Haditha Events Coming to a Head

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 3 months ago


CNN is reporting that the events of Haditha are coming to a head.

SAN DIEGO, California (AP) — As many as eight Marines could be charged in the biggest U.S. criminal case to emerge from the war in Iraq in terms of Iraqis killed.

Camp Pendleton officials scheduled a briefing Thursday to announce charges in the shooting deaths of 24 civilians on November 19, 2005, in the Iraqi town of Haditha.

It is unclear how many troops will be named. Lawyers for two Marines have said they expect their clients will be charged. It is believed up to six others could join them.

The case focuses on motive. What is unclear is whether the civilians were victims of wanton killing by troops angered by the death of a comrade, or people caught in a hellish battle and killed as the Marines attempted to defend themselves from a perceived threat.

The shootings occurred after a roadside bomb killed one Marine from a squad on patrol. In the aftermath of the blast, five Iraqi men were shot as they approached the scene in a taxi and others — including women and children — died as Marines opened fire on a cluster of houses in the area.

[ … ]

No statements were given by the Marines following the Haditha killings, which were investigated months later, after a Time magazine story picked holes in the Marine Corps’ account that 15 Iraqis died in a roadside bomb blast and Marines killed eight insurgents in an ensuing firefight. Later reports put the number of dead Iraqis at 24.

[ … ]

Puckett said all the Marines involved in the incident agree that the killings were a highly unfortunate result of a lawful response to a perceived threat.

Defense lawyers have said that under military rules of engagement, it can be allowable for Marines to clear houses with fragmentation grenades and machine guns if they believe the occupants are threatening their lives.

If we can back off of this giddy and hyperventilating CNN account for a moment, I would like to mention some things we don’t yet know, some things we believe that we know, and some things that are an absolute certainty.

I have tracked the Haditha case since its inception.  There is still a dearth of clear information in the public domain concerning this case.  The lawyers for Wuterich and the others have yet to begin a defense, and the Marines who might be charged have yet to speak.

In my post Iraq: Land of Lies and Deceipt, I quoted a contractor in Iraq who made the following important observation:

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.

It would not surprise me if there were multiple “witnesses” to “atrocities” concerning this event.  There might have been a atrocity, but we won’t necessarily know it based on the testimony of the Iraqis involved in the event.

The full story must come out, including the testimony of the Marines involved that day.  What we believe we know based on the reports is that room clearing operations were conducted that day directed at rooms from which enemy fire came.  The last paragraphs of the CNN story are important, and this will form the crux of the defense.

The one who led the stack into the room that day had previously been engaged in the battle for Fallujah.  The protocol was to toss in a fragmentation grenade, and follow with a stack of four Marines (a “fire team”), one whose billet it is to carry the SAW (Squad Automatic Weapon).  This day, the SAW gunner happened to be the one experienced from Fallujah, and who led the stack.

As I have pointed out before, this protocol does not distinguish between friend and foe.  There is no capability with this tactic to delineate a combatant from a potential noncombatant.  There can never be.  It happens far too quickly.  If our rules of engagement involve Marines and Soldiers hesitating to attempt to ascertain combatants from potential noncombatants, the insurgents will learn this and use it to their advantage.  Marines and Soldiers died in Fallujah as a result of room clearing operations, and many more would have died had this been the protocol.

There is another option if there are known noncombatants in a room.  The decision can be made not to engage in room clearing operations against that target.  Simply drive or walk away.  But if the decision is made that enemy fire is coming from a room and the room must be cleared, the sad truth is that, using these necessary tactics, the occupants of the room will die.  The answer to issues such as this in the future is not to change the rules of engagement resulting in more danger for U.S. troops.  The answer is to not engage in the operations to begin with.

Now to what we know with certainty.  Again, I have followed to story, and the assertion that the Time magazine article “picked holes in the Marine Corps’ account” is flatly wrong and just plain silly.  The Time magazine article, like most of the ones since then that have discussed the Haditha event, was pathetic.

Another thing we know with certainty is this.  Just the act of bringing the Marines up on formal charges will cast a pall over other Marines currently in Iraq and make them question their their actions.  Conviction of these Marines will make it worse.  This is true no matter what the Marines did or didn’t do and no matter what happened that day.

**** UPDATE #1 ****

Fox News is reporting that Wuterich has been charged with thirteen counts of murder, for saying to his squad, “shoot first and ask questions later.”

