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November 22nd, 2006 - Report: Five Marines May Face Charges in Haditha Killings

News article by North County Times

News article by the Washington Post

Summary of the Haditha Massacre

Report: Five Marines May Face Charges in Haditha Killings

 

By: William Finn Bennett

North County Times

November 22, 2006

 

North County - Military authorities may soon charge five Camp Pendleton Marines in the deaths of 24 Iraqi civilians in the city of Haditha just over one year ago, according to a story Tuesday on National Public Radio that named the five men.

 

The radio network reported that prosecutors are weighing whether to file charges of negligent homicide or murder against the men. The five are identified in the story as Sgt. Frank Wuterich, who has since been promoted to the rank of staff sergeant, Cpls. Hector Salinas, Sanick De la Cruz and Lance Cpls. Stephen Tatum and Justin Sharratt.

 

Marine Corps spokesman Lt. Col. Sean Gibson said he could not confirm the radio report, which attributed its information to unnamed Pentagon sources.

 

"We are not making any announcements," Gibson said from his office at Camp Pendleton. "No decisions have been made."

 

The Haditha case is unrelated to charges that seven Camp Pendleton Marines and a Navy corpsman conspired to and did kill a 52-year-old Iraqi civilian in April in the village of Hamdania. That case is being prosecuted with four of the defendants having accepted plea agreements and trials are looming for four others.

 

Wuterich is stationed at Camp Pendleton, his attorney Mark Zaid said in a telephone interview Tuesday. While Zaid said he couldn't say for sure where the other four men are, he said Wuterich has told him that he frequently runs into several of the men on the Marine base. Zaid added that none of the men is or has been in custody nor have they been restricted to base.

 

Eleven women and children were among the two dozen Iraqis gunned down in Haditha in the Nov. 19, 2005, incident. The killings sparked an international outcry when the case came to light earlier this year, but no one has been charged.

 

Iraqi witnesses have contended that Marines from the 1st Squad, 3rd Platoon of Kilo Company attached to Camp Pendleton's 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment went on a rampage after one of their own was killed by a roadside bomb as the Marines passed through the city.

 

This summer, Wuterich made statements defending himself and the other Marines, saying the deaths occurred as the troops pursued what they believed to be enemy insurgents.

 

Wuterich's attorney Zaid said Tuesday that he was getting tired of unsubstantiated reports out of the Defense Department that his client and other Marines are "about" to be charged.

 

"The cowardly anonymous DOD sources have been saying for the last four months that charges were imminent - so we have stopped trying to figure out when it is," Zaid said.

 

Tatum's attorney, Houston-based Jack Zimmerman echoed those feelings.

 

"People have been predicting somebody was going to get charged in this case ever since last summer - so eventually, someone is going to be right," Zimmerman said in a phone interview late Tuesday. "Lance Cpl. Tatum did not commit any crime."

 

In August, Wuterich filed a lawsuit against U.S. Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., after the congressman told reporters in May that the Marines in the Haditha incident had "killed innocent civilians in cold blood." Murtha is a retired Marine colonel.

 

Wuterich reported that after his convoy was hit by a roadside bomb, a car full of "military-aged" men approached in a taxi. When the men ran after being ordered in Arabic to stop, the Marines shot and killed them, Wuterich stated in the complaint against Murtha.

 

In Tuesday's radio story, however, the network reported that investigators took photos a short time after the killings that showed all five bodies were next to the cab and no evidence that "any of them ran."

 

Zaid, who is representing Wuterich in the lawsuit against Murtha, said that even though the photos may show the bodies very close to the cab, that doesn't mean the men weren't fleeing.

 

"First of all, I don't believe any rumors coming out of the Defense Department - I need to see the physical evidence," Zaid said. "We have no idea if anybody moved any of the bodies."

 

Secondly, most people have a "non-wartime" perception about what it means to say they started to run, he said. The convoy had been attacked at the time the men showed up and they failed to obey the order shouted in Arabic to get out of the car and on the ground, he said.

 

The Marines had no idea if the men were armed, and under the rules of engagement, once the men failed to obey orders and "started to run" - even if only a few feet from the cab - they could be considered hostile.

 

"I definitely think the rules of engagement permitted them to have fired," Zaid said.

 

Washington attorney Gary Meyers, who represents Lance Cpl. Sharratt, said his client was not near the cab at the time passengers were shot.

 

He added he is not overly concerned that charges may be filed.

 

"If charges are brought, charges are brought and we'll see what they are," Meyers said, adding negligent homicide should not be one of the charges.

 

"It's absurd to apply civilian standards of 'due care' in a combat environment," Meyers said. "Negligent homicide cannot be on the table in this setting."

 

In Wuterich's lawsuit against Murtha, the sergeant alleges that gunshots were heard from homes at the side of the road and that the Marines then invaded three of the houses in pursuit of what they believed were enemy combatants.

 

In the third house, the Marines saw a man running into the home, pursued him and killed him and three others as they "attempted to fire their weapons," the lawsuit complaint stated.

 

National Public Radio reported that Pentagon sources told its reporter that only one AK-47 rifle was found in any of the houses.

 

External link: http://www.nctimes.com/articles/2006/11/22/news/top_stories/1_02_3111_21_06.txt


Family Stands By a Marine Under Investigation

 

By Josh White

Washington Post Staff Writer

Wednesday, November 22, 2006; A03

 

Darryl Sharratt often breaks into tears when trying to start sentences that include the word "Haditha." A stoic foreman from Pennsylvania, he struggles with painful concepts such as betrayal and helplessness. His wife, Theresa, puts her hand on his shoulder and tries to talk through the anguish.

