Final Disposition of the Charges Against the Haditha Marines

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 4 months ago

The Investigating Officer’s Report on accused Marine Lance Corporal Justin Sharratt contains more than mere assessment of the charges against Sharratt.  The following conclusion is transcribed from the report.

Due to the disparate accounts, it is tempting to simply conclude that this case should be tried to either exonerate LCpl Sharratt or convict him of a crime.  However, to adopt the government’s position that because there are two differing accounts, a general court-martial is warranted is an abdication of the necessary process of determining whether reasonable grounds exist to warrant a court-martial.  It is not as simple as stating there are two accounts so a trial is necessary.  Analysis of these two versions must provide reasonable grounds that the Government version of events may be true.  In analyzing the evidence, I read several hundred pages of interviews, documents and statements, (IE 33-105).  Ultimately, there is only one statement by an eye witness to the events, LCpl Sharratt, and his version of events is strongly corroborated by independent forensic analysis of the death scene.  The government version is unsupported by independent evidence and while each statement has within it corroboration, several factors together reduces the credibility of such statements to incredible.  In addition, the statements of the Iraqis are unclear, contradictory in part, and simply state self-interested conclusion as to what occurred within house 4.  Finally, to believe the government version of facts is to disregard clear and convincing evidence to the contrary and sets a dangerous precedent that, in my opinion, may encourage others to bear false witness against Marines as a tactic to erode public support of the Marine Corps and mission in Iraq.  Even more dangerous is the potential that a Marine may hesitate at the critical moment when facing the enemy.

Much effort during the Article 32 focused on whether the victims were insurgents.  Although determining if they were may have some bearing on the credibility of the Iraqi witnesses and may support that LCpl Sharratt did perceive a hostile situation within house 4, such determinations are not necessary to conclude that LCpl Sharratt is truthful in his account.  From as early as February 2006 LCpl Sharratt’s statements are supported by the forensic evidence.  It is likely that members of the Ahmed family were either insurgents on 19 November 2005, or that they were attempting to defend their house and family when Marines entered house 4 uninvited and unannounced.  On that fateful afternoon, Jasib heard someone enter house 4.  He investigated with his AK-47 in his hands.  LCpl Sharratt saw him and perceived him as a threat.  Using his training he responded instinctively, assaulting into the room emptying his pistol.  Whether this was a brave act of combat against the enemy or tragedy of misperception born out of conducting combat with an enemy that hides among innocents, LCpl Sharratt’s actions were in accord with the rules of engagement and use of force.

A reading of the document reveals that investigating officer Lt. Col. Paul Ware obviously doesn’t believe the government’s version of events.  He points to many inconsistent reports, only two of which are outlined below:

  • LCpl. Sharratt’s SAW jammed upon engagement of the men in house 4.  Jamming is a known problem in the M16A2/M4/SAW, as I have discussed before (after shooting an M16 and dealing with this problem).  The use of a 9 mm pistol to “perform an execution” means that a group of Marines decided to use the least powerful weapon in their arsenal, Lt. Col. Ware says, concluding that this is not credible.  As an editorial comment, I would add that I know a highly skilled SAW gunner who tells me that he can undo the effects of a jam in his SAW within 5 seconds or less.  To believe that a gangland style execution occurred while a SAW gunner left his weapon jammed and used his pistol is so ridiculous that one wonders why the government lawyers would have actually put such an idea in print before a military tribunal.  This surely must be embarrassing for them.
  • The Iraqis reported that the “one with the pistol” was “in charge.”  But the problem is that the one with the pistol was Lance Corporal Sharratt, and with him were a Corporal and a Staff Sergeant.  How many readers who are either former or active duty military believe that a Corporal and Staff Sergeant would take orders from a Lance Corporal?  Again, this surely must be embarrassing for the prosecuting attorney.

The relatives of the deceased Iraqis didn’t want the bodies exhumed for forensic analysis, but would rather “forgive” the Marines.  In Iraq: Land of Lies and Deceipt (a press report concerning a similar British trial), I noted a contractor’s report about his experiences with Iraqis and honesty.

In Islamic and Arab traditions, blood money is the money paid by the killer or his family or clan to the family or the clan of the victim. It is unlawful for a believer to kill a believer except if it happens by accident. And he who kills a believer accidentally must free one Muslim slave and pay ‘Diyat’ to the heirs of the victim except if they forgive him. The tradition finds repeated endorsement in Islamic tradition; several instances are recorded in the Hadith, which are the acts of the Prophet Mohammad.

The Blood – Money tradition has found its way into legislation in several Islamic countries, including Saudi Arabia, Iran and Pakistan. Some of these countries also define, by lawful legislation, a hierarchy of (cash) rates for the lives of people….

Are lies being told to obtain blood money payments? Some insight comes in this response to the collapse of the British trial by Stephan Holland, a Baghdad-based US contractor.

I’ve been in Iraq for about 18 months now performing construction management. It is simply not possible for me to exaggerate the massive amounts of lies we wade through every single day. There is no way – absolutely none – to determine facts from bulls*** ….

It is not even considered lying to them; it is more akin to being clever – like keeping your cards close to your chest. And they don’t just lie to westerners. They believe that appearances–saving face–are of paramount importance. They lie to each other all the time about anything in order to leverage others on a deal or manipulate an outcome of some sort or cover up some major or minor embarrassment. It’s just how they do things, period.

I’m not trying to disparage them here. I get along great with a lot of them. But even among those that I like, if something happens (on the job) I’ll get 50 wildly different stories, every time. There’s no comparison to it in any other part of the world where I’ve worked. The lying is ubiquitous and constant.

Lt. Col. Ware has suspicion for the Iraqi testimony as evidenced by the report.  At the end of the investigating officer’s report, Lt. Col. Ware makes the recommendation to drop the charges, and that Lance Corporal Sharratt be given testimonial immunity and ordered to cooperate with any ongoing investigations.  This last part might be pro forma and routine.  If Lt. Col. Ware believes his account and disbelieves the government’s account, then he believes that LCpl Sharratt will not bring anything forward that would call his assessment into question.

Why?  Lt. Col. Ware goes further than merely saying that there is no case against LCpl Sharratt.  His insightful report destroys the government’s case in general, not just with respect to LCpl Sharratt.  It does not seem possible to me that after this rebuke of the government, the cases against the remaining Haditha Marines would proceed.  As defense attorney, the first thing I would do would be to trot out the report by Lt. Col. Ware and demand that his assessment be answered line by line.

This report should end the case against the Haditha Marines, but given that the prosecution was willing to embarrass themselves with the prosecution of Sharratt to begin with, anything can happen.


You are currently reading "Final Disposition of the Charges Against the Haditha Marines", entry #558 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Haditha Roundup,Iraq and was published July 24th, 2007 by Herschel Smith.

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