Officer’s case dismissal recommendation for Haditha Marine: NY Times misleads

In a disjointed piece entitled Web Sites Rally Support for G.I.’s in Legal Trouble today, the New York Times reported:

In interviews, organizers and contributors said they believed that many of the prosecutions were based on feeble evidence and gauzy recollections of Iraqis sympathetic to the insurgency and hostile to the American military mission in Iraq.

They point to the case against Lance Cpl. Justin L. Sharratt, who was charged with killing three unarmed Iraqi men at point-blank range in Haditha in 2005. This month, a Marine lawyer investigating the charges recommended dismissing them, for lack of evidence, [emphasis added mine] and warned that pressing flimsy cases against combat troops “sets a dangerous precedent” that eroded public support for the war and could cause infantrymen to hesitate when fighting a determined enemy.

There was no “lack of evidence.” The investigating officer found the evidence strongly supported LCpl Justin L. Sharratt’s version of the events. In must be noted that two months before Congressman John Murtha publicly proclaimed that Marines in Haditha had, “killed innocent civilians in cold blood,” the forensic evidence supported Sharratt’s sworn statement. The following is from the investigating officer’s recommendations for the disposition of charges:

Ultimately, there is only one statement by an eye witness to the events, LCpl Sharratt, and his version of events is strongly corroborated by independent forensic analysis of the death scene. The government version is unsupported by independent evidence and while each statement has within it corroboration, several factors together reduces the credibility of such statements to incredible. In addition, the statements of the Iraqis are unclear, contradictory in part, and simply state self-interested conclusions as to what occurred within house 4. Finally, to believe the government version of facts is to disregard clear and convincing evidence to the contrary…

Much effort during the Article 32 [Editor — The military equivalent of a grand jury investigation] focused on whether the victims were insurgents. Although determining if they were may have some bearing on the credibility of the Iraqi witnesses and may support that LCpl Sharratt did perceive a hostile situation within house 4, such determinations are not necessary to conclude that LCpl Sharratt is truthful in his account. From as early as February 2006 LCpl Sharratt’s statements are supported by the forensic evidence. It is likely that members of the Ahmed family were either insurgents on 19 November 2005, or that they were attempting to defend their house and family when Marines enter house 4 uninvited and unannounced. On that fateful afternoon, Jasib heard someone enter house 4. He investigated with his AK-47 in his hands. LCpl Sharratt saw him and perceived a threat. Using his training he responded instinctively, assaulting in the open room emptying his pistol. Whether this was a brave act of combat against the enemy or tragedy of misperception born out of conducting combat against an enemy that hides among innocents, LCpl Sharratt’s actions were in accord with the rules of engagement and use of force.

The Times failed to report the investigating officer found that the victims were not shot at “point-blank range.” The following is from the section of LTC Ware’s report entitled Evidence offered to support reasonable grounds:

Without question, the forensic evidence demonstrates that three of the men were shot in the head while facing forward from a distance of at least 2 feet. The three men in the specifications of the Charge all suffered fatal wounds consistent with 9mm rounds fired from a distance beyond 2 feet. It is difficult, if not impossible to believe, that trained and experienced Marines would decide to execute 4 unarmed men by leading them into a house, moving them to a back room with no light (curtains were closed) and allow them to move about the room while trying to shoot them with the least effective weapon in their arsenal. In addition, forensic evidence proves that one person was standing in the doorway and shot to the face while the other three were further inside the room [Editor – As Sharratt stated]. Under such circumstances one would reasonably expect that the others would then attempt to run or fight. None of the victims received defensive wounds to their hands or arms nor did they receive wounds to their backs or rear of their heads. Each was shot facing forward, from a distance, and with a 9mm pistol which I find inconsistent with an execution or persons reacting to an execution [pdf reader required]. Furthermore, there is no evidence to suggest LCpl Sharratt attempted to hide the fact he shot these individuals. To the contrary, SSgt Laughner testified that he was aware that people were shot in house 4 due to reports from the field.

Related previous posts:

July 12, 2007: Congressman John Murtha should apologize or resign, or both

July 13, 2007: Marine’s Parents Want Murtha Censured for Haditha Remarks

July 16, 2007: A presumption of innocence: I’ll deliver your email to suddenly silent John Murtha

July 18, 2007: Father of slandered Marine emails Congressman Murtha

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