by Darryl R. Sharratt
My wife and I protected and educated my son for eighteen years. When he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps, my family and I felt secure in the belief the Corps would continue his education and maturation process. As part of the enlistment procedure all recruits take an oath ‘to defend and protect the Constitution of the United States.’ Little did we know that the judicial process within our military would deny him the Constitutional rights he took an oath to safeguard.
The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) is broken. The Marine Corps investigative authority, Naval Criminal Investigation Service (NCIS), is an organization with no oversight and operates with the impunity of the Russian KGB. In a pre- 9/11 world the UCMJ and NCIS floundered to keep judicial equilibrium within the military. Using coerced, manufactured and falsified evidence provided by the NCIS, criminal cases rarely found their way to Article 32’s and almost never to Courts Martial. Most were plea bargained into judicial obscurity. JAG officers, Junior Officers. Senior Officers and the Convening Authorities rationalized these improprieties as a means to maintain discipline within its ranks. To maintain the status quo was the final objective. The needs of the many outweigh the rights of the few. High profile cases labeled the Iron Triangle(Sgt Ray Girouard), Hamandia(the Pendleton 8) and Haditha- to name a few- are exposing the un-Constitutional operation of the UCMJ and the corrupt investigative tactics of the NCIS.
I admit I lack first-hand knowledge and evidence in the Iron Triangle and Hamandia prosecutions. Regarding Haditha, a day rarely goes by when I am not thinking and reliving the false persecution of these seven Marines, Our Haditha Marines. On 21 December 2006 my family and son were dragged into the abyss by the UCMJ and its NCIS counterpart. My son was charged with three counts of unpremeditated murder for his part in a firefight on 19 November 2005 in Haditha, Iraq.
It is hard for me to keep separate the UCMJ and NCIS—for in my mind they are one. When I think back to my son’s Article 32 hearing, those five days in July, 2007 will remain with me forever. As evidence was presented in the hearing I could not understand nor will I ever understand what we were doing there. The Marine Corps, expressly the Senior Command structure, buckled to the media and politicians. My son would have been thrown to the wolves if not for the veracity of the civilian law firm my family engaged for his defense.
Naval Criminal Investigative Services (NCIS)
It was apparent from the testimony of NCIS Special Agent Mark Platt that the government was conducting the Haditha investigations with a guided agenda. While under cross examination SA Platt confirmed many times that he was following specific instructions from his superiors as to the path of the investigation. When asked by our defense counsel why he didn’t investigate leads which would have uncovered exculpatory evidence of innocence, SA Platt retorted he was following the orders of his superiors. When further pressured by the defense, SA Platt revealed he was investigating a murder.
Why an experienced NCIS investigator would not follow all leads in a capital investigation was the focal point of his cross examination. SA Platt’s testimony was that “I was following the instructions of my superiors.” It was apparent the NCIS was trying to uncover any evidence which would incriminate Our Haditha Marines and disregard the evidence which proved their innocence.
The government offered statements by Marines in an effort to support its version of the facts. A LCpl testified under oath that certain events in his written statement were not true and that an NCIS agent inserted these lines into the statement. The LCpl was now on record as providing two contradictory sworn statements. One under direct cross examination and the other provided by the NCIS.
The testimony of NCIS Special Agent Nadya Mannle further revealed the agenda of the NCIS. SA Mannle conducted an interview of the Iraqi witnesses. Although she spoke no Arabic, SA Mannle allowed the witnesses to gather in a group setting to answer questions. Through an interpreter a question and answer dialogue was conducted with the Iraqis. Defense lawyers grilled SA Mannle as to the policy of conducting a group interview of these witnesses. Such procedure went against all known guidelines in the interrogation process. SA Mannle could only answer that time was limited so the group interview was allowable.
