Friday, January 13, 2012 | Day Seven
Camp Pendleton, Calif. A former lieutenant, the first Marine officer to testify at the General Court Martial of Staff Sergeant Frank D. Wuterich, took the witness stand Friday morning and used it to forcefully dispute the Marine Corps, contention that his former squad leader had committed war crimes.
Wuterich is accused of leading a counter-attack by four Marines that led to the accidental deaths of Iraqi civilians at Haditha, Iraq more than six years ago. Kallop was his platoon commander and the officer who ordered Wuterich to ‘clear South’ before the Marines stormed two houses which they believed were the source of insurgent weapons fire.
In the fifth day of testimony, Kallop (now a New York stock broker–then the leader of 3rd Platoon., Kilo Company, 3/1 Marines) disputed government claims that Wuterich violated the ever-constricting Rules of Engagement. Kallop, 32, served four years in the Marines and was twice sent to Iraq. His father is the president and chief executive of Nymagic, a commercial marine insurance company in New York, the New York Times society page says.
The tall, articulate Marine was the first officer to take the stand when he was called Friday morning. During his three-hour interrogation, he had nothing but praise for his men, including Sgt. Sanick Dela Cruz, the Marine fire team leader in Wuterichs decimated squad who turned on his brother Marines to testify against Wuterich and three other enlisted defendants.
““Dela Cruz was a fine Marine who had some leadership issues as a team leader,” Kallop said.
As usual, testimony began with a reiteration of what happened on November 19, 2005 after a remotely detonated IED broke the calm the Marines had enjoyed for a brief period at the end of Operation Rivergate, a regimental sized operation to wrest control of Haditha from the burgeoning insurgency. Kallop was at Firm Base Sparta about two kilometers away when he heard the roadside bomb erupt and the radio come to life with calls for a medivac and reinforcements.
He told the eight member panel that intelligence reports rolling in prior to the ambush indicated that the al Qaeda-led insurgency was regrouping around Haditha to try and reestablish control of the embattled region.
“There was fire around the city at this time. One time Iraqi soldiers fired and told us they saw insurgents running. One of our Marines had shot an individual running,” Kallop told prosecutor Maj. Nicholas Gannon.
Kallop said he believed the ambush was the beginning of the long anticipated counterattack by insurgents who had infiltrated into the city since being driven out during Operation Rivergate the previous October.
When he arrived at the ambush site on Route Chestnut on the southern edge of the city, Wuterich gave him a brief report. After making sure the squad leader of the Quick Reaction Force began evacuating the two wounded Marines still lying on the road, he gave Wuterich the order to ‘clear South’ to suppress incoming fire the ambushed Marines had observed coming from what later became known as House 1 and 2–where 14 Iraqis would die.
“Did you have any reason to doubt the veracity of the report Sgt. Wuterich was giving you?” Faraj asked.
“No, sir,” Kallop responded.
“If you are taking fire from a structure in your opinion would you try and suppress it,” Faraj continued during his cross examination. “Would you try and identify combatants and non-combatants by risking your life?”
Faraj used the opportunity to ask Kallop how the investigation was triggered. He said he heard it started after a Time magazine reporter, Tim McGirk, began telling the brass in Baghdad that Marines had massacred Iraqi civilians. There was more. A Marine Public Affairs Officer named Capt. Jeffrey Pool had put out an inaccurate press stating the civilians died in the same IED blast that killed and wounded his Marines. Kallop told Faraj that McGirk suspected the error was actually a cover-up.
“At one point a reporter from Time magazine was supposed to come visit us. We prepared a brief, told our Marines we had done everything properly and to tell the truth. But the reporter never appeared,” Kallop said. “He ended up not coming and put up his story anyway. We had followed the Rules of Engagement and told the truth.”
Kallop thought the inquiry was over after US Army Col. Gregory A. Watt conducted his AR-15-7 ‘Informal Investigation’ that concluded in late February. An Army JAG lawyer who accompanied Watt told the Marines to relax, so neither Kallop nor any of the other men involved sought legal counsel, he said.
In March, while Kallop was helping 3/3 Marines move into the battalion’s area of operations to relieve 3/1, Kallop learned his men were being investigated by the Naval Criminal Investigation Service, he said.
“I was quite angry when I returned to Haditha Dam and found out my Marines were being investigated. I went back to Haditha Dam to discover the NCIS had treated my Marines terribly. I found out they had been interrogated, treated like criminals, questioned in the holding cell where we held suspected insurgents.”
“I believe then and I believe now my Marines followed the Rules of Engagement. I believe it was a tough situation and my Marines handled themselves the best they could.”