Marine report: Haditha "massacre" was engineered by Al Qaeda? Updated: What/when did Murtha know about this?

Via the Jawas, I’ve read this three times and still don’t get it. Here’s the gist:

The report – apparently overlooked by a Washington press corps awash in leaked Bargewell documents and secret Naval Criminal Investigative Service reports – shows that Marine Corps intelligence operatives were advised of the scheme to demonize the Marines by an informant named Muhannad Hassan Hamadi. The informant was snared by 3/1 Marines on December 11 2005 and decided to cooperate.

The attack was carried out by multiple cells of local Wahabi extremists and well-paid local gunmen from Al Asa’ib al-Iraq [the Clans of the People of Iraq] that were led by Al Qaeda foreign fighters, the summary claims. Their case was bolstered by Marine signal intercepts revealing that the al Qaeda fighters planned to videotape the attacks and exploit the resulting carnage for propaganda purposes…

During the November Haditha battle, the insurgents secreted themselves among local civilians to guarantee pursuing Marines would catch innocent civilians in the ensuing crossfire. On January 6, 2006 six insurgents who tried to do the same thing at another location in Haditha were turned in to Coalition authorities before they could mount a similar assault, the report says…

The captured insurgents revealed the attack was planned in Albu Hyatt, a nearby town where numerous Marines have been killed and wounded since the beginning of the war. The two main elements of the attack were the IED-initiated ambush on Route Chestnut and two IED ambushes planned along the so-called River Road that parallels the Euphrates River about 1.5 kilometers north of the Chestnut location.

The prisoners claimed the multi-pronged assault on the Marines was intended to garner local support by discrediting the Marines among the civilian population. If the coordinated attack had gone off as planned all three IED ambushes would have been sprung on the patrolling Marines almost simultaneously, the prisoners said. The insurgents plan depended on the Marines aggressively responding to the assaults to create as much carnage as possible.

It was the IED on Route Chestnut that killed Lance Cpl. Terrazas and precipitated the subsequent house raids that resulted in 24 people being killed. Note that the other two IEDs were a ways away from the one on Chestnut, which seems like an odd way to place them if you’re trying to ambush a squad of patrolling Marines “almost simultaneously.” By scattering them, you have no assurance that the Marines will pass by all three bombs, let alone that they’ll do so around the same time. It makes more sense to bury all of them along the same stretch of road in a populated area which the Marines are known to patrol and then hit the whole convoy as it rolls by.

Beyond that, the plan’s too clever by half. U.S. troops had been dodging IEDs and facing enemy fire from the cover of houses for two years by the time of the Haditha incident with nary a massacre to their credit. Why would Al Qaeda expect they could bait them into one now? Moreover, if the jihadis’ intent was to “secret themselves among local civilians” to maximize collateral damage, why didn’t Wuterich’s men find a single enemy combatant during their fateful house-clearing operations on Chestnut? The logical thing would have been to station one or two jihadis in houses on either side of the road and then have them open fire on the convoy after the IED went off, to make the Marines think there were hostiles on all sides and that they should proceed accordingly. As it is, assuming this whole “massacre bait” theory is correct, the jihadis seem to have lucked into it. Here’s what Frank Wuterich told 60 Minutes:

Two other Marines were wounded and the medic was treating them. Wuterich was down to eight men and they came under rifle fire. He says he heard “Shots, sporadic shots, I think I heard two or three, two or three shots from the south and that was it.”

He says he couldn’t see where the fire was coming from, but a house to the south caught his eye.

“This building was right in the line of sight of this explosion here,” Wuterich says.

“You did not see fire coming from the house, correct?” asks Pelley.

“I did not see muzzle flashes coming from the house, correct,” Wuterich replies.

If he didn’t hear rounds coming from the house, how did he identify the house as a threat?

“Because that was the only logical place that the fire could come through seeing the environment there.”