I do not believe that he meant that his squad should fire on noncombatants.  Nor do I believe that his men thought that he meant that.  The words pertain to the tactic called “room clearing,” as discussed above.  In order words, they weren’t knocking on doors.  They were engaged in a military operation.

I predict that if Wuterich is convicted in this case, the tactic of “room clearing” will disappear from Marine training and operations, and they will be left with a scarcity of tactics for MOUT.

Prior: Haditha Roundup category.

**** UPDATE #2 ****

Eight Marines are charged, four with murder, the other four with dereliction of duty.

Lance Cpl. Sanick Dela Cruz, who was written about in the Marine Corps News as an unsung hero of an August 2004 battle with the forces of Muqtada al Sadr, is one of the Marines being charged with murder.

Just to be absolutely clear, these eight Marines, with the room clearing tactics utilized that day, were entirely consistent with the same tactics and techniques taught to this very day in SOI (School of Infantry) at Camps Lejeune and Pendleton, and at the training facility at Mohave Viper.  There are no other room clearing tactics taught at these locations for one simple reason; there are no other military room clearing tactics in existence.

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  1. On December 21, 2006 at 6:06 pm, Steve said:

    As a former Marine from the ’70’s, I thought these killings were unnecessary when I first heard about them and they seem even less legitimate now.

    For all that, I wouldn’t recommend putting these guys in the brig from a long time. I would simply admin them out. The problem then is, having charged “murder” (and there must have been a legitimate reason for the Corps to charge their own people with that), anything less than a long sentence will be a PR disaster in Iraq and even in many other places.

    I repeat, my inclination is to admin these guys out of the Corps. As to room clearing operations, in populated areas that have not been specified as hostile, you simply cannot repeat these kinds of operations over and over and not have second thoughts. The story is that the E-6 in charge of this op not only shot the guys in the cab (very understandable), but also broke into three separate residences (progressively less understandable). All in all, not a good day for the Corps, and I do not accept that the Marines have any kind of “obligation” to engage in this kind of conduct.

  2. On December 21, 2006 at 7:25 pm, dw said:

    In a real war, the Marines would dispose of any potential threat, and that would be the end of that. If three houses exist as a threat, the threat would be ended as quickly as possible.

    We’ve come to imagine war as something other than a confrontation we must win. And so, we lose, but it doesn’t matter.

    The real tragedy would come when we need to fight a real war, but find ourselves in this losing mindset.

    What has gone wrong here (apparently) is that the Marines in question forgot they weren’t fighting a real war. They went after the enemy with the intent to kill the enemy as priority one, and are now charged with murder. A travesty.

    There do exist situations when a soldier should be charged with murder of a civilian. The classic rape/murder crime is no less despicable, and deserves to be treated the same as at home.

  3. On December 21, 2006 at 7:33 pm, Breakerjump said:

    This is what happens when you put a bunch of Marines into a hostile area filled with combatants and non-combatants alike and they start taking fire.

    This war is wrong from the start. It is shameful to place US Marines in urban areas and ask them to function as a domestic SWAT team.

    It’s like trying to carve a smoking pipe with a chainsaw. What outcome does the Administration expect?

  4. On December 22, 2006 at 1:16 pm, Robert J Weimann II said:

    I can’t help but think that the Marine Corps is stacking the deck against these Marines. What is “unpremeditated” murder?? It is not even listed in the UCMJ. There is murder and there is manslaughter. If you take away proofs of evidence of a charge, it makes the case for the prosecution easier. Murder requires premeditation. The elements of proof for murder are:(1) has a premeditated design to kill; (2) intends to kill or inflict great bodily harm; (3) is engaged in an act that is inherently dangerous to another and evinces a wanton disregard of human life; or
    (4) is engaged in the perpetration or attempted perpetration of burglary, sodomy, rape, robbery, or aggravated arson. I guess unpredemitated murder leaves the prosecution with only number 2 and 3; intends to kill or inflict great bodily harm; and engaged in an act that is inherently dangerous to another and evinces a wanton disregard of human life. Sounds like combat to me and is real similiar to “close with and destroy the enemy by fire and maneuver”.
    Bob Weimann
    Former Commanding Officer
    Kilo Company 3/1 (1981-1983)

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You are currently reading "Haditha Events Coming to a Head", entry #430 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Haditha Roundup,Iraq,Rules of Engagement and was published December 21st, 2006 by Herschel Smith.

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