by Nathaniel R. Helms and David Allender | Saturday, January 7, 2012

Camp Pendleton, Calif. The events in Haditha, Iraq on November 19, 2005 will be the subject of a great deal of testimony during the upcoming weeks in the General Court Martial of SSgt Frank D. Wuterich.

Defend Our Marines decided it would be useful to provide a chronology of those events that are now the basis for the trial.

The Ambush on Route Chestnut

The White Car Incident. Facts in evidence

Nov.19, 2005 – 0830 / Haditha, Iraq, Twelve Marines from 3rd Platoon, Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines riding in four poorly armored Humvees were returning from resupplying a combat outpost on at the southern edge of the contested city.

SSgt Wuterich, then a Sergeant (E-5), was the convoy commander and squad leader, as well as the driver of the third vehicle. Upon reaching a road the Marines designated ‘Route Chestnut’ the convoy encountered a white car occupied by five Iraqi males coming the other way.

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LCpl Justin Sharratt, following established procedure, waved the approaching vehicle to the side of the road. Almost simultaneously the convoy was attacked from the north side of the road by an unknown number of insurgents who triggered a remotely detonated Improvised Explosive Device (IED) under the fourth Humvee of a four-vehicle convoy, destroying the Humvee, killing 20-year old LCpl Miguel ‘T.J.’ Terrazas and wounding two other Marines, LCpls Crossan and Guzman, riding in the same vehicle. The explosion was quickly followed by automatic weapons fire seen hitting the road around the stunned Marines.

– A quick reaction force was summoned by Wuterich to help respond to the attack
– Small arms fire began outgoing and incoming
– A white sedan (sometimes referred to as “the white car” or “the white taxi”) was the only civilian vehicle on the road before the IED exploded
– Five men exited a parked white sedan within 100 meters of the convoy
– The five men left the vehicle doors open
– Sgt Dela Cruz’s vehicle was directly north of the white sedan
– The five men displayed no weapons or immediate threat to the convoy although the white sedan was within the 100-meter security zone and therefore could be perceived as a Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device (VBIED) or the location where the IED was remotely detonated
– The situation was fast developing and chaotic
– Marines were trained that an IED blast is a hostile act and that deadly force is authorized to prevent them from being triggered

Immediately upon exiting his vehicle after the explosion, Wuterich noticed the occupied white sedan. As he moved toward the vehicle he hears Sergeant, then Corporal Sanick Dela Cruz yell at the occupants of the vehicle. The occupants exited the vehicle leaving the doors open. Two men who exited on the driver side moved to the south side of the vehicle. At least one man began to either run or move further away from the car. Wuterich took a knee and began firing. At the same time, Dela Cruz opened fire on the men from a position to the north and rear of the vehicle. Each of the five men fell from gunshot wounds. Sgt Dela Cruz then moved toward the bodies and fired additional rounds into each body before urinating on one of the decedents.

The Hostile Houses

House 1: Facts in evidence

SSgt Wuterich then went to the damaged 4th vehicle where he met 1stLt William Kallop, who arrived with the quick reaction force. While near the 4th vehicle the Marines received small arm fire from the South. Cpl. Hector Salinas identified a shooter in the vicinity of House 1 (as identified in the investigation). He alerted Kallop to seek cover and fired several M203 40mm grenade rounds at House 1. Wuterich then advised Kallop they should assault House 1.

Kallop ordered Wuterich to ‘clear South’ toward it. Sgt Salinas and another Marine fired additional M203 rounds while Sharratt laid down suppressive fire with his vehicle mounted M240G automatic weapon.
Wuterich then assembled a makeshift fire team consisting of LCpl Steven Tatum, Salinas and Mendoza. Kallop initially headed south but stopped when he received word that Marines may have located the trigger house for the IED to the north.

SSgt Wuterich was left in command of the fire team and assault. As they approached House 1, they received no further small arms fire. SSgt Wuterich advised the Marines to “shoot first, ask questions later” as he anticipated hesitation could cost them their lives.

Salinas entered House 1 where he shot and killed Khamisa Tuema Ali Kalmias in the hallway by some stairs. Wuterich and Tatum followed into the hallway with Mendoza entering last. Mendoza moved to the room to the right of the hallway, observed Abdul Hameed Husin Ali] inside the room, and shot him when Abdul made a movement toward the closet. While Salinas, Tatum and Wuterich were still in the hallway they heard a noise coming from the room to their left.

Salinas and Wuterich believed the sound they heard was an AK-47 rifle being ‘racked’ and loaded. Tatum, a veteran of close combat agreed, so he and Salinas threw grenades into the room. One of the two grenades exploded. Immediately after the blast Wuterich and Tatum entered the room and began firing at the occupants in the room. Their fire killed Guhid Abdalhamid Hasan, Abdullah Waleed Abdul Hameed, Ali Abdul, Hameed Husin and Asmaa Salman Rasif and wounded Eman Waleed Abd Al Hameed and Abd Al-Ralunan Waleed Al Hameed with a combination of grenade fragments and bullets.

