Haditha Update: History of the Case

18JUN07

The Article 32 investigation into charges against 1stLt A. A. Grayson are scheduled to begin today, June 18th, 2007. Lt Grayson is charged with dereliction, false official statement, and obstruction of justice. All of the charges center around the investigation into the Haditha incident.

In a strange twist, the Marine Corps discharged Lt Grayson on the 1st of June, 07. Thus, he will have to be recalled to active duty for the investigation. His lawyer is of the opinion that he is not subject to military jurisdiction. That being said, there will not be a problem with jurisdiction because Lt Grayson was serving in the reserves.

14JUN07

The Article 32 investigation into the charges against LCpl Sharratt continue. He was one of the Marines involved in the fighting at Haditha. During questioning by NCIS LCpl Sharratt claimed that the first man he shot, on that day in Haditha, was holding an AK-47. The NCIS agent, SA Mannle, reviled that LCpl Sharratt was given a polygraph examination in April 2006 and there was no sign that he was deceptive. Again, LCpl Sharratt passed the polygraph.

During cross-examination by LCpl Sharratt’s lawyer, SA Mannle “confirmed that Marines seized several AK-47 rifles and a suitcase allegedly containing Jordanian passports from the Ahmed compound the day of the killings. She said her agency wasn’t able to track down these items, which might have linked the Ahmed brothers to insurgent activity.”

So now we know the following:

  • NCIS interviewed witnesses for one hour
  • LCpl Sharratt passed the polygraph
  • NCIS did not record the interviews
  • NCIS lost the suitcase containing Jordanian passports and AK-47 rifles seized at the scene

For a good review of the differing coverage of the Haditha story see the Democracy Project.

13JUN07

Numerous murder trials, senior officers charged, international news, this should take about an hour. An hour is all the time NCIS agents spent collecting evidence and interviewing witnesses in the wake of the deaths of 24 Iraqis in Haditha. Witnesses were interviewed in groups, through interpretors, and none of this was recorded in any manner other than hand-written notes.

Mr. Ed Buice of NCIS defended the practice of not making a video or audio recording of the interviews. He stated that “no federal law enforcement agency regularly taped interviews.” The fact that other agencies make the same mistake as NCIS does not legitimize the practice. Recording interviews protects both the accused and the Government, by producing fewer suppression motions. Additionally, anyone who has experience with translation knows that different translators can have differing interpretations of what someone said.

12JUN07

The investigating officer, Maj McCann, in Capt Stone’s Article 32 investigation made his recommendations, which, interestingly, recommended no criminal charges and further recommended resolving the case administratively. Capt Stone was the military lawyer for 3/1 at Haditha. The investigation was into possible charges of dereliction of duty for not reporting the killing of civilians at Haditha. Maj McCann recommended no criminal charges, and added the following:

Other information presented during the hearing indicated the accused was selectively singled out for prosecution . . . Despite significantly more experience and access to the same information, officers senior to the accused have not been charged. Each of these officers is under the same duty as the accused to report law of war violations . . .

At a previous hearing the chief of staff for the commanding general of 2nd Marine Division, Col R. G. Sokoloski, invoked his 5th Amendment privilege and refused to testify. Col Sokoloski is a Marine Judge Advocate. The commanding general, MajGen Huck, testified that he was “pretty irritated” at Col Sokoloski for not making him aware of request from Time Magazine about the deaths at Haditha.

It does not appear that Maj McCann named any individuals in his report. This report may spark a new round of charges and investigations. We will have to wait and see.

11JUN07

 

The Article 32 investigation begins for Lance Corporal Justin L. Sharratt. LCpl Sharratt shot several men in the village of Haditha, in November 2005. LCpl Sharratt was with his battalion 3/1 in when the killings happended in Haditha. LCpl Sharratt is charged with violations of Article 118 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), unpremeditated murder. The maximum punishment is a dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, reduction to the lowest enlisted rank, and confinement for life. The investigating officer is LtCol P. J. Ware, USMC, a military judge in Hawaii. LtCol Ware was previously a military judge at Camp Pendleton. LCpl Sharratt’s military defense counsel is Major B Cosgrove, USMCR, a reservist brought back on active duty for this case.

