by Nathaniel R. Helms | May 19, 2008
Three days after Memorial Day, the Marine Corps will court-martial the officer personally responsible for capturing the Al Qaeda terrorist who organized the ambush that triggered the so-called ‘Haditha Massacre’.
On Wednesday, May 28, 1st Lieutenant Andrew Grayson will stand general court-martial for obstruction of justice and lying to investigators about the events at Haditha and attempting to obtain a fraudulent discharge from the Marine Corps. Last September the government dismissed two counts of dereliction of duty against Grayson.
Two weeks ago military judge Maj. Brian Kasperczyk set the stage for Grayson’s court-martial during a final motion hearing at Camp Pendleton, California, Grayson’s lead defense counsel Joseph N. Casas a former Marine infantryman and Navy lawyerpresented five final motions for the court’s consideration:
Sever the Attempted Fraudulent Discharge case from the Haditha charges because they are unrelated and prejudicial;
Allow co-defendant Lt Col Jeffrey Chessani to appear as a character witness by granting him immunity to testify;
Mandate that the government be held accountable for its failure to comply with the so-called ‘Speedy Trial’ act by dismissing the charges;
Address the ‘Undue Command Influence’ issues raised by Rep. John Murthas (D-PA) slanderous public name calling by compelling him to testify;
Address the failure of Army Col. Gregory A. Watt and other interrogators to provide Grayson his Miranda ‘legal rights’ warning by suppressing any statements Grayson made to them about Haditha before he was identified as a suspect.
Kasperczyk denied them all without issuing findings of fact or a basis in law, Grayson’s defense team said.
Grayson, 27, joined the Marine Corps in May, 2003. He has served two combat tours in Iraq and was on another extended overseas tour in Africa when he was recalled to the United States last December to stand court-martial.
He is the first Marine charged in the Haditha incident to go to trial.
“We are ready to go to battle,” Casas said Monday.
Three enlisted men and two other officers who served in 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines at Haditha have already been exonerated and one enlisted man and one other officer still have trials pending.
Grayson is currently an intelligence officer with 2nd Counter-Intelligence Human Intelligence Exploitation Company at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. He is currently living near Camp Pendleton while he waits for his court-martial to begin.
He was attached to 3/1 at Haditha when the infantry squad was ambushed. He was not at the scene of the ambush when it occurred.
Marine Corps intelligence operatives were advised of the scheme to demonize the Marines by an informant named Muhannad Hassan Hamadi after he was captured by Grayson’s intelligence team on December 11 2005 and decided to cooperate.
He revealed that the ambush was carried out by multiple cells of local Wahabi extremists and well-paid local gunmen from Al Asa’ib al-Iraq [the Clans of the People of Iraq] that were led by Al Qaeda foreign fighters, intelligence documents show.
Always an exemplary Marine officer, Lt. Grayson was nominated for a Bronze Star medal before the investigation into Haditha began. Casas said the recommendation was written in February 2006, about the same time government agents were probing the deaths.
Grayson is charged with ordering the destruction of roughly 70 digital images of 24 men, women and children killed by Marines in the counter-attack after the ambush was sprung. The photographs were taken hours after the incident by Staff Sgt. Justin Laughner, a Marine intelligence specialist who worked for Grayson.
Fifteen of the dead were innocent civilians, the rest were insurgents killed while hiding among them, the government acknowledges. The tragic deaths of the civilians caught in the cross-fire triggered the infamous “Haditha Massacre” reports that played on the world stage for almost a year before the story was debunked and media interest dwindled away.
Charges arose from a former subordinate, a miffed investigator, and embarrassed administrators
Grayson’s troubles began about two months after Laughner took the pictures when the lieutenant ordered the sergeant to delete them from his laptop computer. While testifying under immunity at a preliminary hearing June 14, 2007, Laughner said Grayson told him to delete the photos so they could not be part of a statement being prepared for top-ranking officers and a Time magazine reporter.
Laughner said he felt the order amounted to obstruction of justice but that he complied and later lied when asked whether any pictures had been taken. During Grayson’s Article 32 evidentiary hearing Laughner testified during cross examination by Casas that he had also been ordered to destroy the images by two senior non-commissioned officers on his team within days of taking them because they had no intelligence value.
Grayson’s defense team said their client issued his order to Laughner in compliance with standing general orders not to keep images of dead civilians and combatants unless they had intelligence value.
They said Grayson gave the order weeks after it had already been given by Laughner’s team chief and company Gunnery Sergeant and before he was apprised they were evidence in a criminal investigation. By then the photographs had circulated throughout the battalion as Marines passed the images from computer to computer.
In any event no actual harm was done by their presumed destruction. Ever since Laughner’s photographs were discovered in the camera he used that day the prosecution has passed them around like baseball cards at every evidentiary hearing.
