Friday, October 05, 2007

Another Apology Required?

With Lt. Col. Paul Ware's recommendation that the murder charges against SSgt. Wuterich be dropped heading to Gen. James Mattis' desk, it's likely that none of the Haditha Marines will be charged with a single count of murder. That means that John Murtha's unambiguous declaration that the Haditha Marines had "killed innocent civilians in cold blood" because they "cracked under the pressure" will be proven totally false.

A Marine Corps official has recommended that murder charges be dismissed against a Camp Pendleton squad leader accused in the deaths of 17 civilians killed in the Iraqi city of Haditha two years ago.

The official, Lt. Col. Paul Ware, said in a recommendation obtained by the North County Times that rather than face murder charges, squad leader Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich should be tried for the lesser offense of negligent homicide in the deaths of five children and two women.

Ware recommended 10 other murder charges against Wuterich be dismissed.

"I believe after reviewing all the evidence that no trier of fact can conclude Staff Sgt. Wuterich formed the criminal intent to kill," Ware wrote in reference to the women and children. "When a Marine fails to exercise due care and civilians die, the charge of negligent homicide, and not murder, is appropriate."

Ware's report, issued to prosecutors and defense attorneys this week, found the evidence against Wuterich contradictory. Ware's role as the case's investigating officer is akin to that of a judge presiding over a pretrial hearing.

"The case against Staff Sgt. Wuterich is simply not strong enough to conclude he committed murder beyond a reasonable doubt," Ware wrote. "Almost all witnesses have an obvious bias or prejudice."

If Gen. Mattis accepts Col. Ware's recommendations, it would be a big embarrassment for Rep. Murtha, especially after all the definitive statements that he's made on the subject. More importantly, the cases against the Haditha Marines will have essentially fallen to pieces.

Something else worth noting is that, if Gen. Mattis accepts Col. Ware's recommendation, the only charges pending against the Haditha Marines will be the dereliction of duty charges against Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani and
First Lt. Jeff Grayson, accused of failing to investigate the incident. Since it will have been determined that a major incident hadn't occured, it isn't likely that they'll be able to sustain charges against First Lt. Grayson or Lt. Col. Chessani.

It's worth noting that the only statement that Rep. Murtha was right about was this one:

There was no [bomb] that killed those innocent people,” Murtha explained.

Even that needs some clarification. The bomb he's referring to killed a Marine. Here's that statement in context:

“It’s much worse than was reported in Time magazine,” Murtha, a Democrat, former Marine colonel and Vietnam war veteran, told reporters on Capitol Hill. “There was no firefight. There was no [bomb] that killed those innocent people,” Murtha explained, adding there were “about twice as many” Iraqis killed than Time had reported.

The first logical question after finding out that he hadn't been briefed would be to ask Rep. Murtha how he knew that it was "much worse than was reported in Time magazine". It's clear that Rep. Murtha was attempting to characterize the Haditha Marines as cold-blooded murderers. First, Murtha says that the Time Magazine article wasn't accurate, that the bloodshed was far worse than Tim McGirk reported.

Next, Rep. Murtha said that a firefight didn't happen. That's a bald-faced lie. Capt. Jeffrey Dinsmore testified that he briefed the 3/1 Marines of a planned IED explosion and that a white vehicle would play a vital role in the ambush. That information proved accurate. That's now fact because of the video from the UAV and because Capt. Dinsmore listened to the firefight coming in on his radio.

Let's fill out the timeline a bit. Here's what I've pieced together:

Asked about his sources during a midday briefing on Iraq policy in the Capitol, Murtha confidently replied, “All the information I get, it comes from the commanders, it comes from people who know what they’re talking about.” Although Murtha said that he had not read any investigative reports by the military on the incident, he stressed, “It’s much worse than reported in Time magazine.”

That sounds pretty authoritative, doesn't it? First impressions can be deceiving. They are in this instance. Hint: Keep in mind that Murtha said that his sourcing was from commanders. You'll see why that's importantly shortly. Here's what Murtha later told ABC's Charlie Gibson:

GIBSON: Jonathan just mentioned, there’s no charges yet filed against any of the Marines that were in this outfit, but Jonathan mentioned a moment ago, defense lawyers are already saying, well, there’s drone video and there is actual radio traffic to higher-ups that will give a different picture than you have been talking about of this incident. What do you know about that?

MURTHA: I can only tell you this, Charles. This is what the Marine Corps told me at the highest level. The Commandant of the Marine Corps was in my office just last week, so you know, I know there was a cover-up someplace. They knew about this a few days afterwards and there’s no question the chain of command tried to stifle the story. I can understand why, but that doesn’t excuse it. Something like this has to be brought out to the public, and the people have to be punished.

That interview happened on May 30, 2006, meaning that the Marine Corps commandant gave Murtha his briefing well after Murtha first went public with his accusations on May 17, 2006. We later found out that Hagee's briefing happened on May 24, 2006:

Murtha, a Pennsylvania Democrat, is being sued by one of the accused Marines for libel. He had told The Philadelphia Inquirer that Gen. Michael Hagee had given him the information on which he based his charge that Marines killed innocent civilians.

But a spokesman for the Marine Corps said Hagee briefed Murtha on May 24 about Haditha. Murtha had made comments on the case as early as May 17. On May 17, for example, he said at a news conference, “Our troops overreacted because of the pressure on them and they killed innocent civilians in cold blood.”

A spokeswoman for Murtha was not immediately available.

After Murtha's first round of accusations, he said that commanders who "knew what they were talking about" had told him what happened. When pressed on it, though, he said that the Marine Corps Commandant, then Gen. Michael Hagee, had briefed him. Here's why that's important: Commanders serve in the field, usually in theater. Murtha would know that. Later, he said that he got his information from Gen. Hagee, who was serving as Marine Corps Commandant in the Pentagon.

Isn't it odd that a old soldier like John Murtha would offer such contradictory verification? I find that extremely odd. My theory is that Murtha made his first claims hoping that he wouldn't get challenged. It's also my theory that he changed stories after the Marine Corps issued a statement saying that Murtha had his facts wrong.

There's more deception that Murtha is caught up in. He's also on record as saying that he "knew there was a coverup someplace." If you know that a coverup has happened, it's logical that you'd know where it happened and who was involved. Since he said that it happened "someplace", it's a fair bet that Murtha didn't knkow if a coverup had happened. At best, he might've guessed that these Marines had covered something up.

Having a hunch that something happened isn't the same as knowing that something happened, is it?

When you put all the pieces of this puzzle together, you realize that the pieces don't fit together at all. It's like Murtha borrowed puzzle pieces from other puzzles to make something work.

When a high profile case like this has this many pieces that don't fit, it's extremely likely that the puzzle will end up a disaster. That's certainly what looks likely to happen here. The only question left is whether Murtha will ever apologize to these Marines and their families and to the Marine Corps itself.

I won't hold my breath on that.

, , , , , , , , , , ,