Haditha Case Likely To Have Repercussions

January 5th, 2007  
Team Infidel

Topic: Haditha Case Likely To Have Repercussions

San Diego Union-Tribune
January 5, 2007
Experts say it could change the Marines
By Rick Rogers, Staff Writer
The government hasn't even scheduled court hearings for eight Camp Pendleton Marines linked to an alleged massacre in Haditha, Iraq, but close observers of the case already say it is likely to become a tough legal battle that reverberates through the Marine Corps for years.
“This has all the earmarks of one of the great military cases in the country's history,” said Eugene R. Fidell, a noted military defense lawyer in Washington.
The Haditha case has special significance for several reasons, Fidell said. It not only involves four enlisted Marines accused of murdering 24 civilians on Nov. 19, 2005, after a roadside bomb claimed one of their own, but also four officers who allegedly downplayed or failed to fully investigate the killings.
“What also makes this case so compelling is it arises out of a tinderbox environment in Iraq where everyone is on a hair-trigger,” Fidell said. “It could certainly sour relations between U.S. forces and the local Iraqi population. It could have repercussions on morale in the Marine Corps and on the public in the United States.”
Military investigators and prosecutors have spent months building their case. They recently turned over about 10,000 pages of evidence to defense attorneys, but several legal analysts said the high volume of documents didn't reflect a foolproof strategy for the military.
The prosecution faces some major challenges, many of them stemming from the Defense Department's delay in probing the killings. Pentagon officials launched their investigations in March – about four months after the Haditha incident took place – because of questions raised by human-rights groups and a Time magazine story.
As a result, there is apparently little or no forensic evidence connecting the victims' wounds to the weapons the Marines carried.
Even if the forensic evidence existed, it might be hard to establish specific links to particular weapons because the Marine Corps didn't collect the defendants' rifles, pistols and other weaponry until months after the killings.
Investigators do have photos and video footage showing the shrouded bodies of some victims and blood stains on the walls of at least one home involved in the incident. They also interviewed relatives and neighbors of the victims, including people who said they witnessed the killings.
But several defense attorneys say the prosecution has not secured confessions or other self-incriminating statements from any of the Haditha suspects.
The lawyers say their clients followed the military's rules of engagement by countering insurgents who fired at them from nearby homes after the bomb detonated. They describe the civilians' deaths as tragedies, not crimes.
The lack of defendants' confessions might be the biggest difference between the Haditha case and the Hamdaniya incident, in which eight other Camp Pendleton servicemen are charged with kidnapping and executing an Iraqi man on April 26.
Investigators have said some of the Hamdaniya suspects admitted to helping orchestrate the killing or participating in it. Four defendants in the case have pleaded guilty to charges less than murder as part of their plea agreements. The other four are awaiting courts-martial.
“Hamdaniya appears to be about premeditated criminal conduct. Haditha was certainly not premeditated, but I think it will be much more impactful on the Marine culture,” said Tom Umberg, a former Army prosecutor now in private practice in Santa Ana.
“Irrespective of the outcome, (the Haditha charges) send the message that U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan have to be extremely circumspect before they shoot their weapons or toss a grenade,” Umberg said. “To the Iraqis, it sends a message that we are a nation of laws that have to be followed whether we're at war or not.”

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