 

"I love my son. He's my hero," Theresa Sharratt says calmly. "He's not what they're portraying him as. I can't believe that this is happening to us. To him."

 

Their dining room table is covered with photographs, scrapbooks, letters and trinkets belonging to their son, Lance Cpl. Justin Sharratt, a 22-year-old Marine who had dreamed his entire life of joining the military. Now, the Sharratts are fighting to preserve his reputation, as he is one of a handful of Marines who are being investigated over the slayings of two dozen Iraqi civilians on Nov. 19, 2005.

 

The Sharratts have remained silent until now because they did not know what to say. They have avoided learning details of their son's possible involvement in the shootings while they have struggled to understand what might have happened in a war zone thousands of miles away. They have privately fumed about politicians - such as Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) -- who have publicly stated that their son was part of a brutal, vengeful slaughter. And they are livid that no one in the Marine Corps has stepped forward to defend their son.

 

"He's very confident he did nothing wrong, and we believe him," Theresa Sharratt said in a recent interview in the family home in Canonsburg, Pa., which is south of Pittsburgh. Her husband wiped his eyes and added: "He felt he was doing his job. And, now, the Marine Corps has betrayed these guys. All of them."

 

The incident in Haditha was not widely known until the past spring, when Time magazine wrote an account of the civilian deaths in a small group of homes in the insurgent hotbed. Early reports alleged that Marines with Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines, snapped after a member of their unit was killed by a roadside bomb, sending them on a rampage through nearby homes. There were also allegations of a coverup.

 

Attorneys for the Marines - including Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich, the most senior noncommissioned officer at the scene of the shootings - have said repeatedly that their clients followed the appropriate rules of engagement and killed the civilians as they were hunting insurgents responsible both for the roadside bombing and for a volley of shots from what the Marines believed were AK-47 assault rifles.

 

"They responded the way they were trained," said Jack B. Zimmerman, an attorney for Lance Cpl. Stephen Tatum, 25, who officials believe was one of the Marines who fired shots. "Anytime you're involved in house-to-house urban warfare in an inhabited area, there's going to be the risk that civilians will be in harm's way. It's very unfortunate that women and children died, but the issue here is what was going through these guys' minds when they were taking fire, and did they respond the way they were trained to?"

 

Marine Corps officials have declined to comment about the case, as a nine-month investigation rests in the hands of prosecutors who have not yet decided on charges. A high-level review of whether commanders did not appropriately investigate the Haditha incident was completed in Iraq in July and the results are with commanders there, though Pentagon officials have so far declined to release the findings.

 

Wuterich, through his attorneys, has outlined a scenario that portrays the Marines reacting in a clinical way, noting that the squad was taking fire from the houses and attacked them, "clearing" rooms with grenades and gunfire.

 

In a separate account, recently obtained by The Washington Post, other Marines in the squad reported seeing, hearing and feeling gunshots flying over their heads in short bursts immediately before they entered the houses. The scenes inside, according to the account, were chaotic, as Marines threw fragmentation grenades and then fired shots through the dust and smoke.

 

One Marine who was in the convoy that day said that no one overreacted to the death of their friend, Cpl. Miguel "TJ" Terrazas, and that the troops focused on the mission. Answering written questions under the condition of anonymity, the Marine said no one seemed to be out for revenge. Instead, he said, the men wanted to make sure comrades came out from the ambush alive.

 

"If they were going to charge us, then you may as well charge every Marine and soldier in Iraq," the Marine said. He added that members of his squad "did not realize that civilians had been killed until they went back through the houses to assess collateral damage."

 

Military officials familiar with the investigation said there is some evidence that could show wrongdoing, including images, taken by an unmanned aircraft, that appear to show that a group of civilians shot near their car - which had approached the Marine convoy after the bomb went off - were executed. At least one Marine has told officials that he saw another Marine standing over the bodies and emptying his rifle's clip into them, according to two people closely familiar with the case.

 

Others have said that the shots that killed women and children inside the houses appeared to be "well-aimed," though defense attorneys have challenged that assessment as speculation because there is so little physical evidence to support it. The official investigation did not begin until months after the shootings, and some critical evidence was lost.

 

It is unclear what, if any, charges the Marines will face. Officials said this week that criminal charges could be announced in the next few weeks against as many as half a dozen men.

 

"My client did not engage in any conduct that we believe is criminal," said Gary Myers, an attorney for Sharratt. "Our position is that anything he did engaging the enemy was consistent with rules of engagement at the time."

 

Sharratt enlisted in the Marines just before his 18th birthday - a decision his family supported - and deployed to Iraq in 2004. He spent time in Fallujah, where he took part in the major offensive to take the city and used close-combat "clearing" tactics on enemy houses. He was deployed to Haditha the next year.

 

The Sharratts used to worry about their son's safety and how he dealt with the loss of friends - "Don't worry about me, I can handle it," he had said to his mother. Now they worry that he is caught up in a political storm.

 

"Somebody's going to pay, and we're so afraid it's going to be the young guys," Theresa Sharratt said. "He believes he didn't do anything wrong."

 

But Darryl Sharratt says America has already convicted his son and the other Marines, and he feels helpless, lost, as he awaits a decision on possible charges.

 

"For 18 years, I protected him. And now I can't do anything about it," he said. "I just want the Marine Corps to stand up and say the Marines couldn't have done this and didn't do it. I blame them for letting it go on for this long."

 

2006 The Washington Post Company

 

External link: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/11/21/AR2006112101568.html

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