magazine.

Knowledgeable Marines immediately went ballistic when they saw the two Iraqi’s names in the famous Time magazine story by Tim McGirk that sparked the whole Haditha affair. They had two reasons for doing so. The biggest was their revulsion of Time’s March 2006 story featuring Mr. Hadithi’s videotape as prima facie evidence of a massacre. The second reason was because they couldn’t reveal what they knew about Mr. Hadithi and Mr. Mashadani.  Marine Corps signals interception security is a paramount concern. Not even love for brother Marines provides for talking out of school.

The world probably still wouldn’t know about Mr. Hadithi and Mr. Mashadani’s brilliant intelligence coup were it not for the stalwart efforts of Mr. McGirk. When he and his colleague put together their masterful indictment of the Thundering Third’s Marines the insurgency had poisoned the air and assaulted the heart of the Marine Corps in one powerful stroke. It doesn’t get any better than that in the intelligence game.

Every element of the alleged crime was given to McGirk by the Hammurabi Human Rights organization. He didn’t even have to look for himself. McGirk had dead innocents, grieving relatives, bloodstained walls, and gruesomely cast about corpses, he said. The insurgents even provided a dismembered Marine to create the motive McGirk would need for making his claim of out and out massacre. Perhaps that is why he never faced those he accused of murdering innocents. So far McGirk has declined to answer several requests for an interview.

The intelligence data was revealed during the Article 32 hearing for Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani, the former commander of the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines. It is detailed in the signals intercept information presented in the witness testimony of Marine Capt.  Jeffrey Dinsmore.  He offered eight hours of intelligence information; precious secrets that guard the lives of Marines.  Brian Rooney, one of Chessani’s lawyers read it, and the hearing officer read it, and so will Lt. Gen. J. N. Mattis, the Marine general who will ultimately decide Chessani’s fate. The entire tale is held on a still unavailable PowerPoint “story board” Dinsmore prepared to explain the many twists and turns of the Haditha incident.

Unfortunately the public still can’t hear it or see Dinsmore’s evidence because some of the information is still classified, Rooney said. Meanwhile Chessani and his six comrades wait to discover whether they will be charged with any crimes.

Despite the mandate for secrecy bits and pieces of the two Iraqi’s activities began surfacing two days after the Time story appeared in March, 2006. Some of the pieces were reports of classified signals intercept logs. People who knew about them said they contained overwhelming evidence that Hadithi and Mashadani were Iraqi intelligence operatives. The Marines were listening to them on a daily basis while they chattered on their cellular telephones, they said. Every time their conversations were intercepted a note was made in the log, a digital recording of the intercept was sent to interpreters, and sometime later the S-2s and G-2s charged with knowing the enemy’s intentions put together their intelligence estimates.  In time the Marines had enough evidence to arrest Mashadani and interrogate him for almost six months.

By September 2006 The New York Times also had enough pieces of the story to take a look. It is the same information being detailed in this report. After an initial flurry of enthusiasm the Times’ Pentagon Editor Doug Jehl said, “It’s not for the Times.”

Apparently Jehl didn’t think the Marines’ claim that Mr. Hadithi and Mr. Mashadani were frequently encountered by Marine intelligence operators was important enough to look into. He apparently preferred accepting the word of the nebulous Iraqis to firm his newspapers’ own accusations of Marine Corps mayhem and murder.

In retrospect it doesn’t seem like it would have been too hard for the Times’ energetic reporters to find out whether the information was true or not. They managed to obtain Maj. Gen. Eldon A. Bargewell's 104-page investigative report before it was declassified and 13,000 pages of sensitive Naval Criminal Investigative Service investigative documents about Haditha before the defense attorneys did.

Despite the Times’ disregard the intelligence officers within the infantry battalions, Regimental Combat Team-1, and the Marine Expeditionary Force weighing the two Iraqi’s intelligence value considered both men valuable resources. They “used their blabby conversation to keep tabs on the al Jazeera folks” and through them “the insurgent thinkers orchestrating the insurgent's propaganda campaign,” according to one Marine.

He said both Iraqis were 'hands-off" Sunnis. They reportedly had family connections to powerful Sunni sheiks in al-Anbar province that the now defunct Coalition Provisional Authority hoped to influence through money and favors, the Marine officer claimed.

Another Marine officer, a former Intelligence officer (S-2) for an infantry battalion that fought at Fallujah in November, 2004 could not confirm the report although he did provide a good description of the environment the insurgent agents worked in. Almost a year ago he wrote:

“In regards to your question about the Hammurabi Rights Association, I can't say for sure,” he said. “We had so many transcripts that at least this group and this person doesn't stick.”

 “I can say there were folks that were not allowed to be touched, who I know for a fact were playing both sides. I can also confirm that there were media that was itching to get a story in Fallujah, there was one we detained w [ith]/ the insurgents who we were forced to release.”

Marines who reportedly listened in on the Iraqi’s unguarded conversations allege Mr. Hadithi and Mr. Mashadani frequently spoke to each other about intelligence matters from their respective homes in Haditha and Ramadi. Both men were active insurgent operatives during the entire April to December Fallujah uprising in 2004 and had relatives in Iraqi jails for insurgent activities at the time, according to the Marines. Last year both men acknowledged their relatives spent time in jail during the same time frame for anti-government activities. They dismissed the information as a sign of the times.

The Marines claim the telephone intercepts were routinely recorded throughout 2004 and 2005 before being stored in a secured area at the headquarters of RCT -1 near Baghdad. Because Marine units frequently rotate in and out of Iraq on scheduled deployments the exact location of the logs and digital recording of their telephone conversations is no longer known to them, they said. But Capt. Dinsmore knew, and so does NCIS.

The images and stories provided by the spurious human rights organization took the Marine Corps by surprise, McGirk reported. He later wrote that he was particularly gratified that the gruesome video sparked not one but two parallel investigations into events at Haditha.

“When I heard the news that four U.S. Marines were charged for their alleged role in the killing of 24 Iraqi civilians in the western town of Haditha in Nov. 2005, it marked the end of a personal odyssey,” he wrote two days before Christmas last year.

Dinsmore’s testimony and the physical evidence obtained during the subsequent criminal investigation McGirk instigated clearly demonstrate that Time Magazine was as much the victim as the dead civilians and Marines in the Iraqi’s counter-intelligence coup, Rooney says. He is not alone in that assessment. So far the prosecution’s case against the Haditha Seven is barely more than a grim fairy tale.

One Marine officer succinctly assessed the situation in a sentence.

“There are a lot of disconnects around here,” he observed.

McGirk may think his personal odyssey is over, but actually it has just begun. It won’t be over until the fat lady sings.

Nathaniel Helms
Defend Our Marines
11 July 2007

Note: Nat Helms is the author of My Men Are My Heroes: The Brad Kasal Story (Meredith Books, 2007).

© Nathaniel R. Helms 2007