Except that no jihadis were found in the house. So either Wuterich mistook the direction from which the shots were fired or the distance at which they were fired and then proceeded to act on his mistake in precisely the manner Al Qaeda allegedly hoped he would. Which, needless to say, seems a fantastically fortunate way for the “massacre bait” plan to come off. Likewise, Wuterich told 60 Minutes that he thought the five military-age Iraqi men in the white car whom he shot in the back after the IED went off might have been involved somehow. They were awfully close to the scene of the attack and they responded to the Marines’ orders by running instead of complying, as Iraqis usually do. Assuming he’s right, though, then why, per the “massacre bait” theory, were they congregated in a car without weapons instead of scattered among the local civilians and armed? And if they were in fact civilians, then, once again, this is a fantastically lucky stroke for Al Qaeda, no? Five military-age men choose to defy directions being barked at them by angry, frightened Marines and end up as collateral damage — precisely according to Al Qaeda’s plan? Remarkable.

And if this was all a propaganda ploy, where’s the jihadi video of it?

And if the evidence for all this is as compelling as the report claims, why wasn’t it made available as soon as Time magazine’s big Haditha expose was published? According to the report, the key informant who spilled the beans was arrested on December 11, 2005. Time’s report didn’t drop until March 2006. The Marines had this information at their fingertips the whole time.

The idea of “massacre bait” isn’t absurd at all, of course. The Palestinians fire from crowds of civilians all the time on Israeli troops for precisely that reason. But there are seemingly much easier ways of pulling something like this off. Imagine the opportunities at one of the gigantic processions during the Shiite holidays in Iraq. A few well positioned suicide bombers, a few gunmen stationed in buildings in surrounding areas, and you can create the same effect with much higher potential for collateral damage: the bombers detonate, the gunmen open fire, the troops down below panic and open fire, and you’re left with a lot of dead Iraqis. Exit question: What did I miss?

Update (Bryan): To me, one of the more interesting and important questions about this report is whether Murtha knew about it or not when he was prominently accusing the Haditha Marines of murder “in cold blood.” This document is one among many that are related in some way to the case, but it cuts against Murtha’s entire body of statements on Haditha. It suggests, and with some credibility, that Haditha was an enemy op that went well if not according to plan. If Murtha knew of this report, but accused the Marines of murder “in cold blood” anyway, then he had to have been aware of the possibility that he was assisting an enemy op against our troops. If he didn’t know of this report, then his informants inside the Corps were not telling him the whole story. He still should not have been out front accusing the Marines of murder, but he may have been misled by his source or sources. Which raises the question, who were his sources and why would they plant an incomplete accounting of the case with Rep. Murtha?

As to the question of jihadi video, well, who shot the video that Time magazine obtained in May 2006?

Update (bp): That last question is answered. First, the video’s producer:

Al-Haditha is 43 years old. He “created” Hammurabi 16 months ago. (Before that he worked directly under the head of Haditha’s hospital, Dr. Walid al-Obeidi, who pronounced that all the victims had been shot at close range.)

In fact, al-Haditha is one of Hammurabi’s only two members. He serves as its “Secretary General” while the only other member, Abdul-Rahman al-Mashhadani, performs as its “Chairman.”

al-Mashhadani has some interesting connections.

Now, let’s take a little closer look at one of the integral reporters who broke the Haditha story, courtesy of Sweetness and Light. It’s Ali Omar Abrahem al-Mashhadani, a Sunni who had been detained for five months because of images found on his camera and because of his “ties to the insurgents“. He had only been released a couple of weeks before he “stumbled upon” his big “scoop” on Haditha. (In fact, he had recently been arrested again, and was only released on May 31st.) Conveniently, Ali al-Mashhadani is the reporter who supplied video footage of the corpses that were supposedly killed by the Marines. His video footage is solely responsible for prompting the investigation by the military.

The two al-Mashhadanis are brothers, and one of them was deeply involved in the insurgency. What are the odds that the other, the one who wrote the initial Haditha report for Reuters, wasn’t? Pretty low, I’d say.

So if you go back and look at the totality of blog reports on Haditha, reports like Dan Riehl’s cross-referencing and comparisons of conflicting witness testimony, and then look at the Marine document that’s the basis of this post, Haditha does start to look like an enemy ambush with after-action disinfo created to turn it into a “massacre.”