Tags: haditha | tatum

Pretrial Hearings Held for Haditha Marine

Thursday, 20 Mar 2008 09:17 AM

By Nat Helms

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Pretrial hearings, called to set ground rules for the court-martial of Lance Cpl. Stephen Tatum, showed how utterly false the original stories were that the events in Haditha in November 2005 were a massacre committed by out-of-control Marines.

The two-day series of pretrial hearings were held at Camp Pendleton in California. The trial is slated for March 28.

Newsmax's Phil Brennan has covered the story from the beginning and consistently revealed the real story of Haditha as opposed to the insurgent propaganda spread by Time magazine and other media. Newsmax sent veteran combat correspondent Nat Helms to monitor the hearings.

Exactly two years after a squad of Marine infantryman was accused of massacring 24 civilians at Haditha, Iraq, Tatum Wednesday pleaded not guilty to charges he intentionally killed and wounded civilians in the infamous incident.

Gruelling Proceedings

After a two-day, 27-hour motion hearing to examine the evidence, the 26-year old rifleman told military judge Lt. Col. Eugene Robinson he was not guilty of involuntary manslaughter reckless endangerment, and aggravated assault.

He has asked that the trial be heard before a jury of his peers — enlisted Marines.

The motion hearing was conducted to determine what evidence would be allowed to be heard at Tatum’s impending court-martial. During the often contentious proceeding, Tatum sat silently while his team of four defense attorneys jousted with two government prosecutors over what a jury should be allowed to hear at his impending court-martial.

He is accused of unintentionally killing several civilians in a powerful Marine counter-attack after his 12-man squad was ambushed during a “complex attack” by insurgents.

The remotely detonated roadside bomb that killed members of his squad was the beginning of a sporadic all day fight that left one Marine and 24 Iraqis dead, 13 Marines wounded, and ignited a firestorm of condemnation that severely damaged the morale and effectiveness of the Marine Corps.

Tatum is the first of four Marines, two enlisted men and two officers from the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines, scheduled to stand general court-martial in the sordid affair. On Dec. 21, 2006, nine Marines and five enlisted men from Kilo Company 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines and four officers — including the battalion commander — were accused of murder and cover up following the incident.

Since being charged, two officers and three enlisted men have either been completely exonerated or granted immunity from prosecution in return for their testimony. In addition, the war crimes allegations and murder charges have been dismissed as overwhelming evidence surfaced that showed the embattled Marines were themselves as much victims of an insurgent attack as they were perpetrators of serious war crimes.

Tatum was a member of the Kilo Company when he was accused of joining in the alleged slaughter on Nov. 19, 2005, according to a series of stories published by Time magazine.

Time's specious account, published on March 19, 2006, charged that nine members of Tatum’s 12-man squad went on a rampage of murder in the restive city after one squad member was blown in half and two others were wounded by a roadside bomb. Time charged that the Marines hunted down and slaughtered 24 innocent civilians cowering in their homes in retaliation for the ambush.

Houston attorney Jack B. Zimmermann, a retired Marine colonel and former military judge, heads the defense team. Zimmermann used his 24 years of Marine Corps experience to present his client’s case.

Marine reservist Lt. Col. Sean Sullivan, a Chicago lawyer and veteran Marine, led the prosecution.

One of the first witnesses to be called Tuesday morning was Army Col. Gregory A. Watt, the investigator sent to Haditha in February 2006 by the American high command in Baghdad.

Watt told the judge he was sent to Haditha after an Army public affairs officer stationed in Baghdad began receiving e-mailed reports from the Time correspondent that a squad of out-of-control Marines had slaughtered innocent men, women, and children at Haditha.

According to Watt’s testimony, among the many horrors Time reported before he began his investigation were accounts that the Marines dragged a man and his wife from a passing car and shot them in cold blood, left a wounded Iraqi man lying on the road for six hours until he bled to death, and forced four brothers into a closet and then shot them full of holes.

The government’s subsequent two-year, multimillion dollar investigation has consumed the efforts of more than 60 naval criminal investigators, dozens of Marines supporting the trials,and hundreds of hours of air time during which pundits and prognosticators compared the incident to the My Lai Massacre.

Despite the countless man hours and the unknown millions of dollars spent, the government’s own investigation shows that none of Time's allegations have proved to be even remotely accurate. Despite its findings, the government continues to pursue the case.

Time said in its initial story and subsequent accounts, that most of his information was obtained from two Iraqi human rights advocates who came seeking justice when the Marine Corps turned a blind eye to their allegations.

Numerous Marine Corps witnesses have since testified that the so-called “human rights advocates” were in fact a pair of insurgent propagandists who bamboozled Time's reporter into believing the Marines had perpetrated the massacre in revenge for their comrade’s death.

Those witnesses claim the reporter was the victim of a well-orchestrated plot to sow dissent in the Iraqi and American public.

Tatum’s defense team wants to suppress all the statement pertaining to their client that was obtained by Watt during his “informal” investigation ordered by the Baghdad brass. Zimmermann told the court that Tatum and the other Marines charged in the incident were beguiled into cooperating with Watt by his disarming manner and the fact he never told the Marines they were suspected of committing heinous crimes.

Sullivan told the judge that the statements Watt obtained from Tatum and the other “cooperative” Marines should be admitted into evidence because they show that the enlisted men “voluntarily” admitted participating in the wrongful deaths of the civilians killed at Haditha.

