They drop one of these every three or four months. The first big piece was in June of last year, when unnamed “military officials familiar with the incident” told author Phil Brennan that, among other things, not only was there radio evidence of jihadis ambushing the Marines that day and instigating the ensuing firefight that killed so many civilians but that they’d seen video taken overhead by a drone of four jihadis running from the neighborhood and loading weapons into their car while Sgt. Frank Wuterich’s team conducted house-clearing operations. That would go a long way towards debunking the “rampage” theory of the killings (and would also presumably make it harder to prove murder as opposed to criminally negligent homicide or some equivalent charge), but it wouldn’t necessarily answer the question of whether Wuterich et al. followed the proper rules of engagement in clearing the houses by tossing grenades in and blind-firing through the smoke. Brennan took on the ROE in his last piece on the subject, back in January, when he quoted an unnamed “veteran Marine intelligence officer” involved in the case as essentially claiming that if Wuterich had good reason to believe that jihadis were in the houses, he and his team were entitled to protect themselves by fragging and blind-firing into them. Obviously contemporaneous audio or video evidence of a jihadi presence in the area would help establish that their belief was in good faith. 60 Minutes put the ROE question to a Marine Reserve Captain named Donovan Campbell when they reported on Wuterich and Haditha last month:
Are there circumstances under which you’d declare an entire house hostile and go in with the intention of just killing everyone inside?
Campbell says yes. “You have to have the context of heavy enemy involvement in the area and then I think you have to have a more specific operating context that deals specifically with that house. You know there are several insurgents inside and you need to go in and get them out because they are attacking you.”
How do you know? Campbell tells Pelley almost always, you have to see them.
“In your opinion,” asks Pelley,” you have to lay eyes on someone with a weapon in that house in order to assault the house and kill everyone inside?”
Campbell says, “Yes, but you never go in with the intention of I’m going to kill every living soul inside.”
Now comes the latest from Phil Brennan — or Philip V. Brennan, as his byline now has it — in another report presenting the unnamed “veteran Marine intelligence officer” as the linchpin of the investigation and declaring breathlessly, “Bombshell Cripples Case Against Haditha Marines.” The gist of it is that the reason the prosecution has granted immunity to a bunch of Marines who were there that day is that they know they have no case and are grasping for some form of evidence to present:
In a nutshell, the case exploded when an intelligence officer dropped a bombshell on prosecutors during a pre-hearing interview when he revealed the existence of exculpatory evidence that appears to have been obtained by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) and withheld from the prosecutors.
This officer, described by senior Marine Corps superiors as one of the best and most dedicated intelligence officers in the entire Marine Corps, was in possession of evidence which provided a minute-by-minute narrative of the entire day’s action — material which he had amassed while monitoring the day’s action in his capacity as the battalion’s intelligence officer. That material, he says, was also in the hands of the NCIS.
Much of that evidence remains classified, but it includes videos of the entire day’s action, including airstrikes against insurgent safe houses. Also included was all of the radio traffic describing the ongoing action between the men on the ground and battalion headquarters, and proof that the Marines were aware that the insurgents conducting the ambush of the Kilo Company troops were videotaping the action — the same video that after editing ended up in the hands of a gullible anti-war correspondent for Time magazine…
Confronted by the massive mounds of evidence that Marine Corps sources tell NewsMax proves conclusively that the cases against the Haditha Marines are baseless, the prosecutors were forced to postpone the Article 31 against Lt. Col. Chessani and two of the enlisted men in an attempt to regroup.
The whole piece reads like that, just one superlative after another about how absurd the charges are, how transparently obvious it is that there were jihadis in the vicinity and the Marines did everything right, etc etc etc. Smells like propaganda, although if you had used the same terms to describe Nifong’s case at the beginning of the Duke investigation, I’d have probably said the same thing. It’s worth reading through it because if Newsmax is right about the A/V evidence and these guys all walk, they’ll be doing plenty of crowing about it. And they’ll have every right.
One last thing, though:
Because the intelligence officer was slated to return to Iraq for another tour of duty, arrangements were made prior to his departure to videotape his testimony for use in the hearings which would take place after his departure.
If this guy really is as crucial to the case as Newsmax says he is, wouldn’t the prosecution insist that he be given leave to be called at the hearing and cross-examined? Any military lawyers care to enlighten me as to whether videotaped testimony is common or not, especially in a matter as high-profile as this?