Marine Officers Strategized Their Haditha Responses

Strategy vs. Spin

The following document was entered into evidence in hearings surrounding the events in the Iraqi town of Haditha in November of 2005. It has not previously been made public.

A document entered into evidence in hearings related to the killing of Iraqi civilians in Haditha in November of 2005 reveals that Marine officers in charge of the squad in question met to discuss how they would handle a reporter's questions about the episode.

After a Marine was killed in Haditha by a roadside bomb, 24 Iraqi civilians were slain in three houses being cleared by a Marine squad. Staff Sgt. Frank Wutterich, who led the squad that day, has been charged with unpremeditated murder.

Hearings on the case against Wutterich and others are under way at California's Camp Pendleton.

Neither Wutterich's battalion commander nor anyone else in the Marine chain of command saw any reason to investigate the civilian deaths, even though several women and children were killed in their homes.

In January of 2006, Time magazine reporter Tim McGirk sent a series of questions to the military asking what had happened in Haditha on the day of the killings, Nov. 19, 2005.

Officers of the battalion in charge of the platoon and squad involved met to discuss their response to McGirk's questions. The notes that emerged from their meeting show how the Marines hoped to shape the story — and to prepare the officers to answer McGirk's questions.

It is unclear which one of the officers wrote a synopsis of their meeting, which was provided to NPR.

McGirk never went out to Haditha to interview those directly involved. He has said that his editors thought it to be too dangerous. Some of the Marines involved in the incident feel that it was unfair for him to file his story without talking to them.

Sgt. Wutterich told CBS's 60 Minutes that he made a logical guess that fire was coming from the houses they cleared. No one in the Marines' chain of command has testified that they saw any reason to suspect that a law-of-war violation had occurred.

Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani, the battalion commander, was charged with dereliction of duty for failing to properly report and investigate the incident.

Camp Pendleton is also now hearing pretrial motions on a case prompted by the alleged execution of a 52-year-old Iraqi man by a Marine squad in Hamdania.

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