By Colonel Ann Wright, US Army Reserves (Retired)
Despite US military leadership stating there is zero tolerance for murder, assault and hazing, recent Marine Corps court-martial plea bargains and court-martial panel decisions in manslaughter and assault trials indicate strong institutional “tolerance” for those crimes.
None of 8 Marines Charged in the notorious 2005 Haditha Murder of 24 Unarmed Civilian Iraqis is Convicted
Six years after a horrific attack in 2005 on unarmed Iraqi civilians in the town of Haditha, Iraq, in which 24 persons, including seven children, a toddler, three women and a 76-year-old man in a wheelchair, were killed by US Marines in retaliation for an IED blowing up a Marine vehicle in which one Marine died, no Marines have been found guilty of murder or manslaughter.
On January 24, 2012, the last of 8 Marines accused in the murder of 12 of the 24 unarmed civilian Iraqis, had nine counts of manslaughter dropped for a plea of guilty to a single count of negligent dereliction of duty. Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich admitted to the court that he had told his squad to “shoot first, ask questions later.”
Of the seven other Marines charged for the deaths of the civilians, one Marine was acquitted and the six others in his squad had their cases dropped by Marine prosecutors in exchange for their cooperation and testimony against the other two Marines.
However, when Wuterich’s case finally came to trial, the prosecution agreed to a plea bargain after Wuterich’s squad members began giving contradictory testimony to what they told investigators during the initial investigation six years before. The changed testimony precipitated the prosecution’s plea deal for Wuterich for the Haditha murders.
Lt. Col. Joseph Kloppel, a Marine Corps spokesman, said the plea deal was the result of mutual negotiations and does not reflect how the case was going for the prosecution. He said the government investigated and prosecuted the case as it should have.
After the Marine prosecutors’ decision to offer Wuterich a plea bargain and dropped the nine manslaughter charges, military judge, Lt. Col. David Jones, recommended a maximum sentence of three months for Wuterich. Jones said, “It’s for difficult the court to fathom negligent dereliction of duty worse than the facts of this case.” However, after seeing the prosecution and defense terms of agreement for the plea bargain, Jones said that the deal agreed to by the prosecution prevented any jail time for Wuterich.
Jones recommended that Wuterich be reduced in rank to Private, which would have docked his pay, but he decided not apply this punishment as Wuterich is a divorced father with the sole custody of three children.
Wuterich read a statement apologizing to the families of the victims stating that he never fired on or intended to harm innocent women and children, but that his plea should not be seen as a statement that he believed his squad had dishonored their country.
Outrage and Anger in Iraq for No Marines Held Accountable for Murder of 24 Unarmed Civilians
As a reminder of the protest and outrage in Iraq with the plea bargain to drop nine manslaughter counts for the Marine brought to a court martial in the deaths of 24 unarmed civilians in Haditha six years ago, these are the names of the unarmed children, women and men killed by the Marines in the village of Haditha:
House #1—7 killed, 2 injured (but survived), 2 escaped
1. Abdul Hamid Hassan Ali, 76—grandfather, father and husband. Died with nine rounds in the chest and abdomen.
2. Khamisa Tuma Ali, 66—wife of Abdul Hamid Hassan Ali
3. Rashid Abdul Hamid, 30.
4. Walid Abdul Hamid Hassan, 35.
5. Jahid Abdul Hamid Hassan, middle-aged man.
6. Asma Salman Rasif, 32.
7. Abdullah Walid, 4.
Injured: Iman, 8, and Abdul Rahman, 5.
Escaped: Daughter-in-law, Hiba, escaped with 2-month-old Asia
House #2—8 killed, 1 survivor: Shot at close range and attacked with grenades
8. Younis Salim Khafif, 43—husband of Aida Yasin Ahmed, father.
9. Aida Yasin Ahmed, 41—wife of Younis Salim Khafif, killed trying to shield her youngest daughter Aisha.
10. Muhammad Younis Salim, 8—son.
11. Noor Younis Salim, 14—daughter.
12. Sabaa Younis Salim, 10—daughter.
13. Zainab Younis Salim, 5—daughter.
14. Aisha Younis Salim, 3—daughter.
15. A 1-year-old girl staying with the family.
Survived: Safa Younis Salim, 13.
