No massacre in Haditha:
new charges refute Murtha,
by Nathaniel R. Helms
December 31, 2007 --
The Marine Corps has now acknowledged that none of the Marines charged
with criminal offenses for their actions at Haditha, Iraq committed
murder. Lieutenant General Samuel Helland’s decision to dismiss
charges of unpremeditated murder against Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich
lay to rest specious allegations by Time Magazine reporter Tim
McGirk and Congressman John Murtha that a My Lai-style massacre
occurred in Haditha on November 19, 2005.
Marine Corps spokesman said Monday that Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich will
face trial on charges of voluntary manslaughter, aggravated assault,
reckless endangerment, dereliction of duty and obstruction of justice
for his role in the debacle that followed an Al Qaeda led attack on a
squad of 12 Marines.
Helland, the final arbiter in the matter, dismissed twelve charges of
unpremeditated murder, and separate charges of soliciting another to
commit an offense and making a false official statement. His decision
removes the onus that war crimes were committed by any of the American
Marines who fought in the day-long battle for the strategic city.
Attorneys Neil Puckett and Mark Zaid, in Washington, D.C., co-counsels
for SSgt Wuterich, responded:
“The good news is that SSgt Wuterich (and all of the Marines, for that
matter), have been forever cleared of murder charges. That means that
there is (and never was) any evidence to support Congressman Murtha’s
and Time magazine’s allegations of these Marines killing Iraqis
'in cold blood.'
“The bad news is that the extensive
pretrial investigation and legal analysis conducted by an
experienced military judge was essentially ignored. It is always
disappointing when professional military prosecutors profess to want
to do the right thing by setting up the system to work, and then
ignore its results because they refuse to give Marines under attack in
combat the benefit of the doubt that they were responding according to
their training. We are confident that a military jury will acquit SSgt
Wuterich of all remaining charges, because he is, in fact, not
to face courts martial
Wuterich, as expected, faces trial along with three other Marines: 1st
Lt. Andrew Grayson, an intelligence officer, Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani,
the former commanding officer 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines, and LCpl.
Stephen Tatum, a rifleman in Wuterich’s squad.
Wuterich was the squad leader in the battalion’s 3rd
Platoon, Kilo Company who led his Marines in a house-to-house search
for insurgents following an IED bombing that killed LCpl Miguel “T.J.”
Terrazas and injured two other Marines. During the subsequent
engagement, his men killed at least eight insurgents and 15 civilians.
The slain included five military aged males
who inexplicably emerged from a car that drove into the ambush zone
seconds before an IED explosion announced the opening gambit in the
charges against 1st Lt Grayson
is a 26-year old intelligence officer with
2nd Counter-Intelligence Human Intelligence Exploitation Company (CI
HUMINT Co) at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. He was attached to 3/1 at
Haditha when Wuterich’s squad was ambushed. He was not at the scene
of the ambush when it occurred.
Three months ago government
prosecutors at Camp Lejeune offered Grayson complete exoneration of
all charges in return for admitting he lied to investigators about the
case. He refused, saying doing so would impugn his honor.
Grayson was apprised of the additional
charges Friday in
new Charge Sheet dated December 13, 2007. The new complaint
includes the new fraud charge – a violation of Article 80 of the UCMJ
- which is a so-called “attempt” charge and modifications to
existing indictment. Lt Gen Helland
dismissed a two-count charge of dereliction of duty charge leveled
against Grayson last fall.
also now charged with lying to two colonels during Col. Gregory
Watt’s informal “AR15-6” investigation of the Haditha, Iraq massacre
allegations in early 2006. At the time Watt was investigating charges
that Wuterich’s squad had massacred 24 Iraqi citizens in retaliation
for the death of one of their own.
Grayson became embroiled in the
investigation when Watt discovered one of the lieutenant's
subordinates had taken approximately 70 digital photographs of the
crime scene that were later destroyed.
"Fraudulent discharge, patently absurd"
Grayson's attorney Joseph Casas, a former Marine enlisted man and Navy
JAG, said his client’s prosecution for unlawfully trying to obtain a
discharge may be one of the worst examples of unprovoked ferocity in
the Corps’ 232-year history.
