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Court of Appeals Rules Against
CBS in Haditha Case:
CBS Will Fight the Ruling

by Nathaniel R. Helms | June 25, 2008 | 12:02 pm EST | Updated 8:38 pm EST

Read the decision by the court, June 20, 2008.

The US Navy-Marine Corps Court of Appeals has ruled that the CBS television news magazine 60 Minutes must turn over outtakes from its interview with Marine Corps Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich in which he revealed what happened at the so-called “Haditha Massacre” in Iraq more than three years ago.

The three-judge appellate panel Friday directed Marine Corps military judge Lt. Col. Jeffrey G. Meeks to “conduct additional fact-finding” including an “in camera review” of the outtakes to determine whether Wuterich revealed any information the government needs to bolster its prosecution against the Marine infantryman.

The ruling of the military judge quashing the Government subpoena was also vacated.

The production was originally broadcast on March 18, 2007.

On February 22, 2008 a military judge tossed out a government motion asking him to order CBS to hand over the videotape. The government subsequently appealed the ruling to the US Navy-Marine Corps Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C.

Wuterich, 26, was the Marine Corps squad leader who, on November 19, 2005, commanded a fire team of Marine infantryman that swept through four houses adjacent to a road in Haditha, Iraq after an ambush. In the brutal melee, one Marine and 24 Iraqis, including 15 civilians, were killed.

Wuterich and seven other Marines were subsequently charged with murder and cover up on December 21, 2006. A specious news report in Time magazine the previous March triggered a world-wide media frenzy of accusations and condemnation and lead to their prosecution. CBS was among the news leaders in pillorying the innocent Marines.

The following December Wuterich and three other enlisted men were charged with the war crimes of murder and assault and four of their officers charged with cover up. Subsequently, six of the eight Marines have been completely exonerated, and one has had charges dismissed (though the dismissal is currently being appealed). Wuterich is awaiting court-martial for reduced charged of manslaughter.

Civilian defense attorney Neil Puckett, the retired Marine Corps military judge representing Wuterich, said the court’s decision does not mean that CBS must turn over the video tape to Meeks anytime soon. CBS has the option of appealing the ruling to the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces and even the US Supreme Court if it agrees to hear the case.

In the same decision the panel ruled that Wuterich does not have any legal standing in the appeal, which means the subject of the prosecution does not have any say in the decision, Puckett said.

Puckett, who has repeatedly called the government’s request for the video a “fishing expedition,” said he expects that portion of the decision to be appealed.

“I cannot speak for the CBS legal team although I suspect they will appeal to the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces also – but the defense appellate team (at camp Pendleton, California) has already asked us for permission to appeal the Wuterich part of the decision.”

60 Minutes spokesman Kevin Tedesco has confirmed to Defend Our Marines that CBS is planning an appeal.

The court also directs Meeks to determine if “any asserted “news-gathering” privilege applies to limit or preclude disclosure of necessary evidentiary audio-video material in this case.”

Government prosecutors led by Lt. Col. Sean Sullivan contend that the military judge erred when he quashed a Government subpoena for videotape and other material owned by CBS. They contended that the material purportedly included several hours of an interview conducted by a CBS News correspondent Scott Pelley with Wuterich. That included potentially incriminating statements CBS elected not to air.

The court concluded that “the military judge abused his discretion in quashing the Government subpoena on the basis that the requested evidence was cumulative, without first conducting an in camera review (private review in chambers) of the evidence.”


Nathaniel R. Helms
Defend Our Marines
25 June 2008

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).


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© Nathaniel R. Helms 2008

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