Battle of Fallujah: "This case must be pickle loaf"
by Nathaniel R. Helms
20 August 2007 --
When former Marine Corps Sergeant Jose Luis Nazario was charged
with manslaughter in federal court last Thursday for allegedly killing
suspected insurgent prisoners of war in Fallujah, Iraq almost three
years ago, it ignited another battle over the ancient city.
The former infantryman,
husband and father is a veteran of the infamous “Hell House” in
Fallujah on November 13, 2004. He was ignominiously fired from his new
job as a Riverside, California police officer and arrested on
suspicion of killing the unidentified Iraqi on or about November 9,
2004 at an unknown time and place, the government says.
He was charged on the
verbal evidence of several unidentified eye witnesses, according to
the complaint filed in Federal Court in Riverside, California. The
charges were brought by Naval Criminal Investigative Service Special
Agent Mark Fox. There is no crime scene, physical or forensic
evidence, and no complainant other than the government, according to
the information released.
On Monday afternoon the
North County Times reported that Sgt. Jermaine A. Nelson is the
second person charged in the case in which four detainees were killed.
He has been charged with unpremeditated murder. Nelson was a corporal
and rocket team leader in 3rd Platoon, Kilo at Fallujah.
Nazario was his squad leader.
Nazario in civilian court after he was honorably discharged from the
Marine Corps following eight years of service. There is no convening
authority in the matter within the Marine Corps despite NCIS knowing
of the allegations since November 2006. Because the prosecution is not
talking, it is unclear whose interests the government is representing.
So far the only clear benefactor of this freelancing NCIS effort is
the Iraqi insurgency.
Fallujah II, 2004
fate was not a consideration when the first battle – called “Operation
Vigilant Resolve” - happened in April 2004. It followed the murderous
attack, and grisly display, of four dead American “Blackwater”
security guards on a bridge in Fallujah. The Marines were smashing the
insurgent bases in Fallujah when the Coalition Provisional Authority
stopped the offensive and ordered the Marines to give up ground they
shed blood on and withdraw without a fight. The CPA called it a
“unilateral ceasefire.” The Marines used a more scatological term
involving a familiar farm animal.
The Marines were replaced
by the “new” Iraqi police and National Guard trained by Lt. Gen. David
H. Petraeus, now a General and the current overall commander in Iraq.
The ING he trained unilaterally started shooting at Marines with their
brand new weapons.
Six months later the
second battle of Fallujah - Al Fajr – was fought in November and
December 2004. Nazario fought there. He was a squad leader in 3rd
Squad, 3rd Platoon, Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion,
1st Marines – the mighty “The Thundering Third.”
battalion is one of the most decorated infantry battalions in the
Marine Corps. It is also one of the most prosecuted. Currently, in
addition to Nazario, five 3/1 Marines are in various stages of legal
maneuvering over allegation of murder and dereliction of duty at
Haditha, Iraq that allegedly occurred one year later.
At one time the Marine
Corps was investigating the nine unwounded survivors of an entire
12-man squad from Kilo, 3/1 for massacring 24 Iraqi civilians.
Eventually six enlisted Marines who fought there received immunity to
testify against the remaining three who were charged with murder. Four
battalion officers were also charged with dereliction of duty for not
adequately investigating the incident. Two Marines, one officer and
one enlisted man, have already been exonerated.
investigation was grudgingly revealed by NCIS two months ago, although
NCIS agents have been interrogating current and former Marines for
almost a year. Nazario is the first of two Marines who fought at
Fallujah now charged with a crime, although the NCIS apparently hopes
that pressuring Nazario into a deal will result in several more
Marines being arrested. So far Nazario has resisted attempts to
“compel” him to cooperate, one of his lawyers said.
During the second fight
at Fallujah at least 133 Marines were killed and more than 1,100
wounded during the 53-day fight. Because more Marines died as a result
of wounds after the battle ended it is difficult to determine an exact
count. When Al Fajr was officially over December 23, 2004 thirty-three
Marines from 3/1 were counted among the American dead and more than
600 3/1 Marines were wounded – a 50 percent casualty rate.
The battalion came home
covered in glory. Two 3/1 Marines earned Navy Crosses and a platoon’s
worth of lesser heroes were made as well when Thundering Third Marines
were showered with a virtual galaxy of Silver and Bronze Stars for
heroism. It was a proud battalion full of brave Marines.
The Thundering Third’s
experiences were incorporated in Marine Corps “Lessons Learned” that
was subsequently disseminated Marine Corps wide. A big favorite among
the expressions taught after Fallujah was “never go into a room
without throwing in something that goes boom.” That particular lesson
would resonate with unanticipated consequences after Fallujah. The
biggest lesson taught was that the Marine Corps is remorseless in
“We kill people. That is
why we are called Devil Dogs and not doggies,” one grizzled Marine
grunted Sunday, using the disparaging name for Soldiers that
insensitive Marines sometimes explicate. “What the hell else are we
The Marine Corps
literally crushed the insurgents at Fallujah with every weapon at
their disposal. The insurgents had been warned by no less than the
Iraqi government and its CPA masters that anybody left in Fallujah
after November 1 was considered hostile. No quarter was offered and
none was given.
