Haditha: Marines destroyed/withheld evidence? (Update: Wuterich denies the charge)

Usual caveats apply: no prejudgment, anonymous leaks are sometimes wrong (and have already been wrong in this case), we’re still waiting for Gen. Bargewell’s report, etc.

But this warrants a post. According to the Times’s DoD sources, the official company logbook appears to have been tampered with. And video of the incident taken by a drone — which, sources told Newsmax a few weeks ago, would clear the Marines — seems to incriminate them, and was withheld for months until investigators demanded it.

Bad moon rising:

The report … says that the logbook, which was meant to be a daily record of major incidents the marines’ company encountered, had all the pages missing for Nov. 19, the day of the killings, and that those portions had not been found, the officials said.

No conclusions are drawn about who may have tampered with the log. But the report says that Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich, the leader of the squad involved in the killings, was on duty at the unit’s operations center, where the logbook was kept, shortly after the killings occurred, the officials said.

Even worse:

The video taken by the overhead drone was very limited, according to one of the officials. The aircraft was not flying over the site until after the bomb attack, so it only captured the aftermath. Even so, the video appears to contradict statements by marines about what occurred, the officials said.

In particular, it has raised doubts about a claim by enlisted marines that five Iraqis were shot as they were running away after the roadside bombing.

The officials said the video showed the bodies of the five Iraqis on the ground close to the car that they had been riding in, the officials said. In one case, the video appears to show one body stacked on top of another, which the officials said was inconsistent with the account that the men had been shot while fleeing.

WaPo’s got a story out this morning too about testimony given in March by Lt. Col. Chessani, who commanded the battalion. They’re jumping all over him for having not found the deaths of 24 Iraqis sufficiently unusual to warrant an investigation — a dark hint, according to WaPo, that incidents like Haditha were routine. Read it and judge for yourself. The AP has called Haditha “one of the toughest cities in Iraq,” famously hostile to U.S. troops; is a firefight with jihadis killing 24 people all that unlikely under those circumstances? Street battles probably are “routine.” Why would Chessani have doubted them this one time?

Update: Time magazine got hold of Sgt. Wuterich’s lawyers and asked them about the NYT’s allegations. Quote:

Through his lawyers, Wuterich, the Marine who was the unit leader in Haditha on Nov. 19, says that, while he was on duty in the makeshift operations center the following day, he never handled the radio operator’s green logbook. The logbook, he said, is usually kept by a low-ranking enlisted Marine and simply tracks the time of radio calls in and out of the center. Wuterich says he never took any pages out of the logbook and never “tampered” with it.

Wuterich says he also never saw any other more substantial logbook that would have contained so-called after-action reports — detailed descriptions of incidents. Other Marines with experience in Iraq say that such battlefield operation centers are often confused and informal settings where the rush of events prevents methodical record keeping. They say it would be highly unusual to have so-called “after-action reports” kept there.

He also insists that they did recover an AK-47 from one of the Iraqis killed and remembers putting it in a Humvee. The Times’s article suggests the weapon never existed.