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December 30th, 2006 - Documents Released in Haditha Slayings

News article by the San Diego Union-Tribune

Summary of the Haditha Massacre

Documents Released in Haditha Slayings


By Rick Rogers

San Diego Union-Tribune

December 30, 2006


A unit of Camp Pendleton Marines used automatic weapons, a pistol and a grenade to kill 24 civilians over three hours, then tried to tie all the deaths to combat action.


Those accusations led to the charges recently filed against four Marines in connection with an alleged killing spree Nov. 19, 2005, in Haditha, Iraq. They also prompted charges against four officers who are blamed for not thoroughly investigating the incident, which could be the worst U.S. war crime since the Vietnam War's My Lai massacre.


This week, a defense lawyer in the case gave The San Diego Union-Tribune what is believed to be the first complete set of documents formally listing the charges.


In matter-of-fact language, they list murder and related charges against four enlisted Marines assigned to the Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment. They also identify the victims and list their causes of death.


Prosecutors say Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich, Sgt. Sanick P. Dela Cruz, and Lance Cpls. Justin L. Sharratt and Stephen B. Tatum used an assortment of weapons to attack the Iraqis after their convoy was hit by a roadside bomb, which killed Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas and injured two other Marines.


The documents are filled with entries such as the following one for Sharratt, who is accused of murdering three people.


“In that Lance Cpl. Justin L. Sharratt ... did at or near Haditha, Iraq, on or about 19 Nov. 2005 with the intent to kill or inflict great bodily harm, murder a person identified as Number 21 and believed to be Jasib Aiad Ahmed by means of shooting that person with an M9 service pistol.”


The other two victims linked to Sharratt also have the surname Ahmed, suggesting they might have been members of the same family.


Less typical are the charges brought against Wuterich, the highest-ranking service member present during the Haditha incident. He faces 13 counts of murder, two counts of prompting someone to commit an offense and one count of making a false official statement.


The Marine Corps' accusations against Wuterich say, among other things, that “while engaging in an act inherently dangerous to another and evincing a wanton disregard for human life, (he did) murder six persons inside a house identified as House 1 by: advising the Marines under his charge, prior to the Marines' entry into House 1, to 'shoot first and ask questions later' or words to that effect. ... ”


Most of the carnage took place in three homes near where the roadside bomb went off, according to the military's investigations. The probes also show five men were shot to death when their taxi approached the convoy after the explosion.


Defense lawyers maintain that their clients followed the military's rules of engagement in countering insurgents who fired at them after the bomb blast. They described the civilians' deaths as tragedies, not crimes.


The Haditha killings came to light when Time magazine began questioning the Pentagon about them in January. The magazine's inquiries, followed by its publication of a story in March, ignited a series of investigations that culminated in the filing of charges on Dec. 21 against the enlisted Marines and four of their officers.


The officers are Lt. Col. Jeffrey R. Chessani, the battalion's commander, 1st Lt. Andrew A. Grayson and Capts. Randy W. Stone and Lucas M. McConnell. They are accused of dereliction of duty, violating a lawful order, obstruction of justice and other crimes based on investigators' assertions that they didn't review the Haditha incident sufficiently or report it to higher-ranking officials.


Grayson also is accused of lying about when he first saw some photos showing the dead victims, and of ordering that the images be destroyed after naval investigators requested them.


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