After the gunfire ceased, someone announced that there was a ‘runner’ fleeing the building. Wuterich noticed the open door to the rear and ordered the Marines to leave House 1 and pursue the runner.

House 2: Facts in evidence

The fireteam headed toward House 2 (as identified in the investigation) where Wuterich, Salinas and Mendoza took positions outside two doors. One of the Marines knocked or rang a bell at the front door. As Yunis Salim Rasif approached Mendoza shot through the door and killed him. Then Wuterich and Mendoza entered House 2.

When Tatum arrived at the door Wuterich ordered him to ‘frag’ the next room in the home. Tatum obtained a grenade from Salinas and threw it into the room adjacent to the kitchen. It exploded, damaging the pipes in the shower room. Unknown to the Marines at that time, two adult women and six children were in the far back corner room of House 2. Wuterich ordered the Marines to continue to clear House 2. Salinas stayed outside the residence on guard.

Mendoza later testified that he went to the back room of House 2 and opened a closed door. He stepped inside the room and saw women and children. He then closed the door to prevent the people from hearing what he said while speaking to Tatum. He claims he told Tatum that the room had women and children inside to which Tatum responded, ‘kill them’. Mendoza testified that in response he repeated that there were just women and children in the room and left to take a position inside the kitchen.

Tatum’s statements disavow this conversation with Mendoza, claiming he did not know who was in the back room of House 2 when he entered it. Tatum’s version of events is that while checking a room, he heard gunfire erupt from the room to his right. He responded to the gunfire and saw Wuterich engaging targets in the far corner of the room. He entered the room and fired his weapon at targets on the bed.

Survivor Safah Yunis Salim Rasif  ‘through an interpreter’ claims a Marine threw a grenade into the room and closed the door. The grenade did not explode. The grenade caused the room’s occupants to move to the back part of the room near the bed. After hearing what sounded like pipes bursting and running water coming from down the hall, her aunt opened the door and saw Yunis lying on the ground. Her aunt started to scream and was then shot through the doorway by a Marine. That Marine continued into the room and started shooting at everyone on the bed. She described the Marine as being shorter than her at somewhere around 5 feet 8 inches tall. She also has several inconsistent statements with regard to small details but ultimately her version is that a Marine sprayed the room with M16 fire after shooting her aunt. Because she dove to the side of the bed she did not see the actual shooting. After the shooting she passed out and remembers pretending she was dead when some Marines came into the room. She heard a Marine say ‘they are all dead’. When the Marines left, she went to her uncle’s house.

By the time LCpl Sharratt covered the 200 meters (about 600 feet), running down and then up through a shallow wadi, the firing had ceased. Sharratt later estimated it took him about 90 seconds to reach the rest of his squad mates. By the time he arrived on the scene both House 1 and House 2 had already been cleared. He then joined the three Marines heading for House 3, which he helped secure and search.

Forensic analysis of the photographs of the deceased inside the room in House 2 conclusively indicates that there were three shooting positions and at least two different shooters. This is based on the trajectory associated with each wound depicted in the photographs and a forensic reconstruction of the most likely sequencing of gunfire.

Wuterich provided statements to an interviewer of the 60 Minutes program and an unsworn statement at the Article 32 hearing saying he did not fire his weapon inside House 2.

House 3: nothing of significance happened at House # 3.

House 4 – Undisputed facts

On 19 November 2005, LCpl Justin Sharratt fatally shot Jasib Aiad Ahmed, Kahtan Aiad Ahmed and Jamal Aiad Ahmed in Haditha Iraq. Sharratt engaged each with a M9 service pistol in a back room of a house owned by the Ahmed family. A fourth person, Marwan Aiad Ahmed was fatally shot by Wuterich after Sharratt’s pistol magazine ran out of rounds.

When the evidence was examined in a courtroom, LCpl Sharratt and SSgt Wuterich were exonerated of murder charges for their actions in House 4. The prosecution followed the media’s lead and presented a case of cold-blooded executions. The case failed for the best reason: it simply wasn’t true.

Forensic evidence supported the defense

The evidence presented by the prosecution was largely hearsay testimony. And much of it conflicted with forensic evidence.

Statements by LCpl Sharratt and SSgt Wuterich about the incident were supported by forensics. The prosecution’s witnesses were not. The forensic evidence was obtained by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS).

Without question, the forensic evidence demonstrates that the three men shot by Sharratt all suffered fatal head wounds consistent with 9mm rounds fired from a distance beyond two feet. The investigating officer found that it was difficult, if not impossible, to believe that trained and experienced Marines would decide to execute four unarmed men by leading them into a house, moving them to the a back room with no light (curtains were closed) and allow them to move about the room while trying to shoot them with the least effective weapon in their arsenal.

