Haditha: Marines Involved Speak Out
Update2: Be sure and see a video interview with Iman Waleed, the nine-year-old girl who claims to have survived the attack via HotAir.
Update: I wanted to add some comments here. Obviously, Haditha was never on a scale with My Lai. The narrative from the Marines, if supported by the investigation, indicates another significant difference from My Lai. This was house to house combat. It is wrong to compare this with an incident where it was alleged troops took people out and massacred them for no reason.
The Marines at Haditha were in enemy territory, moving house to house and even room by room without knowing what was around the corner, or behind the next door. Rules of Engagement are important. And it should be left to the military authorities to decide whether these Marines adhered to them or not. But taking up arms for one’s country is not a suicide pact.
The Marines were attacked, as they often are, simply driving down the street. Day after day they navigate hostile urban settings where death can come from any direction and from anyone, child or adult. If we’re to judge them, we should judge them by what they were tasked with doing, and with an appreciation for the time and the setting in which they found themselves in service to our country. To do anything else wouldn’t be justice; it would be wholly unfair.
Speaking primarily through their attorneys, several of the Marines directly involved in events in Haditha are beginning to tell their side of the story. They are insisting that the Rules of Engagement were followed and that there was no attempt to cover up the number of civilians killed in the fire fight.
They offer a house by house account of their actions, beginning with their coming under sniper fire from an area house immediately after the IED exploded. The article suggests the Rules of Engagement may prove to be the primary area of debate over the incident.
They also report seeing several men dressed in dark clothing running to and from certain locations, they were either shot, or pursued into another home. Haditha was known as an area full of terrorists from all previous media reports. They often intimidated and threatened civilians to retain control of the town.
The house by house account is below the fold, see the WaPo at link above for the full three page article.
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 told his attorney in initial interviews over nearly 12 hours last week that the shootings were the unfortunate result of a methodical sweep for enemies in a firefight. Two attorneys for other Marines involved in the incident said Wuterich’s account is consistent with those they had heard from their clients.
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.