But never let a simple issue like "presumption of innocence" get in the way of a heretofore obscure dinosaur of a politician's ambitions. Murtha proclaimed Sharatt, Wuterich, and other Marines in their outfit guilty of a "crime" before any formal investigation had take place; before any charges were filed (they have yet to be filed); even before he had read any reports on the matter. Murtha's unfounded public pronouncement of guilt led the Haditha Marines to be found guilty in the court of public and world opinion, as well.
WASHINGTON - Darryl Sharratt often breaks into tears when trying to start sentences that include the word ``Al-Hadithah.'' A stoic Pennsylvania foreman, 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 son is 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 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 Murtha, D-Pa. -- who have publicly stated that their son was part of a brutal, vengeful slaughter. 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. 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 Al-Hadithah 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 also were allegations of a coverup.
Attorneys for the Marines -- including Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, the most senior non-commissioned 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 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 Zimmerman, an attorney for Lance Cpl. Stephen Tatum, 25, who officials think was one of the Marines who fired shots.
Ironic, isn't it, that soldiers fighting to defend a Constitution that, among other things, holds the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, were themselves denied that very presumption by a blowhard ignoramus of a politician who pulled out all the stops in his attempts to court favor with antiwar democrats who otherwise wouldn't have given him the time of day.
And even now, not. One. Word. Of. Apology.