The defense in five words: What would you have done?

A sergeant who led a squad of Marines during the incident in Haditha, Iraq, that left as many as 24 civilians dead said his unit did not intentionally target any civilians, followed military rules of engagement and never tried to cover up the shootings, his attorney said…

[Staff Sgt. Frank] Wuterich told his attorney in initial interviews over nearly 12 hours last week that the shootings were the unfortunate result of a methodical sweep for enemies in a firefight. Two attorneys for other Marines involved in the incident said Wuterich’s account is consistent with those they had heard from their clients

The defense attorneys said the rules of engagement — which vary depending on the mission, level of danger and other factors — are likely to become a central element of their cases because those rules guide how troops can use deadly force on the battlefield. One Marine official said such rules usually require positive identification of a target before shooting but noted that the rules are often circumstantial.

WaPo runs down the whole incident, moment by moment, according to Wuterich as relayed by his lawyer, Neal Puckett. Read every last word. As for the cover-up:

Wuterich told his attorney that he never reported that the civilians in the houses were killed by the bomb blast and maintains that he never tried to obscure the fact that civilians had been killed in the raids. Whether Wuterich gave false information to his superiors is the focus of one of the military investigations. He said the platoon leader, who was on the scene, never expressed concern about the unit’s actions and never tried to hide them.

Marine Corps public affairs officers reported that the civilians had been killed in the bomb blast, a report that Puckett believes was the result of a miscommunication.

FYI, Wuterich is the guy alluded to in this post.

If he’s telling the truth about there having been a miscommunication re: the cause of death, it should be easy enough to trace. Gen. Bargewell’s report on the supposed cover-up is expected soon, so if this story unravels, that’ll be the first part of it that does.

NCIS’s investigation of the incident itself isn’t due for awhile yet but at least it’s clear now why they’re so keen to exhume the bodies. According to Time’s original story about Haditha, the Iraqi child who survived the assault on the first house and the military sources with whom Time spoke say it was all gunfire [Update 6:42 p.m.: not so, see below]; Wuterich, however, tells WaPo that they threw a frag grenade into the room first, then opened fire through the smoke after it went off. The presence or absence of grenade shrapnel in the bodies (and the walls of the room) obviously would say a lot about who’s telling the truth here. As would having one of our military readers answer this question: what kind of explosive power does a frag grenade pack? If tossed into a 20×20 room, say, could anyone in there survive the detonation? I’m guessing yes, considering that Zarqawi was able to survive a direct hit from 1,000 lbs. of explosives, but e-mail me and let me know. Update: A retired Marine sergeant replies. See below.

There’s also the little matter of what Time was told by “Dr. Wahid”:

Dr. Wahid, director of the local hospital in Haditha, … says the Marines brought 24 bodies to his hospital around midnight on Nov. 19. Wahid says the Marines claimed the victims had been killed by shrapnel from the roadside bomb. “But it was obvious to us that there were no organs slashed by shrapnel,” Wahid says. “The bullet wounds were very apparent. Most of the victims were shot in the chest and the head–from close range.

Sweetness & Light showed recently that Dr. Wahid might harbor a grudge against U.S. troops. (Although for what it’s worth, the story he cites names its subject, the director of Haditha hospital, as “Dr. Walid”.) But CNN has seen the photos of the bodies and says they corroborate Dr. Wah/lid’s assertion that some of the shots were fired at “close range.” The question is, what constitutes “close range” here? It could mean six feet or six inches; Wuterich’s account is consistent with the former but inconsistent with the latter. Which means: break out the shovels.

A few other things to look out for as you’re reading the story in the Post. First, Time noted in its initial story that there were no gunshots in the outside walls of the houses, which it cited as evidence that the Marines were lying when they claimed to have been in a firefight with insurgents located inside. But Wuterich never says the Marines returned fire at the houses from the street; he says they took cover when the shots rang out, then launched a raid on the first house.

Second, Time quotes military officials as saying the various raids took place over the course of five hours. Wuterich doesn’t say how long it took, but my impression is that the first two houses were cleared within minutes of each other. Read the description and judge for yourself. There does appear to be a delay between the raids on the second and third houses, but five hours?

Finally, perhaps the most tantalizing detail of all from WaPo:

After going through the houses, Wuterich moved a small group of Marines to the roof of a nearby building to watch the area, Puckett said. At one point, they saw a man in all-black clothing running from one of the houses they had searched. The Marines killed him, Puckett said.

They then noticed another man in all black scurrying between two houses across the street. When they went to investigate, the Marines found a courtyard filled with women and children and asked where the man was, Puckett said.

When the civilians pointed to a third house, the Marines attempted to enter and found a man with an AK-47 inside, flanked by three other men; the first Marine to enter tried to fire his weapon, but it jammed, Puckett said. The Marines then killed those four men.

If they really had “snapped” and were on a killing spree to avenge Terrazas, why didn’t they shoot the people in the courtyard? Assuming NCIS can corroborate that there were civilians there and the Marines encountered them and let them be, I don’t see how the rampage theory holds up.

Update: Greyhawk has started a timeline of the media’s coverage of Haditha. Pop some Dramamine and follow the twists and turns. Meanwhile, in Iraq, the new foreign minister complains about targeted killings of Iraqi civilians. But it’s not what you think.

Update: Mohammed at ITM confirms the old saying that the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

Update: Goldstein comments on the left’s tendency to find bad intent where there might only be mistakes with bad consequences. A taste: “These soldiers are not simply ribbing on the condom that lubricates what many in the anti-war crowd have come to think of as President Bush’s imperialistic war penis.”

Update: Dan Riehl’s been looking at news accounts of the other alleged murder perpetrated by Marines and finds they don’t add up either.

Update: Time’s original story on Haditha quotes Iman Waleed, the nine-year-old girl who claims to have survived the attack, as saying everyone in the first house was killed by gunfire. But in this interview with ITV news, she does indeed mention grenades and explosions. So her story and Wuterich’s are consistent in that respect at least.

Where they’re not consistent is the location of people in the house. She told Time that her father was in his room and everyone else — her mother, grandfather, grandmother, two brothers, two aunts and two uncles — was in the living room. She says the Marines broken in, went to her father’s room and killed him, then came into the living room and started killing the people inside. WaPo, by contrast, says Wuterich’s lawyer told them the Marines “kicked in the door and found a series of empty rooms, noticing quickly that there was one room with a closed door and people rustling behind it.” According to the lawyer, that one room is where all the killing happened. Unless the bodies were moved before photos of the scene were taken, their position in the photographs should give NCIS some idea of who’s telling the truth here.

Watch the video of Waleed carefully. She says after killing her father they killed her grandmother, then threw a grenade under her grandfather’s bed. But here’s what she told Time:

“First, they went into my father’s room, where he was reading the Koran,” she claims, “and we heard shots.” According to Eman, the Marines then entered the living room. “I couldn’t see their faces very well—only their guns sticking into the doorway. I watched them shoot my grandfather, first in the chest and then in the head. Then they killed my granny.” She claims the troops started firing toward the corner of the room where she and her younger brother Abdul Rahman, 8, were hiding; the other adults shielded the children from the bullets but died in the process.

It’s not terribly damning that a child wouldn’t remember the exact order in which everyone was killed, but I am puzzled how she knew that a grenade was thrown under her grandfather’s bed. If his bed was in another room, how could she have seen it from where she was in the living room? If his bed was in the living room, why would the Marines have thrown a grenade into a room which, by Waleed’s own account, they themselves were standing in?

Update: This post has been bumped for the benefit of those who missed the Post’s Haditha story over the weekend.