Haditha: Marines' lawyers outraged by leak of NCIS report

Someone slipped WaPo the Navy inspector’s file, which led to this blockbuster dropping earlier today. And now:

An N.C.I.S. spokesman declined to comment on the report, which it has not officially released, and said the agency was troubled by the leak of it to The Post. “N.C.I.S. strives to ensure the integrity of every investigation and finds the idea that someone might leak any of its investigative products to be deeply troubling,” the spokesman said.

Several lawyers representing the accused marines expressed anger at the Defense Department, which they blamed for allowing the report to be given surreptitiously to a newspaper and, they said, potentially damaging their clients’ cases.

“The defense lawyers are extremely upset,” said Mark Zaid, a lawyer for Sergeant Wuterich, the squad leader who is charged with killing at least a dozen Iraqis. “The release of the entire evidentiary set is unethical and appears to have been done by certain Pentagon officials with the intent to harm the defendant’s defense.”

How bad does it look for the defense? According to WaPo, this bad:

Marines who rushed to help told investigators they took enemy rifle fire from several locations on the north and south sides of the road. Navy Hospitalman Brian D. Whitt said he could see bullet impacts near his feet and noticed men with rifles disappearing from atop a house to the north. Some of the fire appeared to be coming from behind the white taxi.

The Marines concurred that they were under fire from all sides, indicating that the incident was part of a complex insurgent attack that lasted much of the day.

One Marine and two Iraqi soldiers told investigators that the men who had been in the taxi were standing in a line outside it, some with their hands in the air, when Wuterich began to fire on them.

Wuterich said the men got out of the car, and he shot them because he considered them a threat. But Dela Cruz said the men were standing in a line when they started to fall.

“As I crossed the median I saw one of the Iraqi civilians, who was standing in the center of the line, drop to the ground,” Dela Cruz told investigators. “Immediately afterwards another Iraqi standing by him raised his hands to his head. I then heard other small arms fire and looked to my left and saw Sgt. Wuterich kneeling on one knee and shooting his M16 in the direction of the Iraqi civilians.”

Dela Cruz told investigators that he pumped bullets into the bodies of the Iraqi men after they were on the ground and later urinated on one of them.

The Times reported months ago that the incident with the five Iraqis in the taxi, not the house clearings, was the diciest that day. According to yet another leaker, a “senior defense official” who spoke tonight to the AP, one of the victims might have been kneeling when Wuterich allegedly shot him. The same source says investigators found nothing to support the Marines’ claim that the men were running away at the time, and that in fact “all five Iraqis were shot within arm’s length of each other and no more than 18 feet from the white taxi they were ordered to exit…”

But is any of it true? Back to the Times:

One person who has read the N.C.I.S. report and who is sympathetic to the marines’ account of events said that its thousands of pages provides evidence for both prosecution and defense teams, and that drawing conclusions from it about the guilt of any of the accused marines is difficult.

“For every statement that said X happened, there’s another statement that said Y happened,” this person said, speaking only after being granted anonymity, because he was not authorized to discuss the report.

WaPo acknowledges that the report is a “sometimes conflicting chronicle” and quotes an Iraqi soldier who says the Marines’ house clearing operation was justified because “the entire convoy was taking fire.” But according to the same Iraqi soldier:

Sgt. Asad Amer Mashoot … watched in horror as the four students and the taxi driver fell. “They didn’t even try to run away,” he said. “We were afraid from Marines and we saw them behaving like crazy. They were yelling and screaming.”

Stay tuned for more leaks and innuendoes, as DoD does its level best to make this look every inch the political show trial the Marines’ defenders suspected it would be.