In September 2007 government prosecutors at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina offered Grayson complete exoneration of all charges in return for admitting he lied to investigators about the case. He publicly refused, saying doing so would impugn his honor.
On December 13, 2007 Grayson was additionally charged with lying to two colonels during Col. Gregory Watt’s informal ‘AR15-6’ investigation of the Haditha, Iraq massacre allegations in March 2006. Watt’s limited inquiry eventually led to the indictment of four officers from 3/1 for dereliction of duty and related offenses.
Grayson became embroiled in the investigation when Watt discovered that one of the lieutenant’s subordinates had taken digital photographs of the crime scene that were later destroyed. Watt says that Grayson lied to him and another officer about the existence of the images, calling him ‘arrogant’ and ‘uncooperative.’
The same day the Marine Corps charged Grayson with fraudulently attempting to obtain a discharge.
Grayson had already been discharged for 17 days when the Marine Corps decided it had ‘erroneously issued’ him his cherished DD214 discharge certificate. To correct the error the Marines issued Grayson a DD215, usually reserved for correcting administrative errors to the original form, and recalled him to active duty.
After six weeks of examining the document Judge Kasperczyk did not find a single error on the DD214 that could be construed as a lie, but he denied the defense motion to have the complaint dismissed anyway. Casas then filed an appeal with the Navy/Marine Corps Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. It was denied the next day because such appeals are only granted for ‘extraordinary circumstances,’ the court ruled.
Dozens of observers who served in the Armed Forces claim that the fraudulent discharge complaint would be laughable if it wasn’t so serious. Anybody who has served in the military knows it is easier to escape from a locked box than sneak out of the service, they unanimously agreed.
One old salt said it defies credulity for anyone to accept that a Marine can talk his way past three or four steely eyed sergeants major and warrant officers to say nothing of a division staff of captains, majors, colonels and generals on his way out the door.
“Can’t be done,” said retired Master Gunnery Sergeant John Crocker, a Missouri native who served 30 years in the Corps including 10 as an Administrative Chief. “Not even a doggie [soldier] could get away with that. It should cost whoever let it happen if it was an error.”
Lt Grayson’s family speaks out
There is a hidden cost associated with the prosecution of Grayson and the other seven Marines who were pilloried by the press and deserted by the Corps, the prosecution’s legion of critics is eager to point out. It is the harm already done and still being inflicted upon the Haditha defendant’s families.
For 18 months Grayson’s family has literally been tortured emotionally and financially by the devastating consequences of his impending court-martial, they said.
Grayson and his wife Suzy have lived in 12 different places while she puts her medical studies on hold so she can stay near her husband as the Marine Corps turns his life upside down, according to her mother, Christine Rudinsky, who lives in Phoenix, Arizona.
“I have just returned from the last of his motion hearings, and I must say it was a very, very depressing experience,” she wrote last Thursday, the first time she has publicly spoken about her son-in-law’s situation since it emerged. Prior to this, I had been hopeful that this was all a silly misunderstanding, that Andrew would be completely exonerated, and that he and my daughter would be able to resume their lives together.
“I am now thinking that was very wrong. I am very fearful that the government has decided that someone must pay and who better than the lowest ranking, non-career officer out there?”
Despite the pain, Grayson’s parents were equally confident that those in authority would eventually determine that justice is a two-edge sword. With two sons proudly serving the Corps they thought it could be no other way until now.
“We have maintained silence as the military legal system has persecuted our son and the two remaining Marines who were charged. We have been mute, always with the expectation that the Corps would realize that justice was not to be found in the court martial of men who performed their duties with distinction,” Grayson parents Robert and Denise Meyer said in an email written on Sunday.
“Our eldest son serves as a Captain at MCRD (Marine Corps Recruit Deport), Parris Island. He will have completed 6 years in 2008, working with a team to prepare and meld the men of the Corps.”
“Our youngest you know as Andrew Grayson. While Greg served in Okinawa and Korea, Andrew served in Iraq and Africa. Make no mistake, there is an incredible amount of pride in all our children. Andrew worked with a team on his first tour, and told of his determination in bringing about the electoral process in the zone he supported. They were successful, demonstrated by the election in Iraq.”
“The second tour was as long as the first and on his return, he maintained a sense of accomplishment. His final deployment was to Africa. It was cut short when he was returned to the U.S. and was charged as one of the Haditha 8.”
Despite the emotional ups and downs that have marked the passage of time since Grayson was charged eighteen moths ago his parents have not forgotten what service means to the families of those who serve the nation.
“We are thankful every day that our son and the others under charges are alive and with us. Those that are recognized on Memorial Day had parents, sons, daughters, brothers and sisters who do not have our fortune,” they reminded us all.
Nathaniel R. Helms Defend Our Marines
19 May 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).