On June 13th, 2007 Casas announced that 1st
Lt. Grayson had been discharged on June 1, 2007 and was therefore
not liable for
prosecution under the UCMJ. The Marine Corps disputed the
claim and ordered Grayson to remain on active duty.
Since June, Grayson has been shuttling back
and forth between North Carolina and California while the case drags
on. At the time Casas announced his client’s discharge, a Marine Corps
spokesman at Camp Pendleton declined to say why Grayson had been
issued his “DD-214” and not released from active duty.
veteran who has endured the arduous discharge procedures can attest
that chicanery does not work when the military is letting a service
member go. The system of checks and balances incorporated into the
discharge process is more akin to getting out of prison than simply
leaving a job.
Specification II of the
Charge Sheet claims that Grayson “deliberately” concealed from the
personnel experts overseeing his discharge the lieutenant's own
ineligibility for separation. The complaint says Grayson hoodwinked
the personnel specialists because he was “pending administrative or
judicial proceedings as an Accused.” Subsequently the Marine Corps
“erroneously” gave him his coveted DD214 discharge certificate anyway,
the charges show.
allegedly committed the crimes by “making knowingly false
representations to commanders and staff officers of 2nd
Intelligence Battalion that his completion of check out paperwork was
solely to ensure an expeditious separation from active duty.” His
motive was “to separate from active duty before the completion of his
administrative and or judicial proceedings” to avoid facing possible
criminal charges, a claim both Grayson and his attorney vehemently
Marine Corps’ new charges of attempted fraudulent discharge are
patently absurd. Our job is to exploit any shortfalls in the
Government’s case, including issues of personal jurisdiction such as
this one,” Casas said during a telephone interview Monday afternoon.
“The Marine Corps discharged LT Grayson and he has the DD214 to prove
it. Now it is clear the government is grasping for straws by shifting
blame to 1Lt Grayson in order to keep a drowning case alive.”
charge seems particularly incredible in light of the fact that by June
1, 2007 Grayson’s name, status, and picture had graced the pages of
just about every major newspaper, magazine, and network television
news source in the United States and overseas multiple times, several
critical observers noted.
Rooney, the civilian attorney and a former Marine officer representing
Lt Col Chessani, said if anyone should be on trial for Grayson’s
“discharge debacle, it should be the incompetent commanders and
personnel who discharged him.”
"2008 will bring good things--including my full acquittal."
The charges that Grayson deliberately lied
to Col. Watt and his investigators is the more serious allegation.
After interviewing the young lieutenant in Iraq, Watt complained to
his superior, Army Maj Gen Eldon Bargewell that Grayson was an
insolent, elusive character who didn’t want to cooperate with him.
Casas said that Watt simply didn’t
understand the security strictures that Grayson was laboring under at
the time. Unlike his infantry colleagues, the intelligence information
he routinely worked with was highly classified and limited to those
with a “need to know.” At the time of Watt’s investigation, the Army
colonel was not in his chain of command and therefore didn’t have a
need to know everything Grayson did, which he apparently interpreted
as Grayson being uncooperative, Casas explained.
“General Helland got it right in dismissing
charges which accused Lt Grayson of Law of War violations. But I am
disappointed that other charges survived, especially in light of the
fact that the majority of the charges are predicated upon the
testimony of a self-professed liar – SSgt Laughner,” Casas added.
Key defense testimony came from Capt. (now
Major) Jeffrey Dinsmore, the intelligence officer of 3/1 and the
officer who interacted with Grayson on a daily basis. On several
occasions he testified that Grayson had done nothing wrong ordering
Laughner to destroy the photographs per Marine Corps regulations
because they held no intelligence value, he said.
At the time Grayson gave the orders to
destroy the photographs there was no hint that a war crimes
investigation would ensue and that the photographs might one day be
Grayson, who served to combat tours in
Iraq, said he will continue to fight for his honor and the honor of
“I am saddened and disappointed by my Marine
Corps’ decision to come after me this way," Lt Grayson said
today. "This past year has been a crucible for my family and me, but
we’re confident that 2008 will bring good things – including my full
Nathaniel R. Helms
Defend Our Marines
31 December 2007
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).