In addition, forensic evidence proves that one person was standing in the doorway and shot to the face while the other three men were further inside the room. Under such circumstances one would reasonably expect that the others would then attempt to run or fight. None of the victims received defensive wounds to their hands or arms nor did they receive wounds to their backs or rear of their heads. Each was shot facing forward, from a distance, and with a 9mm pistol, which forensic investigators found inconsistent with an execution or persons reacting to an execution. Furthermore, there is no evidence to suggest Sharratt attempted to hide the fact that he shot these individuals.

The statements by four Iraqi witnesses (none of whom witnessed the shooting itself) were not supported by forensic evidence obtained by NCIS.

The Iraqis’ first statements to NCIS were taken in a group setting, five months after the events occurred and with knowledge that other families in Haditha had received monetary compensation from the United States for events that occurred on 19 November 2005. The interview that resulted in the witness statements were taken by Special Agent Nayda Mannle in a group setting, with each witness adding details and discussing the events in Arabic with one another in front of Special Agent Mannle who does not speak Arabic. Additionally, although $10,000 does not appear to be a large amount of money, testimony from Marine Civil Affairs officer Major Dana Hiatt suggested that such a sum of money was equal to four times the average annual salary of a typical resident of Haditha. Prior to making these claims, no payments were made to the Ahmed family.

The Ahmed family was represented by an attorney who represents other families who received compensation for Marines killing their family members. Shortly after making these claims, the Ahmed family was paid $10,000 in Solatia payments.

The interviews of Khalid, Nagham, Nagia and Ehab by Major Daren C. Erickson were conducted almost a year later in January 2007. These witnesses were placed under oath, although the form of the oath was translated in three different manners, the witnesses were not subject to American law of perjury and testimony. Dr. Barak A. Salmoni suggested that cultural and religious beliefs in Iraqi suggests that these statements would not be considered under oath in an Iraqi court. In addition, Dr. Salmoni opined that statements by women and children are considered inheritably less reliable than a man’s statement in Iraqi law. Although such discrimination is not recognized in our society, the fact that these Iraqis have this cultural understanding suggests that they would believe United States authorities would likewise view their statements as less reliable and may suggest they would feel less need to be fully truthful.

Finally, each witness was accompanied by the attorney who represented the family for Solatia payments, and the interviews were conducted in Arabic through a translator and Major Erickson could not understand the Arabic conversations, relying on translation and in parts, interpretation by one Mr. Alkaysey.

The statements made in Jan 2007 are contradictory to each other in parts. Some of the key contradictions are:

Khalid states that the Marine with a pistol guarded them and did not go into house number. He also describes the Marine who guarded him and the women in house 3 as having a weapon on a tripod (SAW) and that he heard only 4 shots separated by a few seconds. He describes the men who left house 4 both had AK-47’s slung on their shoulders. He later claims that the men also had pistols in their holsters but only after several prompting questions by Major Erickson. Ultimately, he could not identify where the pistols were, but concluded that all the “men” had pistols.

Note: LCpl Sharratt had a SAW and pistol, SSgt Wuterich and Cpl Salinas had Ml6s only. Khalid’s description suggests that LCpl Sharratt was the one guarding them at house 3 and that can not be factually supported. Khalid’s account of seeing 2 AK-47s begin removed from house 4 further supports LCpl Sharratt’s account that two of the Iraqi men had AK-47s when he shot them.

Witness Nagham states that the Marine with the pistol was in charge giving orders to the other two. She also says that no one moved the bodies before the Marines arrived to take photographs. Finally, she stated that they were planning on taking a trip to Baghdad later that day and that is why Kahtan’s suitcase was packed with clothes and a shaving kit.

Note: It is highly unlikely that two senior Marines, SSgt Wuterich and Cpl Salinas would defer in authority to LCpl Sharratt and allow him to issues orders to themselves and the Iraqis. Because we know that only LCpl Sharratt had a pistol, her account that the one with the pistol was in charge appears to be factually false. Forensic evidence clearly proves that the bodies must have been moved from the location where they fell to where they were covered with sheets and later photographed. Finally, it is incredible to believe the family was traveling to Baghdad that day if only Kahtan was packed and ready for the trip.

Nagla states that the man with the pistol was in charge telling the other Marines what to do. Again we see the theme that the “one with the pistol” was the person in charge. Clearly by now, these witnesses know that their loved ones were killed with 9mm rounds from a pistol and that LCpl Sharratt is the one accused. To facilitate a story of execution, placing LCpl Sharratt in charge would make the story more plausible except for the fact it is incredible to believe that two senior Marines would subjugate themselves to LCpl under these conditions.

Ehab states that Kahtan was about to travel to Trabeed (ph) and that she assisted in packing his suitcase so she knew what was inside it. This contradicts Nagham who said the “family” was traveling to Baghdad. Again she reiterates that the “one with the pistol was in charge.”


Nathaniel R. Helms
Defend Our Marines
7 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).