The testimony gathered in this group interview by SA Mannle formed the basis of the charges filed against my son. In the Article 32 hearing, the IO LtCol Paul Ware found this testimony “unreliable and incredible.” Lt Col Ware also stated, “ the interview that resulted in the witness statements were taken by SA Mannle in a group setting, with each witness adding details and discussing the events in Arabic with one another in front of SA Mannle who does not speak Arabic.” I detail some of the key discrepancies in the Iraqi testimony as follows:
1. Khalid testified that the tall one, the one with the pistol, guarded the women and children in House 3. My son was the tallest Marine, he was the only Marine with a pistol. If Khalid’s testimony is correct, my son was guarding the women and children in House 3 and did not enter House 4 where the insurgents were killed. My son was charged with murder for the killings in House 4.
2. Nagham stated that no one moved the bodies in House 4 before the Marines arrived to take photographs. Forensic evidence clearly proves the bodies must have been moved from the location where they fell.
3. Khalid further testified he heard only “ four shots separated by a few seconds.”
(pop-pause, pop-pause, pop-pause, pop-pause) Testimony of the other witnesses revealed they (the Iraqis) recovered 11 spent shell casings from House 4. The NCIS pathology report details the trajectories of at least 7 projectiles in House 4.
4. Nagla states that the man with the pistol was in charge telling the other Marines what to do. LtCol Ware found it unbelievable that two senior Marines would subjugate themselves to a LCpl (my son, the Marine with the pistol) under these conditions.
5. Ehab states one of the insurgents was packed and about to travel to Trabeed. This contradicts Nagham who said the “family” was packed and traveling to Baghdad.
6. Khalid testifies that the Marines leaving House 4 had two AK-47’s slung on their shoulders. His account of seeing these weapons being removed from House 4 supports the Marine’s testimony that at least two of the Iraqi insurgents had AK-47’s when they were shot.
In my sons Article 32 hearing, SA Mannle stated she found this “Iraqi testimony to be truthful and believable.” My son passed a polygraph examination proving he was telling the truth!
SA Mannle would later become the lead investigator in the Haditha investigations and the Titling Agent to prefer charges against my son. Charges based solely on the testimony of these Iraqis.
A further indictment on the character of the NCIS can be garnered from the testimony of a Marine intelligence officer during the Haditha discovery phase. Marine Captain Jeffrey Dinsmore(now Major Dinsmore) testified during a deposition session he turned over evidence in the Haditha case to NCIS agents circa January, 2006. This evidence included Scan Eagle surveillance video, digital recordings of voice traffic from engaged squads in Haditha on 19 November, 2005 and power point presentations documenting the Haditha engagement. Defense attorneys filed motions to obtain this exculpatory evidence. It was discovered the evidence that Captain Dinsmore turned over to the NCIS was lost, stolen or destroyed…… Imagine that..important evidence, exculpatory evidence…in a criminal investigation being lost, stolen or destroyed while in the care of the NCIS! Thanks to the diligence of Captain Dinsmore in maintaining duplicates, the evidence would later be made part of the Article 32 investigations.
The NCIS is a civilian authority operating within the realm of the Department of the Navy. The NCIS conducts business with absolute impunity, answering only to the Secretary of the Navy. The FBI cannot respond to the unlawful acts perpetrated by NCIS agents unless directed by the SecNav. Civilian investigators have provided clear and concise documents detailing the un-Constitutional behavior of the NCIS in regards to Haditha, Hamandia and the Iron Triangle to the FBI. No action has been taken by the FBI
Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ)
The Code was designed to uphold discipline within the ranks of the military. From it’s inception, the UCMJ was flawed. The writers understood the need for discipline but failed in the need to preserve the Constitutional rights of those accused. The Cox Commission opined that there is “tension between justice and discipline” within the statutes of the UCMJ. The Commission further asserted “As it now exists, if any conviction under the UCMJ were appealable to an appellate court applying the constitutional standards applicable to every other criminal justice system in the United States that conviction almost certainly would be set aside. No criminal justice system with the inherent deficiencies of the UCMJ system would survive a constitutional challenge and be permitted to adjudicate such important issues involving criminal culpability.”
