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Newsmax: US Video Clears Marines In Haditha

From (sadly, not always reliable) Newsmax:

New Evidence Emerges in Haditha Case

Phil Brennan, NewsMax
Monday, June 26, 2006

New evidence continues to emerge that U.S. Marines did not wantonly kill Iraqi civilians in Haditha last November – and the soldiers’ accounts of what happened are backed up by videotape shot by an ultralight vehicle, NewsMax has learned.

According to media reports, last Nov. 19 members of a Marine Corps company killed some 24 innocent civilian Iraqis in Haditha, a town 140 miles northwest of Baghdad and near the Syrian border.

In the ensuing media firestorm that broke out after the story was revealed, many news reports here and abroad compared the Haditha deaths to the infamous My Lai massacre during the Vietnam War.

Michael Sallah, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his My Lai reporting, has said: "You would have difficulties finding a single newspaper in Germany or elsewhere in Europe which does not deal with My Lai."

But the facts and accounts from Marines and others on the ground tell another story.

What is not in dispute is that the Marines’ engagement in Haditha began when an IED (improvised explosive device) detonated, killing a Marine from Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division.

In the aftermath of the action two investigations were launched, one by Army Maj. Gen. Eldon Bargewell, who was charged with investigating how the incident was reported through the chain of command. A second investigation, headed by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), is looking into any possible criminal aspects of the incident.

The Bargewell report has not been released and is still being reviewed by Army Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, a top U.S. commander in Iraq. But military officials told the Los Angeles Times that although it concludes there was no deliberate cover-up by senior Marine officers, the Corps failed to follow up and ask questions that the known details should have provoked them to ask.

The NCIS investigation is still ongoing.

In May, when Rep. John Murtha, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, appeared on "Good Morning America," he accused the Marines of K Company of killing innocent civilians "in cold blood" and said that the killings had been covered up by higher officers.

The Bargewell report has disproved that allegation, and with the NCIS investigation so far incomplete and no soldier charged with a crime, how would Murtha know?

Intelligence sources tell NewsMax the facts of the Haditha incident paint an entirely different picture from the one Murtha and others are propagating.

Military sources familiar with the incident have told NewsMax:

# Within minutes of the early morning IED explosion, a firefight erupted between insurgents and Marines. Civilians were caught in the middle of the firefight. Also, although civilians did die, their deaths were the result of door-to-door combat as the Marines sought to clear houses and stop the insurgent gunfire.

# Ample evidence proves that a firefight took place. For example, every second of the ensuing firefight was monitored by numerous people at company, battalion, and regimental HQs via radio communications.

# Video evidence supports the Marines’ claims. Within a very few minutes, battalion, regimental, and division headquarters were able to watch the action thanks to an overhead ultralight aircraft that remained aloft all day. Photos of some of the action were downloaded and in the hands of Marines and the NCIS.

# Some of the insurgents involved in planning the attack and firing at Marines during a daylong engagement have been apprehended and are in custody.

Much of the story claiming what really happened in the aftermath of the IED explosion was reported by the Washington Post on June 11. NewsMax can now reveal the rest of the story about what really happened at Haditha.

In order to fully understand what happened last Nov. 19, it is important to know what kind of city Haditha is.

"We require more manpower to cover this area the way we need to," one military official told the Los Angeles Times. One Knight Ridder reporter called Haditha, a town of about 100,000 people, "an insurgent bastion," reporting that "insurgents blend in with the residents, setting up cells in their homes next to those belonging to everyday citizens, some of them supportive."

Knight Ridder said that around the time of an August attack, when a total of 20 U.S. Marines were killed in two days, "several storefronts were lined with posters and pictures supporting al-Qaida. … "There is no functioning police station and the government offices are largely vacant. The last man to call himself mayor relinquished the title earlier this year after scores of death threats from insurgents."

According to an August 2005 story in Britain’s Guardian newspaper, Haditha, under the nose of an American base, "is a miniature Taliban-like state. Insurgents decide who lives and dies, which salaries get paid, what people wear, what they watch and listen to."

When the Marines first went into the city, they were aware of the tight control insurgents exercised over Haditha. They discovered that the insurgents had freshly paved over dirt roads leading into town under the auspices of civic works projects.

They were, according to a NewsMax source, "beautiful asphalt-surfaced roads" that even included painted lines. The only problem, the source recalled, was that insurgents had laid more than 100 mega-IEDs under that asphalt. And, in order to avoid having to change batteries in the triggering devices, they had wired them into the city power lines lining the road.

It is important to remember that the so-called details of the alleged massacre came from Iraqis and residents of Haditha, a city run by insurgents who have those residents not allied with them under their bloody thumbs.

