Day By Day

Sunday, June 11, 2006

The Other Side Of Haditha

So far the American public has been treated to one side of the story of what allegedly happened at Haditha -- the one concocted and elaborated on by Iraqi insurgents, anti-war activists in the news media, and Democrat Copperheads.

In this day of rampant bloggerdom, though, such an inflammatory story could not long escape scrutiny. As I noted in earlier posts bloggers immediately began to focus in on inconsistencies and blatant inaccuracies in the published accounts -- the sort of thing that was in an earlier day assigned to historians long after the fact.

More and more the Haditha "massacre" began to resemble the false, but vaguely plausible, left-wing fantasies peddled to a gullible MSM during the last campaign by Mary Mapes, Dan Rather and their sources, or the recurring politically charged leaks issuing from the embattled intelligence services. And as always the MSM jumped to conclusions and ran with a politically damaging story long before the full facts were known. Both Time and Newsweek featured it on their covers.

Now, belatedly, the other side of the story is beginning to emerge. The WaPo today runs a long account of the Haditha incident from one of the participants.

A sergeant who led a squad of Marines during the incident in Haditha, Iraq, that left as many as 24 civilians dead said his unit did not intentionally target any civilians, followed military rules of engagement and never tried to cover up the shootings, his attorney said.

Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich, 26, told his attorney that several civilians were killed Nov. 19 when his squad went after insurgents who were firing at them from inside a house. The Marine said there was no vengeful massacre, but he described a house-to-house hunt that went tragically awry in the middle of a chaotic battlefield....

Wuterich's version contradicts that of the Iraqis, who described a massacre of men, women and children after a bomb killed a Marine. Haditha residents have said that innocent civilians were executed, that some begged for their lives before being shot and that children were killed indiscriminately.

Here, for what it's worth, is what the Marines say they encountered in Haditha. It makes for chilling reading.
On Nov. 19, Wuterich's squad left its headquarters at Firm Base Sparta in Haditha at 7 a.m. on a daily mission to drop off Iraqi army troops at a nearby checkpoint. "It was like any other day, we just had to watch out for IEDs [improvised explosive devices] and any other activity that looked suspicious," said Marine Cpl. James Crossan, 21, in an interview from his home in North Bend, Wash. He was riding in the four-Humvee convoy as it turned left onto Chestnut Road, heading west at 7:15 a.m.

Shortly after the turn, a bomb buried in the road ripped through the last Humvee. The blast instantly killed the driver, Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas, 20. Crossan, who was in the front passenger seat, remembered hearing someone yell, "Get some morphine." Then he passed out.

Wuterich, driving the third Humvee in the line, immediately stopped the convoy and got out, Puckett said.

Puckett said that while Wuterich was evaluating the scene, Marines noticed a white, unmarked car full of "military-aged men" lingering near the bomb site. When Marines ordered the men to stop, they ran; Puckett said it was standard procedure at the time for the Marines to shoot suspicious people fleeing a bombing, and the Marines opened fire, killing four or five men.

"The first thing he thought was it could be a vehicle-borne bomb or these guys could be ready to do a drive-by shooting," Puckett said, explaining that the Marines were on alert for such coordinated, multi-stage attacks.

Iraqis in the Haditha neighborhood interviewed in recent weeks said the vehicle was a taxi carrying a group of students to their homes and that the driver tried to back away from the site, fleeing in fear. One account said that the Marines shot the men while they were still in the car.

Wuterich officially reported to his headquarters that there had been a makeshift bomb and called for a Quick Reaction Force, Puckett said. The first group encountered an unexploded bomb on another route -- fueling concerns that insurgents were mounting an attack on the daily morning convoy -- and a second force headed out. That group, including Marines with the 3rd Squad and the platoon's leader, a young second lieutenant, arrived minutes later.

Wuterich told Puckett that no one was emotionally rattled by Terrazas's death because everyone had a job to do, and everyone was concerned about further casualties. As Wuterich began briefing the platoon leader, Puckett said, AK-47 shots rang out from residences on the south side of the road, and the Marines ducked.

A corporal with the unit leaned over to Wuterich and said he saw the shots coming from a specific house, and after a discussion with the platoon leader, they decided to clear the house, according to Wuterich's account.

"There's a threat, and they went to eliminate the threat," Puckett said.

A four-man team of Marines, including Wuterich, kicked in the door and found a series of empty rooms, noticing quickly that there was one room with a closed door and people rustling behind it, Puckett said. They then kicked in that door, tossed a fragmentation grenade into the room, and one Marine fired a series of "clearing rounds" through the dust and smoke, killing several people, Puckett said.

