Haditha Investigator Urges Dropping of Marine's Case
Washington Post
By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 24, 2007; Page A10

An investigating officer has recommended that a Marine Corps general drop all charges against a Marine accused of murdering civilians in Haditha, Iraq, finding again that the 2005 shootings were "tragedies" but that the Marine did not violate the laws of combat.

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. 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.

The shootings began after a bomb blast killed one Marine and injured two others as the unit drove a convoy through Haditha. The Marines then killed a group of men who were in a car nearby before heading into two houses in the vicinity. Ware found that Tatum was following his rules of engagement when he fired his rifle in the two houses.

"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."

Jack B. Zimmermann, a civilian attorney for Tatum, said he is pleased with the report and will await Mattis's ruling before commenting further. Should Mattis dismiss the charges, it would leave pending murder charges in the case against one enlisted Marine, Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich.

"On 19 November 2005, in the mere seconds LCpl Tatum had to make a decision, he acted in accord with training, to engage targets that a fellow Marine was firing at, without time to fully assess the situation and reflect on what SSgt Wuterich was doing," Ware wrote. "It is only in hindsight that we can start to question why SSgt Wuterich was firing his weapon at children and conclude that LCpl Tatum should have deemed such actions were unwarranted."

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