Friday's development in the Haditha case — the dismissal of charges related to the deaths of innocent civilians in that Iraqi town in 2005 against Marine Lance Cpl. Stephen Tatum — makes it five of the eight Marines charged in those deaths who have had all charges dropped. Tatum is the third Marine charged with murder at Haditha to be cleared.
Charges had already been reduced against Tatum from murder to involuntary manslaughter, reckless endangerment and aggravated assault. Four Marines were charged with murder during a firefight following an insurgent ambush in Haditha on Nov. 19, 2005. Four officers were charged with covering up the incident.
On that November day, a Marine convoy of the Camp Pendleton-based Kilo Company, Third Battalion, First Marine Regiment, was passing through the town of Haditha in the hotly contested Iraqi province. A roadside improvised explosive device (IED) went off, killing Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas, 20, of El Paso, Texas, who was on his second tour of duty.
With the evidence against the Haditha Marines so flimsy and exculpatory evidence so abundant, the question is why charges were ever brought.
"The hysteria and firestorm over Abu Ghraib and the Pat Tillman investigations led to fear of a similar media reaction to the Haditha incident, causing the military's civilian bosses to set up this shadow oversight body," says Richard Thompson, president of the Thomas More Law Center.
The anti-war left wingers thought they had their Iraqi My Lai, and the Defense Department wanted to give it to them.
The "shadow body" Thompson speaks of is Legal Team Charlie, set up by the Pentagon and composed of military lawyers reassigned from other units, and reserve officers reactivated for the sole purpose of prosecuting this case.
In addition, the director of the Naval Criminal Investigation Service admitted that more than 65 investigators were assigned to the case, which in his opinion was the largest investigative effort in NCIS history.
Thompson, whose firm represents Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani, whose case we have commented on, called these actions "highly unusual." Chessani is one of the three whose cases remain open. He is charged with "dereliction of duty" and "orders" violations for allegedly failing to properly report and investigate the incident.
Among the key defense weapons was an eight-hour taped deposition given by Lt. Jeffrey Dinsmore, the battalion intelligence officer. His evidence included a PowerPoint after-action report supported by photographic evidence, logs of all the day's radio transmissions and an almost minute-by-minute narrative of the day's events.
The military prosecutors tried to block the testimony of Dinsmore, who monitored the day's events via radio transmissions and an overhead video surveillance drone. His evidence and testimony confirmed the Marines' account that they did take hostile fire from buildings in Haditha and that civilians killed had been used as human shields.
Interestingly, the charges against the Haditha Marines weren't filed until Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., publicly accused the Marines of killing the 15 civilians who died that day not in a firefight, but in "cold blood."
As we have noted, military judge Stephen Folsom, a Marine colonel, has denied a defense motion requesting that Murtha be deposed, in effect denying Chessani and the other Marines the cherished right to confront one of their more famous accusers.
The government's case is slowly and mercifully unraveling as the truth about Haditha comes out. But many in the mainstream media and on the left can't handle the truth.
The evidence clearly confirms the Marines' story that they were merely doing what they were trained to do — responding to a perceived threat with overwhelming force. Semper fi.