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August 24, 2007
Investigator Urges Charges be Dropped Against Marine in Haditha Case
For the second time this month, a Marine Corps investigator looking into the killing of civilians in Haditha in 2005 urged the Marine Corps Commander to dismiss charges against one of the accused.
Lt. Col. Paul J. Ware wrote in a 29-page report that there is insufficient evidence to show that Lance Cpl. Stephen B. Tatum did anything other than follow Marine Corps rules when he killed women and children in two houses in a residential neighborhood in Iraq on Nov. 19, 2005. The high profile case, during which Congressman Jack Murtha pronounced the young Marines charged in the matter "guilty" even before the official report had been released, is now left with a single Marine as defendant.
Ware found that Tatum followed orders to attack the houses and shot a group of civilians only because another Marine in the unit was already shooting at them.
The case is the second in which Ware has recommended to Lt. Gen. James N. Mattis that charges be dismissed, arguing in both instances that the Marines were operating in a complex combat environment. Mattis agreed with Ware's earlier recommendation and dismissed all charges against Lance Cpl. Justin L. Sharratt, who killed a group of men in a house hours after Marines stormed into two homes and killed civilians inside.
Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich is the last of the original group charged with murder and other violations of the military code.
The investigator was sympathetic to the dilemma faced by the Marines in the confusing action:
What occurred in house 1 and house 2 are tragedies," Ware wrote. "The photographs of the victims are heart wrenching, and the desire to explain this tragedy as criminal act and not the result of training and fighting an enemy that hides among innocents is great. However, in the end, my opinion is that there is insufficient evidence for trial. LCpl Tatum shot and killed people in houses 1 and 2, but the reason he did so was because of his training and the circumstances he was placed in, not to exact revenge and commit murder."It is a given that the enemy in Iraq will use human shields in hopes that civilian casualties will result in exactly what happened in Haditha that day. That fact doesn't make it any easier for the families of those who lost loved ones. But it serves as a perfect illustration of the kind of enemy we are fighting and why we must do our best to bring peace to that troubled country.