House #3—4 brothers killed
16. Jamal Ahmed, 41.
17. Marwan Ahmed, 28.
18. Qahtan Ahmed, 24.
19. Chasib Ahmed, 27.
Taxi—5 killed: Passengers were students at the Technical Institute in Saqlawiyah
20. Ahmed Khidher, taxi driver.
21. Akram Hamid Flayeh.
22. Khalid Ayada al-Zawi.
23. Wajdi Ayada al-Zawi.
24. Mohammed Battal Mahmoud.
Consistency in Military "Justice" -- No Punishment for Massacres
The Haditha murders and the results of the court-martials of those accused of conducting the murders have been compared to the My Lai massacre of the Vietnam War. On March 16, 1968, somewhere between 347 and 504 unarmed civilians were murdered in the village called My Lai by soldiers of “Charlie” Company of the US Army’s Americal Division. Most of the victims were women, children (including babies), and elderly people. Some of the bodies were later found to be mutilated. 26 US soldiers were initially charged with criminal offenses, but only Second Lieutenant William Calley, a platoon leader in Charlie Company, was convicted. Calley was found guilty of killing 22 villagers and was originally given a life sentence, but he received a sentence of three and a half years, not in prison, but under house arrest on a military base.
Marine Assaults lead to Suicide
In the past two weeks at the US Marine Base in Kaneohe, Hawaii, the two of three Marines assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment have been court-martialed for their part in assault of a fellow Marine Lance Corporal Harry Lew who ended up committing suicide in Afghanistan 20 minutes after the assault. Lance Corporal Jacob Jacoby, 21, pleaded guilty to three charges of assault on Lew including kicking Lew in the head and back and punching Lew on his helmet for 3 and ½ hours.
In plea bargain, Benjamin was allowed to plea bargain for 30 days confinement and a reduction in rank to private first class and the Marine prosecutor agreed to drop the remaining two charges of wrongfully abusing, humiliating, demeaning and threatening Lew.
The court martial judge, US Navy Captain Carrie Stephens, said that there was “no evidence that there was a direct link between the assault on Lew and his suicide” that occurred 20 minutes later. The judge did not honor the prosecution’s request for a bad conduct discharge and instead reduced Jacoby in rank to Private First Class and allowed him to stay in the Marine Corps.
Lew committed suicide on April 3, 2011, after he was assaulted by the three Marines because he had fallen asleep for the fourth time in less than two weeks while on sentry duty. Besides being beaten up, Lew had been ordered to do push-ups and leg lifts with a sandbag. The accused had poured sand into his Lew’s face and had put their boots in his back.
Lew had been ordered to dig a foxhole as further punishment and while crouched in the foxhole, he put his weapon in his mouth and pulled the trigger.
Congresswoman Calls Verdict a "Slap in the Face of a Young Man Who Wanted to Serve His Country"
Lew’s aunt, US Congresswoman Judy Chu, called the verdict “a slap in the face to the life of a young man who only wanted to serve his country.” Chu said the 30 day sentence for one of the assailants sends the message that “hazing will continue unabated. There has to be reform. There has to be actual enforcement instead of looking the other way.” Chu attended the January 30, 2012 court-martial at Kaneohe Marine Base, Hawaii.
Second Marine charged in Lew’s assault found not guilty
On February 10, 2012, Sergeant Benjamin Johns, the second Marine charged in the assault that led to Lew’s suicide, was found not guilty of “violating a lawful order by wrongfully humiliating and demeaning” Lew. Prosecutors alleged that Johns “hazed: Lew by ordering him to dig a foxhole as punishment for falling asleep on guard duty at their patrol base in Afghanistan. They also charged Johns with failure to intervene when another Marine, Lance Corporal Carlos Orozco, punished Lew by making him carry a sandbag around the base.