Zimmermann argued that when an Army colonel talks to junior Marine enlisted men, they are frequently overawed and incapable of refusing to cooperate because of both their training and their low station in the military hierarchy.

“We treated all the Marines with dignity and respect,” Watt testified Tuesday morning while being questioned by Sullivan. “I was an outsider. Being a colonel and talking to these young Marines I adopted a grandfatherly approach to talking to these young Marines — to talk to them so I could get the full story.”

Dirty Prosecution Tactics

The “full story” obtained by Watt’s interrogation techniques raised the ire of Zimmermann and the other members of the defense team, civilian attorney Kyle Sampson, Marine Lt. Col Matthew W. Cord, and Maj. Jeffrey Munoz.

They argued that Watt literally tricked the Marines into believing they were simply cooperating in a non-threatening inquiry when he lined out the warning on their pre-printed statement forms that indicated they were possible suspects in criminal activity.

The defense lawyers claim that when Watt replaced the printed warning statement with a handwritten entry that stated he merely “wanted to question me about [the] Haditha attack” it violated their right against self-incrimination.

Watt said he did not suspect the young Marines of any crimes when he changed the pre-printed forms against the advice of his own lawyer and therefore was not violating their right as the defense claims.

“There was no evidence to suspect any Marines had committed any offenses” he said.

Despite Watt’s claims to the contrary, his “informal” report was ultimately the basis for the criminal charges against Tatum and eight other Marines eventually accused of war crimes at Haditha.

Another witness whose appearance revealed the litigious nature of the proceedings was Marine Col. John Ewers, the top military lawyer for the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (1st MEF) in October 2007.

Ewers was called to testify Thursday afternoon because he had appeared in uniform on the popular Public Broadcasting System television news show “Frontline” in February that dealt with the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines during and after the Haditha incident.

The defense argued that Ewers' appearance created an atmosphere of inappropriate command influence at Camp Pendleton and elsewhere in 1st MEF among Marines who might be called as panel members when Tatum goes to trial.

The prosecution dismissed the defense’s arguments as unfounded hyperbole.

Ewers,who said he has been a Marine officer for 23 years, denied that when the commanding general’s top lawyer appeared on a nationally broadcast television it would have any effect on Marines who watched him say that every Marine is taught to distinguish between combatants and non-combatants and therefore knew or should have known when and who they could shoot.

“I told the 'Frontline' guy I couldn’t talk about Haditha,” Ewers testified. “I feel like I was edited in a manner that was inconsistent with the manner I was interviewed.”

Sampson pressed Ewers, “Did you know that potential members could be watching the 'Frontline' piece and that potential members could be pulled from 1st MEF? Would you agree that your comments aired on national TV whether taken out of context or not would have an effect? “What training are you referring to?”

“I have no specific knowledge of what [3rd Battalion, 1st Marines] was trained [in], but I know that all Marines are trained to distinguish between civilians and combatants,” Ewers replied. “The proposition that Marines are trained to distinguish combatants from noncombatants is the same as saying Marines are trained not to do bad things. I have been involved in that training for 23 years . . .”

Sampson fired back, “Do you believe that potential members would believe these Marines, potential members who watched that Haditha piece and watched your comments, whether taken out of context or not, would believe these Marines did something wrong?"

Ewers responded, “Do you mean Lance Cpl. Tatum? I believe that would be a reach. I didn’t draw that inference when I was watching the program, when I was contacted by 'Frontline.' Maybe I wasn’t watching close enough.”

The defense has also asked the judge to overrule Lt. Gen. Samuel Helland’s recent decision to order Tatum to testify at Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich’s court-martial. Wuterich was Tatum’s squad leader at Haditha. Helland is the convening authority and final arbiter in both Tatum and Wuterich’s courts-martial.

In a unique and extremely contentious decision, Helland granted Tatum testimonial immunity last month and ordered him to testify at his former squad leader’s court-martial.

Zimmermann has said that the Marine Corps was “forcing immunity” on his client.

Any testimony that Tatum gives as part of the immunity grant cannot be used as evidence against him by the government.

“We were sent a copy of the immunity order that we did not negotiateand we have no (plea) deal” Zimmerman said when he learned of Helland’s extraordinary decision on Feb. 14. Zimmermann has filed a motion asking the military judge to overrule Helland’s decision.

Wuterich’s trial is currently on an indefinite hold while the government pursues outtakes made by the CBS “60 Minutes” television show made during Wuterich’s television appearance last year.

The Marine Corps has subpoenaed the outtakes to discover if Tatum’s former squad leader and co-defendant said anything incriminating during the production of the program. CBS is fighting the subpoena.

Wuterich is charged with voluntary manslaughter, aggravated assault, reckless endangerment, dereliction of duty, and obstruction of justice.

Tatum is also waiting to discover if the judge will agree with a motion by his defense team to give Wuterich testimonial immunity to testify at Tatum’s trial. If the judge agrees, anything Wuterich testifies to in Tatum’s court-martial cannot be used against him at his own trial. The judge may rule as early as Thursday morning, Zimmerman said.

Meanwhile, both sides in Tatum’s court-martial are also waiting the judge’s decisions on motions they filed regarding photographic evidence, forensic evidence, and witness testimony that they feel will bolster their respective cases, and the Haditha investigation continues.

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