IT’S BEEN MORE THAN A YEAR SINCE JOHN MURTHA charged that U.S. Marines “killed innocent civilians in cold blood” in Haditha. Yesterday, a military commander lifted Murtha’s preemptive conviction.
Last May, John Murtha held a press conference accusing our soldiers of slaughtering 24 Iraqis – including women and children – in the town of Haditha in late November 2005. He guaranteed an investigation would determine “[o]ur troops overreacted because of the pressure on them, and they killed innocent civilians in cold blood.” His words ricocheted around the Arab world, as Al Jazeera dutifully quoted him. This “pressure,” Murtha said, could be ended by bringing troops home. The government eventually charged four men with “unpremeditated murder.”
On August 9th, the military dismissed all charges against one of the remaining three Marines accused of murder. Indeed, Lt. Gen. James Mattis went further than finding Lance Cpl. Justin Sharratt not guilty; he called the 22-year-old “innocent.” He concluded his statement by noting Sharratt “has always remained cloaked in the presumption of innocence, with this dismissal of charges, he remains in the eyes of the law – and in my eyes – innocent.”
All the accused have claimed they engaged in a battle with terrorists, who hid inside a home, and the civilian deaths were unintentional. Mattis verified this claim, adding a fact that seems to elude Murtha: “our nation is fighting a shadowy enemy who hides among the innocent people, does not comply with any aspect of the law of war, and routinely targets and intentionally draws fire toward civilians.”
The ruling is merely the latest indication that the government’s case against the three is crumbling. In June, Lt. Col. Paul Ware told the prosecution flatly, “The account you want me to believe does not support unpremeditated murder. Your theories don’t match the reason you say we should go to trial.” Relatives would not allow doctors to autopsy the bodies, and the house in question had been freshly repaired and painted before investigators could retrieve additional evidence. (Ware also doubted Iraqi witnesses would travel stateside to testify.) However, photographs of the scene revealed the curtains and walls were riddled with bullet holes – indicating a firefight had taken place.
In April, the government dropped charges against Sgt. Sanick P. Dela Cruz in exchange for his testimony and provided immunity for several others. A defense attorney states Dela Cruz has already changed his story five times.
Two others remain charged with murder: Lance Cpl. Stephen B. Tatum and Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich. Tatum’s Article 32 hearing – a military-style Grand Jury, which determines if the case proceeds to a court martial trial – wrapped up late last month. Prosecutors accuse Tatum of not following the Rules of Engagement, which state the Marine must identify that each specific target has hostile intent before firing. Which sounds like a terrific way to end up in the Memorial Day eulogy rather than the Veterans Day parade.
Tatum nearly broke down into tears when he recounted that he may have killed a child; yet he maintains after an explosion, he heard someone rack an AK-47 and could not clearly see the targets through the smoke. The prosecution’s star witness, Lance Cpl. Humberto Mendoza, testified Tatum ordered him to murder the innocents, then Tatum did it himself when he refused.
There are, however, significant reasons to question Mendoza’s veracity. While Tatum passed his lie detector test, Mendoza failed his. Mendoza admitted shooting two unarmed people, and confessed to lying and withholding evidence for more than a year. His testimony conflicts with that of every other witness, and with itself. Oh, and “Mendoza is trying to get his application for U.S. citizenship released by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, which is holding up his papers.” Mattis has yet to rule in this case.
Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich has yet to have his Article 32 hearing.
If Murtha genuinely cared about the troops, he would have protested the conditions of their interrogations. Investigators refused to provide attorneys to those who asked, questioned the men for 12 hours at a time, and did not give them bathroom breaks. (The men had to relieve themselves into bottles.) Had this treatment taken place at Guantanamo Bay, Congress would have already held a dozen hearings on the issue. When this treatment is accorded to enlisted men instead of terrorist murderers, the Democratic Left’s outrage seems to wane.
The media, too, lost interest when the proceedings no longer portrayed the enlisted men as brutal babykillers. True to form, Murtha’s blood libel made front page headlines. The proceedings were largely passed over – except when Mendoza testified. News of the exoneration has yet to make a ripple. Murtha demonized Sharratt and the others in front of the entire world. Tatum and Wuterich may yet prove guilty, but if they are acquitted, they may well join Sharratt in asking, “Where do I go to get my reputation back?”
Sharratt’s good name was the first casualty of Jack Murtha’s Iraq policy. If the Left succeeds in following all his advice, future casualties will not be figurative.
1. He also threw out separate charges against another GI in the Haditha incident.