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July 17th, 2007 - Marine Describes Haditha Shootings
By Allison Hoffman
July 17, 2007; 11:13 PM
Camp Pendleton, Calif. - A Marine charged with murdering two girls and killing several other Iraqis gave orders to shoot into a room full of children and young women before apparently doing the job himself, a squad member testified Tuesday.
"He was very serious, sir," Lance Cpl. Humberto Manuel Mendoza said when a military prosecutor asked whether Lance Cpl. Stephen Tatum might have been joking.
Mendoza was with Tatum and two other Marines when they went to clear houses in Haditha, Iraq, on Nov. 19, 2005, in the aftermath of a roadside bomb that killed one Marine and wounded two others. Marines killed 24 civilians, resulting in the biggest U.S. criminal case involving civilian deaths to come out of the Iraq war.
Tatum, one of three Marines charged in the killings, was in the second day of preliminary hearings to determine whether he will be tried on murder charges. Four officers are charged with dereliction of duty for failing to investigate.
Mendoza, one of seven Marines granted immunity in the case, said he shot a man in the first house the squad entered and believed he was dead. Tatum went into the room where the body lay and fired more shots.
"He said it was to make sure he was dead," Mendoza said.
At the second house, Mendoza said he shot a man who peeked around the side of a kitchen door in the house as the team went in. He said he stayed in the kitchen while squad members threw a grenade and moments later found a woman in her 20s cowering in a back bedroom with four or five children, one a girl in her teens.
"I told (Tatum) there's just womens and kids in the room," Mendoza said. "He replied, 'Well, shoot them.'"
Tatum then went into the room himself, followed by noise that could have been M-16 gunfire, Mendoza said.
Mendoza said he returned to the house later as part of a body retrieval team and saw that the woman and children had been killed. All had multiple wounds that could have been caused by M-16 fire, he said.
Tatum's attorney, Jack Zimmerman, questioned Mendoza's account, noting that the Marine initially told a different story to government investigators.
Mendoza said he was telling the truth, while admitting he had lied at first to protect the other Marines.
"You'd lie to protect your fellow Marines, but not to help yourself?" Zimmerman asked.
"Yes," Mendoza said.
Mendoza, a Venezuelan citizen, has applied for U.S. citizenship. His application would be denied if he were charged with any crime, he acknowledged. He was granted immunity in December, shortly before charges were filed against Tatum and the others.
According to a report by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service dated May 17, 2006, Tatum told investigators that he shot women and children because "women and kids can hurt you, too." He said he felt bad about the deaths but added, "I stand fast in my decisions that day, as I reacted to the threats that I perceived at that time."
The report describes an interview with Tatum, but it was not signed by the Marine.
Earlier Tuesday, Sgt. Sanick P. Dela Cruz testified that after the deaths Tatum said he disapproved of how the United States was waging war and wished troops had more leeway to shoot.
Tatum poked fun at a squadmate who asked permission before shooting and said he thought war should be fought the way it was in Scripture, "where you just go in the city and kill every living thing," Dela Cruz said.
Dela Cruz said Tatum made the comments to him while they were on patrol in January 2006, about two months after the Haditha killings.
Tatum, 26, leaned forward intently behind the defense table as Dela Cruz testified. The witness spoke so softly that the court reporter repeatedly told him to speak up.
Dela Cruz said he recalled Tatum entering an Iraqi home near the bomb site where Marines had found more than $5,000 in U.S. currency and suggested that the money should be sent to the family of their fallen comrade to pay for a funeral.
"I think he was serious," Dela Cruz said. Tatum did not take the money.
At the opening of Tatum's hearing Monday, his attorney said Tatum believed he was following procedure by confronting a threat with deadly force.
Besides unpremeditated murder of two girls in one house, Tatum is charged with negligent homicide on suspicion that he unlawfully killed two men, a woman and a young boy. He is also accused of assaulting another boy and a girl. If convicted of murder, he faces up to life in prison.
The squad leader, Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, is charged with murdering 18 Iraqis. His preliminary hearing is set for Aug. 22.
After the Article 32 investigation, the military equivalent of a grand jury proceeding, hearing officer Lt. Col. Paul Ware will recommend whether Tatum should face a court-martial. Last week Ware recommended that murder charges be dropped against the third Marine charged, Lance Cpl. Justin L. Sharratt. The final decision in both cases rests with Lt. Gen. James Mattis, the general overseeing the case.
Associated Press Writer Thomas Watkins contributed to this report.