Every weapon in the
Marine Corps arsenal was brought into play before November 9, the day
Nazario is charged with unlawfully killing detainees. Beginning
November 8 and lasting for 24 hours the Marine Corps and Army dropped
and fired everything from 155mm howitzers to 2,000-pound guided
munitions into Fallujah. One Marine described the relentless pounding
as “red rain.”
During the fight the
Marine infantrymen fired hundreds of shoulder fired rockets, including
1,000 Shoulder-Launched Multi Purpose Assault Weapon--Novel Explosive
(SMAW-NE) thermobaric rockets – the Corps’ entire inventory - to
incinerate the enemy. The Marines didn’t win too many hearts and minds
with that one. They killed so many insurgents that intelligence
officers estimated enemy deaths by using a UAV to measure the
ever-lengthening burial trench where the enemy laid their newly minted
martyrs each day.
insurgent graves dug in Fallujah.
Picture taken by a 3/1 Dragon Eye UAV in September 2004.
Knowing how many
insurgents were being killed was so important an officer in RCT-1 was
tasked with figuring out how much space each corpse required when laid
side-by-side for burial. At the end of the fight he divided the number
by the length of the trench and calculated at least 1,300 insurgents
were moldering in the ditch. Brutal! The Coalition Provisional
Authority that ordered the fight later estimated that about 80 percent
of the city’s 160,000 structures were damaged or destroyed. So far
nobody has been charged in those incidents.
Curtain up in Fallujah
The third battle Fallujah
years ago when a fine young man who fought at Fallujah had his
dreams shattered for telling the truth during a polygraph interview
during a job interview for a federal law enforcement position. Like
most young Marines the young fellow was a stand-up kid who joined to
serve with the best and did his duty splendidly.
Now he is badly hurt not
once - but twice - for doing his duty. The first time he fought an
arm’s length duel with a drugged up foreign fighter so close he
watched his enemy die in the flames of his burning beard. Before it
ended the young Marine was shot three times in the leg by another
foreign fighter at the other end of the same dark room. After four
year he left the Corps, started college, and married a pretty young
lady from Kentucky. He did it all right, he thought, now it was time
for some of those good ol’ G.I. benefits the government is always
bragging about. He said he was really looking forward to a bright
The truth he told the
Secret Service polygraph examiner was a simple question with a simple
answer woven into a tapestry of ugliness. The question was whether he
had ever witnessed an “unlawful death” while serving in Iraq. The
former Marine wanted a uniformed Secret Service job guarding the White
House so he had to answer truthfully. But the answer is far longer
than the question.
November 9, 2004 – the
day the NCIS complaint filed in Federal court says Nazario allegedly
killed the Iraqi – was also known as “D+2”- is the day Kilo Company
moved into Fallujah. It was tough going. It was the day Lance Corporal
Juan E. Segura was killed. A sniper shot him between to SAPI plates on
his body armor. The young Marine who wanted to guard the White House
was holding Segura’s hand when he died. Nazario was there as well. The
fight had just started and already a Marine – a particularly beloved
young man - was dead.
One former sergeant, a
squad leader in 3rd Platoon like Nazario, later described
the impression Segura’s death engendered among the Marines of Kilo.
“As soon as it happened
we all started killing people. I know at least four fighting age
[Iraqi} males died when 3rd Squad put a large shaped charge
on a wall in front of them. There were four or five in a house. They
were in the wrong place at the wrong time,” he remembered later on.
It seems like those
Iraqis weren’t the only ones. Later that day – or perhaps during the
same incident – the Iraqis the government claim Nazario helped kill
allegedly died after being captured. They were reportedly running
between two fighting positions when they were caught – unarmed –
fleeing from a fight. They didn’t make it to their next hidey hole,
the Marine who was shot three times remembered. He felt bad for them,
still does. War is like that.
So is Nazario’s case
murder or war – only time will tell.
What happens next to
Nazario is still up in the air. He has until Aug. 22 to make a $50,000
bond. Then he has to live on $450 a week unemployment until he finds a
job. Jobs are sometimes tough to get after being accused of murder –
especially rookie cops.
The NCIS has referred all
inquires to the U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California.
A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney isn’t commenting. The U.S. Attorney
did release a redacted affidavit
written by Fox to explain the government’s decision.
It doesn’t say much. All
the names are redacted so the witnesses are still secret. Fortunately,
that usually means the government’s case is weak, learned lawyers say.
So does the fact it was filed on an “information” instead of a Grand
Jury indictment. That usually suggests there isn’t yet enough evidence
to take the case to a Grand Jury. The Feds love Grand Juries because
it spreads the responsibility for errors around.
One attorney who knows
that system said of the case against Nazario:
“The US Attorney can
usually indict a ham sandwich,” she explained, “This case must be
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)