The Marine who fired the rounds -- Puckett said it was not Wuterich -- had experience clearing numerous houses on a deployment in Fallujah, where Marines had aggressive rules of engagement.

Although it was almost immediately apparent to the Marines that the people dead in the room were men, women and children -- most likely civilians -- they also noticed a back door ajar and believed that insurgents had slipped through to a house nearby, Puckett said. The Marines stealthily moved to the second house, kicking in the door, killing one man inside and then using a frag grenade and more gunfire to clear another room full of people, he said.

Wuterich, not having found the insurgents, told the team to stop and headed back to the platoon leader to reassess the situation, Puckett said, adding that his client knew a number of civilians had just been killed.

Neighborhood residents have offered a different account, saying that the Marines went into the houses shooting and ignored pleas from the civilians to spare them.

Marine Reserve Lt. Jonathan Morgenstein, who served in Anbar province from August 2004 to March 2005, said that the account offered by Wuterich's attorney surprised him a bit.

"When I was in Iraq," Morgenstein said, "the Anbar-wide ROEs [rules of engagement] did not say we had the authority to knock down any door, throw in a hand grenade and kill everyone." Still, he said, if someone in a house in Haditha was shooting at them, the Marines' response may have been within procedure. "If they felt they took fire from that house, then that may be authorized."

A Marine who served near Haditha in November said it was not unusual for Marines to respond to attacks "running and gunning" and that it was standard practice to spray rooms with gunfire when threatened. "It may be a bad tactic, but it works," he said. "It keeps you alive."

After clearing the second house, Puckett said, Wuterich immediately got on the radio and reported the "collateral damage." When the company radio operator asked him to estimate how many civilians had been killed, he said he thought it was about 12 to 15.

McConnell, the company commander, "knew the number was high" and reported it to the battalion executive officer, a major, according to McDermott, his lawyer. McConnell also said that a Marine intelligence team investigated the civilian deaths and reported their findings to senior Marine commanders, the lawyer said.

Wuterich told his attorney that he never reported that the civilians in the houses were killed by the bomb blast and maintains that he never tried to obscure the fact that civilians had been killed in the raids. Whether Wuterich gave false information to his superiors is the focus of one of the military investigations. He said the platoon leader, who was on the scene, never expressed concern about the unit's actions and never tried to hide them.

Marine Corps public affairs officers reported that the civilians had been killed in the bomb blast, a report that Puckett believes was the result of a miscommunication.

After going through the houses, Wuterich moved a small group of Marines to the roof of a nearby building to watch the area, Puckett said. At one point, they saw a man in all-black clothing running from one of the houses they had searched. The Marines killed him, Puckett said.

They then noticed another man in all black scurrying between two houses across the street. When they went to investigate, the Marines found a courtyard filled with women and children and asked where the man was, Puckett said.

When the civilians pointed to a third house, the Marines attempted to enter and found a man with an AK-47 inside, flanked by three other men; the first Marine to enter tried to fire his weapon, but it jammed, Puckett said. The Marines then killed those four men.

The unit stayed at the scene for hours, helping to collect bodies as photos were taken. Wuterich, who remains on duty in California, where he lives with his wife and two young daughters, told Puckett that for months no one questioned his actions.

Read the whole story here.

Rick Moran writes:

What is most disturbing to me is that it appears the reporting on this story has been just plain lazy. While every newspaper, magazine, and TV reporter covering this story likes to believe that their own investigation should stand alone as definitive (or at least a representation of what happened reflecting an effort to find out what happened to the best of their ability), it is clear that absolutely no effort has been made by reporters to reconcile the various versions of eyewitness accounts coming from supposedly victimized Iraqis. And their failure to report on the political leanings of some of the Iraqis who have emerged as key witnesses to the massacre is unconscionable.

Read the whole thing here.

Bruce Kesler agrees:

It’s well past time the media waited to find out before jumping to more conclusions, and harming the honor of our Marines, our country, and our ability to wage a war. If they don’t, their purpose is very clear.
Oh come on Bruce, it's been crystal clear for a very long time now.

Read him here.

From the moment that the BBC published pictures of bloody victims of terrorist attacks and falsely claimed that they had been gunned down by American troops, the Western media has been in full-throated frenzy over this story. Time and again they have tried to hammer it into the My Lai template, but thanks to the blogosphere, alternative testimony and points of view have begun to be aired. We still don't know for sure what happened at Haditha, but it certainly does not seem to be what the MSM originally claimed took place there.

It is often said that "truth will out." But usually that has taken place long after the incidents have long been over. Now, thanks to the bloggers it is possible, even likely, that truth will be outed in a reasonably timely manner.

At least we can hope so.

Much more over at the Mudville Gazette here.

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