Family Stands By A Marine Under Investigation

November 22nd, 2006  
Team Infidel

Topic: Family Stands By A Marine Under Investigation

Washington Post
November 22, 2006
Pg. 3

By Josh White, Washington Post Staff Writer
Darryl Sharratt often breaks into tears when trying to start sentences that include the word "Haditha." A stoic foreman from Pennsylvania, he struggles with painful concepts such as betrayal and helplessness. His wife, Theresa, puts her hand on his shoulder and tries to talk through the anguish.
"I love my son. He's my hero," Theresa Sharratt says calmly. "He's not what they're portraying him as. I can't believe that this is happening to us. To him."
Their dining room table is covered with photographs, scrapbooks, letters and trinkets belonging to their son, Lance Cpl. Justin Sharratt, a 22-year-old Marine who had dreamed his entire life of joining the military. Now, the Sharratts are fighting to preserve his reputation, as he is one of a handful of Marines who are being investigated over the slayings of two dozen Iraqi civilians on Nov. 19, 2005.
The Sharratts have remained silent until now because they did not know what to say. They have avoided learning details of their son's possible involvement in the shootings while they have struggled to understand what might have happened in a war zone thousands of miles away. They have privately fumed about politicians -- such as Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) -- who have publicly stated that their son was part of a brutal, vengeful slaughter. And they are livid that no one in the Marine Corps has stepped forward to defend their son.
"He's very confident he did nothing wrong, and we believe him," Theresa Sharratt said in a recent interview in the family home in Canonsburg, Pa., which is south of Pittsburgh. Her husband wiped his eyes and added: "He felt he was doing his job. And, now, the Marine Corps has betrayed these guys. All of them."
The incident in Haditha was not widely known until the past spring, when Time magazine wrote an account of the civilian deaths in a small group of homes in the insurgent hotbed. Early reports alleged that Marines with Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines, snapped after a member of their unit was killed by a roadside bomb, sending them on a rampage through nearby homes. There were also allegations of a coverup.
Attorneys for the Marines -- including Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich, the most senior noncommissioned officer at the scene of the shootings -- have said repeatedly that their clients followed the appropriate rules of engagement and killed the civilians as they were hunting insurgents responsible both for the roadside bombing and for a volley of shots from what the Marines believed were AK-47 assault rifles.
"They responded the way they were trained," said Jack B. Zimmerman, an attorney for Lance Cpl. Stephen Tatum, 25, who officials believe was one of the Marines who fired shots. "Anytime you're involved in house-to-house urban warfare in an inhabited area, there's going to be the risk that civilians will be in harm's way. It's very unfortunate that women and children died, but the issue here is what was going through these guys' minds when they were taking fire, and did they respond the way they were trained to?"
Marine Corps officials have declined to comment about the case, as a nine-month investigation rests in the hands of prosecutors who have not yet decided on charges. A high-level review of whether commanders did not appropriately investigate the Haditha incident was completed in Iraq in July and the results are with commanders there, though Pentagon officials have so far declined to release the findings.
Wuterich, through his attorneys, has outlined a scenario that portrays the Marines reacting in a clinical way, noting that the squad was taking fire from the houses and attacked them, "clearing" rooms with grenades and gunfire.
In a separate account, recently obtained by The Washington Post, other Marines in the squad reported seeing, hearing and feeling gunshots flying over their heads in short bursts immediately before they entered the houses. The scenes inside, according to the account, were chaotic, as Marines threw fragmentation grenades and then fired shots through the dust and smoke.
One Marine who was in the convoy that day said that no one overreacted to the death of their friend, Cpl. Miguel "TJ" Terrazas, and that the troops focused on the mission. Answering written questions under the condition of anonymity, the Marine said no one seemed to be out for revenge. Instead, he said, the men wanted to make sure comrades came out from the ambush alive.
"If they were going to charge us, then you may as well charge every Marine and soldier in Iraq," the Marine said. He added that members of his squad "did not realize that civilians had been killed until they went back through the houses to assess collateral damage."
Military officials familiar with the investigation said there is some evidence that could show wrongdoing, including images, taken by an unmanned aircraft, that appear to show that a group of civilians shot near their car -- which had approached the Marine convoy after the bomb went off -- were executed. At least one Marine has told officials that he saw another Marine standing over the bodies and emptying his rifle's clip into them, according to two people closely familiar with the case.
Others have said that the shots that killed women and children inside the houses appeared to be "well-aimed," though defense attorneys have challenged that assessment as speculation because there is so little physical evidence to support it. The official investigation did not begin until months after the shootings, and some critical evidence was lost.
It is unclear what, if any, charges the Marines will face. Officials said this week that criminal charges could be announced in the next few weeks against as many as half a dozen men.
"My client did not engage in any conduct that we believe is criminal," said Gary Myers, an attorney for Sharratt. "Our position is that anything he did engaging the enemy was consistent with rules of engagement at the time."
Sharratt enlisted in the Marines just before his 18th birthday -- a decision his family supported -- and deployed to Iraq in 2004. He spent time in Fallujah, where he took part in the major offensive to take the city and used close-combat "clearing" tactics on enemy houses. He was deployed to Haditha the next year.
The Sharratts used to worry about their son's safety and how he dealt with the loss of friends -- "Don't worry about me, I can handle it," he had said to his mother. Now they worry that he is caught up in a political storm.
"Somebody's going to pay, and we're so afraid it's going to be the young guys," Theresa Sharratt said. "He believes he didn't do anything wrong."
But Darryl Sharratt says America has already convicted his son and the other Marines, and he feels helpless, lost, as he awaits a decision on possible charges.
"For 18 years, I protected him. And now I can't do anything about it," he said. "I just want the Marine Corps to stand up and say the Marines couldn't have done this and didn't do it. I blame them for letting it go on for this long."

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