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

"It will forever be his position that everything they did that day was following their rules of engagement and to protect the lives of Marines," Neal A. Puckett, who represents Wuterich in the ongoing investigations into the incident, told the Post. "He’s really upset that people believe that he and his Marines are even capable of intentionally killing innocent civilians."

According to the Post, Wuterich told his attorney in initial interviews over nearly 12 hours 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.

Wrote the Post: "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 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. Wuterich, who was driving the third Humvee in the line, immediately stopped the convoy and got out, Puckett told the Post, adding 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, multistage attacks.

According to Puckett, as Wuterich began briefing the platoon leader, 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. After a discussion with the platoon leader, they decided to clear the house, according to Wuterich’s account.

"There was 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 fragmentation 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.

As already stated, the Haditha massacre story reported by Time magazine was based entirely on accounts from Iraqis with an ax to grind. The facts of what happened tell a different story. The real story, it will eventually be revealed, is backed up by evidence Time didn’t know existed. It gives the lie to the idea that there was anything like a massacre in Haditha on Nov. 19. Here, for the first time, is the truth about what happened.

NewsMax can verify Wuterich’s account. The site of the IED explosion was in an area well known as an insurgent stronghold, where as many as 50 IEDs were found previously, and from where, on two previous occasions, insurgents launched small-arms fire, rocket-propelled grenades, and mortar attacks on K Company.

Within five minutes of the blast, Marines on the scene reported they were receiving small-arms fire. Within 30 minutes of the blast, and while the house-clearing was still under way, an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team en route to the site came under small-arms fire in a known insurgent tactic to ambush first responders.

At the same time, just 30 minutes after the house-clearing, an intelligence unit arrived to question the Marines involved in the house-clearing operation. NewsMax sources say the behavior of the Marines involved gave them no reason to believe anything but what they had been told.

At about the same time a UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) arrived over the blast area and from that moment on, for the entire day, the UAV transmitted views of the engagement to the company command site, battalion headquarters, the regimental HQ, and the division HQ. What the UAV captured was a view of Marines in their perimeter, as they went about doing house-clearing. It was then vectored to the surrounding area to catch any fleeing insurgents. It showed four insurgents fleeing the neighborhood, loading weapons into their car, and linking up with their partners (the ones that had conducted the ambush on the EOD team).

Knowing what we now know about Wuterich’s account, these fleeing insurgents were most likely the same ones who left through the back door of the house he was clearing.

There are photos of this, and they show the insurgents getting back into their car after loading the weapons.The UAV then followed them south to their safe house. From that point forward, until about 6 p.m., the safe house was hit by bombs and an assault by a K Company squad. The UAV followed the insurgents who had been inside through town.

The final tally for these engagements was two insurgents killed by direct fire, one killed by GBU bombs, and one detained. The entire action was followed by the UAV overhead.

Keep in mind, the entire action was followed by keeping the UAV overhead all day.

The Haditha "massacre" being referred to is the 30 minutes to one hour that took place first thing in the morning. The rest of the day’s activities, in fact, confirmed the nature of the morning’s attack.

It is clear that the entire incident was planned and carried out by insurgents who detonated the IED, and then, in a familiar tactic, attacked the Marines responding to the blast – deliberately putting civilians at risk.

This is what happened in Haditha that day. It was a daylong engagement with armed insurgents that involved civilian casualties who died as a result of being caught in the middle of a firefight. It had been reported as a blast followed by a TIC – Marine Corps terminology for "Troops in Contact." In other words, gunfire directed at the Marines.

As the battalion went about compiling information on the insurgents’ identities and determining who had been involved in the attack, its actions in the ensuing weeks resulted in the detention of several insurgents who masterminded the attack, and who remain incarcerated in Abu Ghraib prison today.

Unmanned Aerial Vehicle

If what Newsmax says they have been told by "military sources" is true, then there has been some very selective leaking going on hitherto.

It has been previously reported (by the even less reliable Washington Post) that there was a UAV on the scene and that it did video much of the events:

Drone’s Video May Aid Marine Inquiry

Footage Shot on Day of Iraq Incident

By Thomas E. Ricks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 30, 2006 ; Page A03

Military investigators piecing together what happened in the Iraqi town of Haditha on Nov. 19 — when Marines allegedly killed two dozen civilians — have access to video shot by an unmanned drone aircraft that was circling overhead for at least part of that day, military defense lawyers familiar with the case said in interviews.

It is unclear whether the video obtained from that day’s flight captured the violence, said the lawyers, who have consulted with Marines who were there. One lawyer said investigators have reviewed surveillance footage taken hours after the shootings, which showed the Marines returning to the town to remove the bodies of the Iraqis.

(See the full WP article in the comments below.)

But I have to say that all of this sounds almost too good to be true.

This article was posted by Steve Gilbert on Monday, June 26th, 2006. Comments are currently closed.

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