Every member of the armed forces of the United States of America takes an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. The inherent rights provided by the Constitution are denied them when they enter the clutches of the UCMJ.
The UCMJ is not a court doing justice according to established principles of jurisprudence. The court-martial is regarded as the right hand of the commanding officer to aid him in the maintenance of discipline. The court martial is his agent and he controls it. “The court martial is not a court at all; it is but an agency of military command governed and controlled by the will of the commander.” In the case of Haditha, serious questions have arisen as to the extent to which unlawful command influence fueled the prosecution of Our Haditha Marines. Could the quest for a fourth star cloud the judgment of the Convening Authority? Could the need for a new weapons system allow the slanderous pronouncements of Congressman John Murtha to go unquestioned? Did the administration throw Our Haditha Marines to the wolves in order to distract attention from Abu Ghraib? Did a Time magazine article and the media influence the administration to establish a ‘shadow tribunal’ to influence the persecution of Our Haditha Marines? The Constitution of the United States established protections against these outside influences, the UCMJ is lacking in its ability to regulate them.
On 21 December, 2006 eight Marines were charged with multiple violations of the Law of War involving a firefight in Haditha, Iraq. Seven went to Article 32 hearings to determine whether the UCMJ charges could be substantiated by the evidence. Throughout the course of the Article 32 proceedings, the “evidence” procured by the NCIS was found lacking in substance. Charges were dismissed by General James Mattis in four of the Article 32 hearings. One officer was exonerated in a court-martial. Lt Col Chessani’s charges were dismissed but are currently in the appeals stage. SSgt Wuterich is presently awaiting his day in court. In the case of my son, the General dismissed the charges and declared him ‘innocent’.
The Marine Corps failed my son and his six comrades. General James Mattis failed Our Haditha Marines for allowing the Haditha fiasco to proceed beyond the investigation stage. Lt Col Paul Ware, the presiding judge in the three enlisted Article 32 hearings, was the bastion for justice in the Haditha prosecutions. In the three Article 32 hearings for Sharratt, Tatum and Wuterich, Lt Col Ware recommended to the General the charges be dismissed. Ware’s strongly worded declaration for dismissal in my son’s case drew the ire of the Senior Jag attorney advising General Mattis. Lt Col Riggs criticized Ware for being too stringent in assessing the government’s case against my son. The fact that Lt Col Ware found the Iraqi testimony to be “incredible and unbelievable” did not sit well with Riggs. “The government version is unsupported by independent evidence,” Ware wrote in an 18 page report. “To believe the government version of fasts is to disregard clear and convincing evidence to the contrary.” I can’t help but wonder why General Mattis did not arrive at this same conclusion before allowing the Haditha persecutions to proceed. I truly believe outside pressures clouded the judgment of General James Mattis and coerced him to proceed with these prosecutions.
Throughout the course of the Haditha proceedings I have heard law professors, journalists and various commentators critique the so-called “Haditha massacre.”
None of them can imagine the pain and suffering Our Haditha Marine families had to endure. Knowing that our Marines were innocent yet having to endure their condemnation of our brave sons was almost intolerable. While the government’s case continued to crumble as Marine after Marine was exonerated, it became comical how they retreated from their original stances and became silent. Their silence is almost deafening.
We the families of Our Haditha Marines want to thank the American people for their support of our sons. Prayers were answered and the truth prevailed in Haditha. We understand war is a tragic occurrence. We will continue to pray for the safety of America’s military personnel.
In closing I would like to include an excerpt from a speech given by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1905:
"I wish to preach, not the doctrine of the ignoble ease,
But the doctrine of the strenuous life,
The life of toil and effort, of labor and strife;
To preach the highest form of success which comes,
Not to the man who desires mere easy peace,
But to the man who does not shrink from danger, from hardship, or from bitter toil,
And who out of these wins the splendid ultimate triumph."
God Bless Our Haditha Marines
The Sharratt Family
See also, Our Journey, Not Quite Ended, by Darryl R. Sharratt.