The family of LCpl Sharratt has established a defense fund.

Capt Stone was the legal adviser for 3/1 in November 2005 when the unit was in the town of Haditha. The Article 32 investigation into his handling of the reports from Haditha resulted in a recommendation that no criminal charges be brought against him. The possible charges relate to possible violations of the UCMJ for not reporting possible violations of the laws of war after the unit killed 24 Iraquis in Haditha. The Article 32 investigation is very similarly to a grand jury hearing, with one important difference, it is not binding. Thus, the commanding general, LtGen Mattis, could still decide to forward charges to a court-martial.

 

 

08JUN07

Staff Sergeant (SSgt) Justin Laughner testified that he was instructed by his superior, 1stLt Andrew Grayson, to erase photographs of the dead women and children in Haditha. The staff sergeant testified that “It just didn’t seem right . . . To me, it looked like destroying evidence . . .” Nonetheless, SSgt Laughner deleted the images from his computer, but the same image files on his camera were not deleted.

SSgt Laughner was testifying in the Article 32 investigation (equivalent to a civilian grand jury) into charges against LtCol Chessani. LtCol Chessani is charged with violation of a lawful order and dereliction of duty. All of the charges relate to failing to report alleged violations of the laws of war to higher authorities. Lawyers for LtCol Chessani contend that he never saw the pictures.

 

According to witnesses these are the words used by LtCol Chessani when he was first informed about the 24 civilians killed at Haditha. LtCol Chessani did, however, make an earlier statement to NCIS, wherein he stated “I could have done a better job preparing the Marines for this deployment as it relates to R.O.E. training.” The investigating officer, Colonel Conlin, who has been somewhat critical of LtCol Chessani, stated that many other battalion commanders would have joined their troops in the battle area during such an engagement. LtCol Chessani did not join his Marines. LtCol Chessani is in the picture on the right, Col Conlin is on the left.

Col Christopher C. ConlinLtCol J. R. Chessani

It is remarkable that the investigating officer would not be a judge advocate (a military lawyer, all of whom are required to be certified civilian lawyers as well) as is the usual case in an Article 32 investigation. While there is no requirement that the investigating officer be a judge advocate, in the overwhelming majority of Marine Corps cases the investigating officer is a judge advocate. Col Conlin, in contrast, is an infantry officer by MOS (”Military Occupational Specialty”). Perhaps obviously, there’s an argument to be made that an infantry officer might be better suited to adjudge the combat-related actions of a battalion commander in a case such as this.

07JUN07″Haditha” here refers to an incident that occurred in November 2005, where U.S. Marines are alleged to have killed approximately 24 Iraqi civilians. Haditha itself is a city in the Al Anbar province in western Iraq.

The latest out of the Haditha case is the testimony of the battalion intelligence officer, Captain Dinsmore. It appears Captain Dinsmore was irritating the prosecutors during his testimony. This may be both because he was not helping their case and he was irritated at idea of the prosecution. The captain stated “the Marine Corps made a decision to hang Colonel Chessani out to dry.” The lead prosecutor, LtCol Sullivan, was reportedly increasingly incredulous during his questioning. The thrust of the captain’s testimony was that the Marines of 3/1 reacted correctly to the intelligence picture that were given. This picture included aerial surveillance from the previous day when “an insurgent who had been involved in the palm grove firefight [ran] into a nearby house and [emerged] with different clothing and carrying a baby.”

Also not helpful to the prosecution was the fact that the division commanding general, MajGen Huck, received a briefing about the firefight three days later, and not only did he not initiate an investigation, he congratulated the Marines. The general testified that he believed the deaths were combat related. Some may remember that at an earlier and related Article 32 hearing, MajGen Huck’s chief-of-staff Colonel Sokoloski refused to testify, invoking his rights under the 5th Amendment. Colonel Sokoloski is a lawyer and Marine Judge Advocate.

More information may be forthcoming today. What a court-martial this could be. Generals testifying, O-6 Judge Advocates invoking, reconnaissance tapes from flying drones. Not your run-of-the-mill case.

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