by Nathaniel R. Helms | Monday, January 9, 2012 | Day Three: Opening statements

Camp Pendleton, Calif. Haytham Faraj, retired Marine major and now civilian defense attorney for SSgt Frank Wuterich, revealed startling new evidence in his opening statements this morning.

According to Faraj, ’30 percent’  of the expended cartridges found in what is now called House Number Two were Kalashnikov 7.62mm AK-47 cartridges and a number 9mm pistol rounds that weren’t fired by attacking Marines where eight people died.

The government  ignored it, ‘Faraj added incredulously.’ Where did this come from, where did the 7.62 come from? Who was in the back bedroom, who shot the 9mm rounds?

Opening statements began promptly at 8:30am Pacific Time today when Major Nicholas Gannon, lead prosecutor for the government, faced off with Faraj: two Devil Dogs who began their personal battle more than four years ago in the same arena. Gannon told the eight-man panel of senior Marines that Wuterich is solely responsible for the deaths of 19 Iraqi citizens.

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The deaths occurred after a squad of United States Marines was ambushed on November 19, 2005 by a remotely detonated roadside bomb at Haditha, Iraq.

When the smoke finally settled late that afternoon one Marine was dead, two men in Wuterich’s squad were  wounded, and Iraqi men, women and children lay crumpled on a road and in the shattered rooms of their nearby homes. Two hundred meters from the charnel houses where the civilians died, a smoldering Humvee was still smoking amidst the blood stains covering the road. The press called the counter-attack at Haditha a massacre, the Marines called it a vicious fight.

Wuterich “never lost control of his squad, never lost control of his fire team, and lost control of himself,” Gannon told the panel of eight senior Marines deciding his fate.

Using so-called ‘outtakes’ the government obtained from the CBS news show ’60 Minutes’ after a three-year court battle, Gannon tried to show that Wuterich was responsible for the Iraqi deaths. In one clip a much younger looking Wuterich  is heard telling newsman Scott Pelley that he is ‘proud’ of his Marines, claiming that they had done exactly what Marines are trained to do. Several times Gannon used the videotaped remarks to revisit his theme of personal responsibility.

Much of Gannon’s short summation was a rehash of the government’s frequently disabused argument in which rules on a yellow card trump bullets in the conduct of war. According to Gannon, Wuterich failed to follow the Rules of Engagement, he failed to make a positive identification (PID) of the targets he took out, and he disregarded his training when he took a knee and began shooting seconds after one of his Marines was blown in half.

Seven fellow Marines from 3rd Platoon, Kilo Company, 3/1 Marines charged with massacre and cover-up in the months that followed the skirmish have been exonerated of violating the sacrosanct rules that sometimes defy logic in the crucible of modern war. The three enlisted men who followed Wuterich in the counter attack that led to the deaths of the civilians have already been cleared of violating those same rules.

For the defense, Faraj told a different story, one filled with emotion and revelations of his own. It was if the two antagonists were talking about events that happened in different times and places.

‘The story you just heard from Maj. Gannon was not made on November 19, 2005,’ Faraj countered.  “When you hear the testimony of SSgt Wuterich” what he did or what he failed to do ” he was a squad leader who did the best he could on November 19.”

It was a battle, Faraj explained, the continuation of a year-long effort by US Marines to bring order to the chaos in Haditha that had already cost another Marine battalion dozens of lives. He recounted the gruesome deaths of six Marine snipers from a reserve infantry battalion from Ohio and the destruction of an amtrack from the same unit by an IED that took 12 Marine lives.

“On November 19, 2005, although not engaged, they fully expected contact,” Faraj said. “This was still a combat zone.”

The first witness to take the stand was retired US Army Col. Gregory A. Watt, the officer Multi-National Corps Iraq commander Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli sent to Haditha to discover whether charges of massacre and coverup made by Time magazine reporter Tim McGirk were true. McGirk was sending Army Public Affairs Officer Lt. Col. Barry Johnson and other officers excited reports of massacre at Haditha in which Marines reportedly hunted down Iraqi civilians like rabbits.

The US military had an image to uphold and hunting down innocent Iraqis in retaliation for killing Marines was not part of the public relations program. Coming from a reporter who worked for arguably one of the most influential news magazines in the country made the situation serious indeed.

Watt said he went to Haditha to conduct an Article 15-7 ‘informal Investigation’ to determine if there was any merit to McGirk’s remarkable histrionics. If there was, Chiarelli intended to institute Article 32 pre-trial proceedings  to determine if any crimes had been committed. (Read The Watt Investigation Report on Haditha.)

Gannon used the opportunity to once again drive home his theme that Wuterich alone was responsible for the civilian’s unfortunate deaths.

“I told them to shoot first, ask question later,” Wuterich reportedly told the colonel.

“I remember it specifically,” Watts added. “Talking about his fire team that cleared south, the forced entry, hostile environment, returned fire with M-203 (40mmm grenade launcher). They formed a four-man stack, entered the houses.”

Perhaps the most significant testimony Watts offered was telling the panel that Wuterich used the word ‘I,’ denoting personal responsibility. ‘He said shoot first and ask questions later. I will deal with it later,’ and ‘My Marines did what I told them.’

After a three hour interview Wuterich signed the damning document and went back to work. Little did he know that he had just started a chain of events that would change the way the marine Corps fights its battles.

Testimony continues tomorrow.

Diagram of House Number 2 from the NCIS investigation:


Nathaniel R. Helms
Defend Our Marines
9 January 201

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).