© 2007 The Associated Press
By Teri Figueroa
North County Times
July 17, 2007 10:52 PM PDT
Camp Pendleton - A Marine lance corporal accused of killing Iraqi civilians told a buddy to shoot women and children cowering in the back bedroom of a Haditha home, his squad mate testified in a rapt courtroom Tuesday.
"I told him that there's womens and kids in that room," Lance Cpl. Humberto Mendoza said.
"He replied, 'Well, shoot them,'" continued Mendoza, whose native language is not English. "I replied, 'There's just womens and kids. There's no males, no threat, no hostile situation.'"
Mendoza said that when he refused the order, Lance Cpl. Stephen Tatum brushed past him and headed into the room himself.
"Next thing I know, I hear a lot of noise in the house," Mendoza said.
Mendoza's testimony came during the second day of an investigative hearing to determine whether there is enough evidence to send Tatum to trial for the killings of six Iraqis and the assaults of two others.
Tatum's attorneys flatly dispute the claims from Mendoza, who has acknowledged on the stand that he initially lied to investigators about the incident and did not report the conversation with Tatum for more than a year.
The defendant's lawyers also point to a polygraph test their client passed. Mendoza - who admitted to killing two unarmed men during the melee - was granted immunity from prosecution for his testimony.
Prosecutors say Tatum and other Marines stormed homes and killed 24 civilians Nov. 19, 2005, in retaliation for a bombing that shredded a Humvee in their convoy. The bombing killed Lance Cpl. Miguel "TJ" Terrazas and wounded two others.
Attorneys for Tatum and his co-defendants say the Marines were the target of gunfire after the explosion, and ran into the homes to chase their attackers.
On the stand, Mendoza said he did not feel threatened by people in the homes, but was told by squad mates that insurgents were inside.
The Haditha incident is the largest civilian killing case to result in criminal charges since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. Five young Iraqi men were shot to death outside a car that pulled up about the time of the explosion; 19 others were killed in nearby homes.
Questioned by lead prosecutor Lt. Col. Paul Atterbury, Mendoza said that shortly after a squad mate tossed a grenade into a bathroom, he opened a bedroom door and found women and children cowering.
They were alive, he said, and scared. And they were looking at him.
Mendoza said he closed the door and told Tatum what he had seen. That's when Tatum ordered him to shoot them.
"Was he joking?" Atterbury asked.
"No sir, he was very serious," Mendoza replied.
Mendoza returned to the home hours later as part of a team assigned to collect bodies.
"I found all of the womens and childrens dead," Mendoza testified. "They got multiple wounds everywhere."
Mendoza, who was a private first class at the time of the Haditha killings, said he did not know whether the sound he heard in the back bedroom was gunfire or a grenade.
Atterbury asked Mendoza whether he had asked Tatum what happened.
"I just didn't want to ask him," Mendoza replied.
"Why didn't you want to ask?" Atterbury said.
"I dunno, sir, I just ..." Mendoza said, not finishing his thought, but sitting silently and looking away.
On Dec. 21, the Marine Corps charged Tatum and three other enlisted men - Lance Cpl. Justin Sharratt, Sgt. Sanick Dela Cruz and Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich - with the killings. Marine prosecutors also charged four commanding officers with dereliction of duty for allegedly failing to properly investigate and report what happened.
All of the men have said directly or through their attorneys or family members that they are innocent of any wrongdoing.
Tatum easily passed a polygraph test administered to him earlier this year at the request of his attorneys, according to results submitted as evidence.
The polygraph examiner deemed that Tatum had answered truthfully when he said he did not know there were women and children in the room before he opened fire.
During cross-examination, Mendoza acknowledged that he had failed a polygraph test he took after he changed his version of the events.
Tatum's attorney, Jack Zimmerman, suggested during questioning that a 13-year-old girl who survived the attack in the back bedroom said the first Marine to open fire in the room was shorter than she was. Zimmerman noted Mendoza's height, which is 5 feet 4 inches, and Tatum's height, at about 6 feet 2 inches.
Another of Tatum's squad mates testified that he saw Tatum's signature underneath 24 markings he said he believed signified the number of Iraqi victims. The markings were on an item that had belonged to the slain Terrazas, and was to be sent home to Terrazas' family, Dela Cruz said.
Dela Cruz himself faced homicide charges in the Haditha case, but they were dropped in exchange for immunity from prosecution because he agreed to testify against his squad mates.
Tatum's hearing is scheduled to continue through the rest of the week.