Defend Our Marines | July 25, 2007
The prosecution’s criminal case against LCpl Stephen Tatum and six other Marines in various stages of judicial process took another nose dive today. Charges that Chessani and his officers failed to adequately investigate or report the circumstances of the ambush at Haditha to higher headquarters were blasted apart by confirmation that a U.S. Air Force RQ-1 Predator was on station above Haditha for more than five hours on November 19, 2005.
Both Chessani and higher headquarters at least at both regiment and division level were watching it do its thing on big screens, an officer revealed. The Predator’s amazing capabilities provide opportunity for anyone in the National Command Authority to watch the fight in real time if they wanted to.
“We had Scan Eagle from about 0830 until 1700. Predator joined in from about 1030-1400 or so. Scan Eagle was used to maintain continuous PID [Positive Identification] on human targets as they fled from neighborhood to neighborhood. We used Predator’s IR [Infra Red] camera to identify them within the palm grove (hotspots) where they were attempting to hide and to get the bombs on target. Both were used to guide helos and fixed wing air support on to the targets,” the officer explained.
At least one type of sophisticated UAV was over the battlefield all morning. In addition to 3/1’s organic Dragon Eye and ScanEagle following bands of insurgents move from hiding place to hiding place, theater commanders in Baghdad diverted an orbiting RQ-1 Predator medium altitude, high endurance UAV to watch as well. The super-secret aircraft is launched from Balad Air Base in Iraq and controlled by remote operators at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, the Air Force says. The Predator is operated by the Air Force for the Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency, and other highly classified intelligence authorities. It allows senior commanders at the Pentagon to see what is happening in real time as well as field commanders in Iraq.
An officer who was there said so many people were watching the fight go down that a faraway Public Affairs Officer wrote 3/1 to suggest it was time to “maximize the coalition coverage of this, pointing out to the locals that insurgents don’t care about their children.”
Chessani is charged with violating his orders for failing to inform higher headquarters of the situation at Haditha. On November 19 every Marine Corps senior headquarters in Iraq and the United States could watch events in Haditha go down in real time and living color thanks to Predator.
In the words of one expert, “They can run but they can’t hide [from Predator].”
Another blow fell when a spokesman for United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement said that if Naval Criminal Investigative Service special agents threatened Venezuelan native LCpl Humberto Mendoza with deportation if he didn’t cooperate they were at odds with current US law. Jack Zimmermann, the Texas attorney representing Lance Cpl. Stephen Tatum suggested NCIS used the ploy to gain Mendoza’s testimony during his examination of the 23-year-old Marine.
A spokesman for ICE in Washington, D.C. said that NCIS could only make such a threat if Mendoza was already convicted of a serious crime. Current immigration law mandates violators must be convicted of a crime providing for ‘at least one year in jail or more’ before it will initiate deportation proceedings, according to Pat Reilly, the Public Affairs Officer for ICE. She noted two exceptions to the law;
1.) If Mendoza lied about his citizenship status and fraudulently enlisted in the Marine Corps;
2.) If Mendoza had already been convicted of two or more crimes.
A spokesman for the Camp Pendleton Media Center said Mendoza’s citizenship status was a question for the Public Affairs Officer for the 1st Marine Division. As of this report the 1st MarDiv PAO has not returned phone calls. Presumably, however, given Mendoza’s unfettered testimony earlier this week he remains in good standing in the Marine Corps. Otherwise the prosecution would have to reveal his tarnished status to the defense.
On December 18, 2005, three days before three Marines from his squad were charged with murder Mendoza was granted immunity from prosecution in return for his cooperation. Despite previous testimony to the contrary Mendoza went from being part of a combat stack of Marines attacking a hostile objective to a lone Marine apparently wandering around in a smoke-filled house grenades had just been thrown into, he testified.
In his post-immunity version of events, Mendoza didn’t shoot anyone except a couple of fellows who must have deserved it. When he discovered innocent civilians huddled in a room behind a closed door he backed away, shutting the door behind him. Despite the early morning gloom stipulated by both sides, he could see the darkened, smoke-filled chamber was full of terrified women and children. Tatum did all the killing, he said.
Zimmermann subsequently suggested during his examination of Mendoza that the NCIS told Mendoza his citizenship was at stake if he didn’t cooperate. If they did it was a hollow threat. It would particularly be true if the NCIS special agents knew Mendoza was neither convicted of a crime or in violation of any citizenship statutes, one Missouri county prosecutor said. In most jurisdictions the court would call that type of behavior coercion, she said.
At Haditha, Mendoza was fighting alongside Tatum, Sharratt, Sgt. Francis Wolf, the late Miguel ‘T.J.’ Terrazas, and Joe Haman, all who paid so dearly at Fallujah the year before. Marines who know the fighting caliber of these fighting Marines find it simply incredulous that a rookie Marine rifleman who had just shot two men in a firefight would even be capable to shutting down the way Mendoza claims he was able to.
Someday the truth will be available for everybody to see for themselves. The continuous video should be 8-10 hours, and includes the entire fight, one Marine said.
“It finishes with the insurgent holding a child in order to avoid getting bombed again,” he added, “before we swarmed in to capture him.”
Defend Our Marines
25 July 2007
Note: Nat Helms served three tours in Vietnam and, most recently, is the author of My Men Are My Heroes: The Brad Kasal Story (Meredith Books, 2007)