December 31, 2007
The Marine Corps has now acknowledged that none of the Marines charged with criminal offenses for their actions at Haditha, Iraq committed murder. Lieutenant General Samuel Helland’s decision to dismiss charges of unpremeditated murder against Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich lay to rest specious allegations by Time Magazine reporter Tim McGirk and Congressman John Murtha that a My Lai-style massacre occurred in Haditha on November 19, 2005.
A Marine Corps spokesman said Monday that Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich will face trial on charges of voluntary manslaughter, aggravated assault, reckless endangerment, dereliction of duty and obstruction of justice for his role in the debacle that followed an Al Qaeda led attack on a squad of 12 Marines.
Lt Gen Helland, the final arbiter in the matter, dismissed twelve charges of unpremeditated murder, and separate charges of soliciting another to commit an offense and making a false official statement. His decision removes the onus that war crimes were committed by any of the American Marines who fought in the day-long battle for the strategic city.
Attorneys Neil Puckett and Mark Zaid, in Washington, D.C., co-counsels for SSgt Wuterich, responded:
“The good news is that SSgt Wuterich (and all of the Marines, for that matter), have been forever cleared of murder charges. That means that there is (and never was) any evidence to support Congressman Murtha’s and Time magazine’s allegations of these Marines killing Iraqis ‘in cold blood.'”
“The bad news is that the extensive pretrial investigation and legal analysis conducted by an experienced military judge was essentially ignored. It is always disappointing when professional military prosecutors profess to want to do the right thing by setting up the system to work, and then ignore its results because they refuse to give Marines under attack in combat the benefit of the doubt that they were responding according to their training. We are confident that a military jury will acquit SSgt Wuterich of all remaining charges, because he is, in fact, not guilty.”
Four to face courts martial
SSgt. Wuterich, as expected, faces trial along with three other Marines: 1st Lt. Andrew Grayson, an intelligence officer, Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani, the former commanding officer 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines, and LCpl. Stephen Tatum, a rifleman in Wuterich’s squad.
Wuterich was the squad leader in the battalion’s 3rd Platoon, Kilo Company who led his Marines in a house-to-house search for insurgents following an IED bombing that killed LCpl Miguel ‘T.J.’ Terrazas and injured two other Marines. During the subsequent engagement, his men killed at least eight insurgents and 15 civilians. The slain included five military aged males who inexplicably emerged from a car that drove into the ambush zone seconds before an IED explosion announced the opening gambit in the day-long fight.
New charges against 1st Lt Grayson
Grayson is a 26-year old intelligence officer with 2nd Counter-Intelligence Human Intelligence Exploitation Company (CI HUMINT Co) at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. He was attached to 3/1 at Haditha when Wuterich’s squad was ambushed. He was not at the scene of the ambush when it occurred.
hree months ago government prosecutors at Camp Lejeune offered Grayson complete exoneration of all charges in return for admitting he lied to investigators about the case. He refused, saying doing so would impugn his honor.
Grayson was apprised of the additional charges Friday in a new Charge Sheet dated December 13, 2007. The new complaint includes the new fraud charge a violation of Article 80 of the UCMJ – which is a so-called ‘attempt’ charge and modifications to his existing indictment. Lt Gen Helland dismissed a two-count charge of dereliction of duty charge leveled against Grayson last fall.
The lieutenant is also now charged with lying to two colonels during Col. Gregory Watt’s informal ‘AR15-6’ investigation of the Haditha, Iraq massacre allegations in early 2006. At the time Watt was investigating charges that Wuterich’s squad had massacred 24 Iraqi citizens in retaliation for the death of one of their own.
Grayson became embroiled in the investigation when Watt discovered one of the lieutenant’s subordinates had taken approximately 70 digital photographs of the crime scene that were later destroyed.
“Fraudulent discharge, patently absurd”
Lt Grayson’s attorney Joseph Casas, a former Marine enlisted man and Navy JAG, said his client’s prosecution for unlawfully trying to obtain a discharge may be one of the worst examples of unprovoked ferocity in the Corps 232-year history.
