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Investigator Says Drop Haditha Marine’s Charges

From a distraught Los Angeles Times:

United States Marine Lance Corporal Justin Sharratt enters the courtroom for his Article 32 Investigation hearing at US Marine Corps Camp Pendleton June 11, 2007.

Haditha suspect may be cleared

By Tony Perry, Times Staff Writer
July 11, 2007

CAMP PENDLETON — A hearing officer recommended Tuesday that murder charges be dropped against Marine Lance Cpl. Justin L. Sharratt in the fatal shooting of Iraqi civilians in the western town of Haditha in late November 2005.

Lt. Col. Paul Ware said conflicting statements by Iraqis, inconclusive forensic evidence and questionable legal theories used by the prosecution were inadequate to send Sharratt to a court-martial on charges of killing three Iraqi brothers.

Ware’s recommendation goes to Lt. Gen. James N. Mattis, commanding general of the Marine Forces Central Command.

Sharratt is one of three enlisted Marines charged with murdering civilians.

His attorneys, Gary Myers and James Culp, praised Ware’s recommendation and report and said it contrasted with the “hysteria of some elements of the press and certain members of Congress.”

Ware, a lawyer, recommended that charges against Sharratt be dropped and that the Marine be given immunity and required to testify at hearings for other defendants.

Ware said he did not believe the Iraqis who said Sharratt and another Marine forced the brothers into a room and executed them.

Believing the Iraqis, he wrote, could “set a dangerous precedent that, in my opinion, may encourage others to bear false witness against Marines as a tactic to erode public support of the Marine Corps and the U.S. mission in Iraq.”

He added, “Even more dangerous is the potential that a Marine may hesitate at the critical moment when facing the enemy.”

Four Marine officers are charged with dereliction of duty for not investigating whether the deaths of the 24 civilians that day constituted a war crime.

A hearing officer has recommended that the charge against Capt. Randy W. Stone, an attorney for the 3rd Battalion, 1st Regiment, not be sent to court-martial. 

Good.

Though Lt. Col. Ware is actually the “Investigating Officer,” rather than just “a hearing officer.”

But isn’t it odd that this story is getting so little press?

(Of course that is a rhetorical question.) 

Here, in fact, is the actual recommendation from Lt. Col. Ware as it appears in his official report:

Recommended disposition of Charge

Due to the disparate accounts, it is tempting to simply conclude that this case should be tried to either exonerate LCp1 Sharratt or convict him of a crime. However, to adopt the government’s position that because there are two differing accounts, a general court-martial is warranted is an abdication of the necessary process of determining whether reasonable grounds exist to warrant a court-martial. It is not as simple as stating there are two accounts so a trial is necessary. Analysis of these two versions must provide reasonable grounds that the Government version of events may be true. In analyzing the evidence, I read several hundred pages of interviews, documents, articles and statements (IE 33-105).

Ultimately, there is only one statement by an eye witness to the events, LCp1 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 and sets a dangerous precedent that, in my opinion, may encourage others to bear false witness against Marines as a tactic to erode public support of the Marine Corps and mission in Iraq. Even more dangerous is the potential that a Marine may hesitate at the critical moment when facing the enemy.

Much effort during the Article 32 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 LCp1 Sharratt did perceive a hostile situation within house 4, such determinations are not necessary to conclude that LCp1 Sharratt is truthful in his account. From as early as February 2006 LCp1 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 entered house 4 uninvited and unannounced. On that fateful afternoon, Jasib heard someone enter house 4. He investigated with his AK-47 in his hands. LCp1 Sharratt saw him and perceived him as a threat. Using his training he responded instinctively, assaulting into the room emptying his pistol. Whether this was a brave act of combat against the enemy or tragedy of misperception born out of conducting combat with an enemy that hides among innocents, LCp1 Sharratt’s actions were in accord with the rules of engagement and use of force.

Accordingly I recommend that the Charge and specifications be dismissed without prejudice. I further recommend that LCp1 Sharratt be given testimonial immunity and ordered to cooperate with ongoing investigations concerning the events of 19 November 2005.

Emphasis his.

I have uploaded the “Investing Officer’s Report” in both a Word document format and in its original pdf file format — for those who want to read the entire 18 pages.

This article was posted by Steve Gilbert on Wednesday, July 11th, 2007. Comments are currently closed.

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