Court-martial jurors were not told of Lew’s suicide. The military presiding judge Marine Colonel Michael Richardson ruled that there was no evidence to prove that Lew killed himself because of how he was treated. Jurors were told only that Lew had died.
The court-martial of the third Marine to be tried in Lew’s “hazing” assault is still pending. Lance Corporal Carlos Orozco allegedly put his foot on Lew’s back, ordered Lew to do push-ups and side planks and poured sand into Lew’s face. He is charged with assault, humiliating Lew and cruelty and maltreatment.
Another Asian-American soldier commits suicide after assaults
In another case of assault and hazing of an Asian-American, 8 US Army soldiers have been charged in the death 19 year old Private Danny Chen, who shot himself in Afghanistan on October 3, 2011 after weeks of physical abuse, humiliation and racial slurs. The soldiers, including one First Lieutenant, face charges ranging from ranging from dereliction of duty, assault, negligent homicide and involuntary manslaughter in Chen’s death. The eight soldiers are assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, Schofield Barracks, Hawaii.
It is ironic that two Asian American service members have committed suicide in units that are based in Hawaii, the state that has probably the greatest proportion of Asian Americans in the United States.
Congresswoman Chu calls for Congressional hearings on assaults and suicides
Upon her return to Washington, DC from the court-martial in Hawaii of her nephew’s assailants, Congresswoman Chu sent a letter to the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee requesting a hearing on assaults on military members by fellow military members. Rep. Adam Smith, the minority head of the Armed Services committee, said that the issue is a “cultural problem within the military, and it needs to be examined.”
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs says assaults are “isolated”
General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of staff, condemned “hazing” as intolerable in the military stating it “undermines the service’s values, tarnishes its reputation and erodes the trust that bonds us.” He added that the assault and hazing incidents appear to be “isolated.”
8 Sailors Thrown out of the Navy for “Hazing” Assault of fellow sailor
However, despite what the Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff said, assaults and hazing in the military are not isolated. But, in contrast to the Marine protection of those who assault and haze, on February 4, 2012, the US Navy announced that it had thrown out of the Navy, eight sailors identified in a hazing incident aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard. The Navy quickly acted on the criminal incident and punished the eight sailors with general discharges from the Navy after they choked and punched another sailor during a “hazing” incident. The injured sailor sought medical attention from the ship's doctor.
The ship's captain investigated the hazing "initiation" after the ship’s doctor reported the sailor’s injuries. The eight assailants were discharged under the Navy's zero-tolerance hazing policy. "Pretty cut and dry," from the Navy's perspective, according to the senior U.S. Navy official. "When an incident like this happens, it's got to be taken care of," McKinney said. "It goes contrary to our core values."
Marines Urinating on Dead Taliban and Marine Unit Creates SS Flags
US Marine culture and environment has come under additional scrutiny due to a video of Marines urinating on dead Taliban and a unit posing with a flag with a Nazi SS logo.
In January, 2012, a video surfaced of 4 Marines from a sniper team assigned to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, urinating on the bodies of dead Taliban.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta called the video “utterly deplorable” and promised a full investigation.
“This conduct is entirely inappropriate for members of the United States military and does not reflect the standards or values our armed forces are sworn to uphold,” he said. “Those found to have engaged in such conduct will be held accountable to the fullest extent.”
The Marine Corps is investigating the video.
In another incident in Afghanistan coming into public view in February, 2012, a Marine sniper unit posted to its blog in September, 2010, a photo of members of the unit posing in front of a flag with a logo resembling a logo resembling that of the Nazi SS. The Marines who posed the photo are no longer with the unit. A Marine spokesperson said that the use of the SS symbol is not acceptable and that the Marine Corps had addressed the issue, but did not specify what action has been taken.
About the Author: Ann Wright served 29 years in the US Army and Army Reserve and retired as a Colonel. She is also a former US diplomat who resigned in 2003 in opposition to the Iraq War.