On June 13th, 2007 Casas announced that 1st Lt. Grayson had been discharged on June 1, 2007 and was therefore not liable for prosecution under the UCMJ. The Marine Corps disputed the claim and ordered Grayson to remain on active duty.
Since June, Grayson has been shuttling back and forth between North Carolina and California while the case drags on. At the time Casas announced his client’s discharge, a Marine Corps spokesman at Camp Pendleton declined to say why Grayson had been issued his ‘DD-214’ and not released from active duty.
Any veteran who has endured the arduous discharge procedures can attest that chicanery does not work when the military is letting a service member go. The system of checks and balances incorporated into the discharge process is more akin to getting out of prison than simply leaving a job.
Specification II of the new Charge Sheet claims that Grayson ‘deliberately’ concealed from the personnel experts overseeing his discharge the lieutenant’s own ineligibility for separation. The complaint says Grayson hoodwinked the personnel specialists because he was ‘pending administrative or judicial proceedings as an Accused.’ Subsequently the Marine Corps ‘erroneously’ gave him his coveted DD214 discharge certificate anyway, the charges show.
Grayson allegedly committed the crimes by ‘making knowingly false representations to commanders and staff officers of 2nd Intelligence Battalion that his completion of check out paperwork was solely to ensure an expeditious separation from active duty.’ His motive was ‘to separate from active duty before the completion of his administrative and or judicial proceedings’ to avoid facing possible criminal charges, a claim both Grayson and his attorney vehemently deny.
‘The Marine Corps’ new charges of attempted fraudulent discharge are patently absurd. Our job is to exploit any shortfalls in the Government’s case, including issues of personal jurisdiction such as this one, Casas said during a telephone interview Monday afternoon. ‘The Marine Corps discharged LT Grayson and he has the DD214 to prove it. Now it is clear the government is grasping for straws by shifting blame to 1Lt Grayson in order to keep a drowning case alive.’
The charge seems particularly incredible in light of the fact that by June 1, 2007 Grayson’s name, status, and picture had graced the pages of just about every major newspaper, magazine, and network television news source in the United States and overseas multiple times, several critical observers noted.
Brian Rooney, the civilian attorney and a former Marine officer representing Lt Col Chessani, said if anyone should be on trial for Grayson’s “discharge debacle, it should be the incompetent commanders and personnel who discharged him.”
“2008 will bring good things–including my full acquittal.”
The charges that Grayson deliberately lied to Col. Watt and his investigators is the more serious allegation. After interviewing the young lieutenant in Iraq, Watt complained to his superior, Army Maj Gen Eldon Bargewell that Grayson was an insolent, elusive character who didn’t want to cooperate with him.
Casas said that Watt simply didn’t understand the security strictures that Grayson was laboring under at the time. Unlike his infantry colleagues, the intelligence information he routinely worked with was highly classified and limited to those with a ‘need to know.’ At the time of Watt’s investigation, the Army colonel was not in his chain of command and therefore didn’t have a need to know everything Grayson did, which he apparently interpreted as Grayson being uncooperative, Casas explained.
“General Helland got it right in dismissing charges which accused Lt Grayson of Law of War violations. But I am disappointed that other charges survived, especially in light of the fact that the majority of the charges are predicated upon the testimony of a self-professed liar, SSgt Laughner,” Casas added.
Key defense testimony came from Capt. (now Major) Jeffrey Dinsmore, the intelligence officer of 3/1 and the officer who interacted with Grayson on a daily basis. On several occasions he testified that Grayson had done nothing wrong ordering Laughner to destroy the photographs per Marine Corps regulations because they held no intelligence value, he said.
At the time Grayson gave the orders to destroy the photographs there was no hint that a war crimes investigation would ensue and that the photographs might one day be considered evidence.
Grayson, who served to combat tours in Iraq, said he will continue to fight for his honor and the honor of the Corps.
“I am saddened and disappointed by my Marine Corps decision to come after me this way,” Lt Grayson said today. “This past year has been a crucible for my family and me, but were confident that 2008 will bring good things ” including my full acquittal.”
Nathaniel R. Helms
Defend Our Marines
31 December 2007
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).