Skip to comments.Immunity grants may signal problems with Haditha prosecution
Posted on 04/21/2007 6:03:26 AM PDT by RedRover
CAMP PENDLETON -- The list of Marines granted immunity in the Haditha investigation has reportedly grown to at least seven, a sign of a bungled investigation that has prosecutors scrambling to make a case, according to an attorney for a staff sergeant charged with 13 counts of murder.
"There are a lot of problems and it may well be that this list of immunity grants is evidence of that," said Mark Zaid, a Washington, D.C., attorney representing Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich. "There are things about the government's case that have yet to come out that are very troubling."
The Marine Corps announced Tuesday that it had dropped five murder charges against Sgt. Sanick Dela Cruz, and granted him immunity after determining his role in the 2005 deaths of 24 Iraqi civilians in the city of Haditha, because of the "potential value of his testimony."
Immunity also has been granted to 1st Lt. William Kallop, the first officer to respond to the Haditha shootings and the man who allegedly ordered Wuterich to assault a group of houses. As many as five additional Marines and possibly others have been given the same immunity, according to a Friday report by The Associated Press.
Zaid said a North County Times report last week that described several problems confronting prosecutors, including a questionable investigation of the Haditha incident by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, underscores emerging issues in the case.
"What surprises me is this increasing number of grants of immunity," Zaid said Friday. "Are they looking to hold only a small number of people accountable for public relations reasons?"
Some, if not all, of the immunity grants that have been approved by Lt. Gen. James Mattis are reportedly unconditional, meaning those men would not face any jeopardy if they make incriminating statements or do not testify as fully as prosecutors may wish. Mattis is the convening authority over the case as head of all Marine Corps forces in the Middle East.
Lt. Col. Sean Gibson, a public affairs officer, said Friday that he could not comment on who might have been given immunity or under what conditions any such grants were made.
The Associated Press said one of those granted immunity is Lance Cpl. Humberto Manuel Mendoza, who was not charged in the case. Mendoza told investigators that he shot at least two men because they were in houses where Wuterich believed insurgents may have been hiding.
"I was following my training that all individuals in a hostile house are to be shot," Mendoza told investigators.
The Haditha incident is the largest civilian killing case to result in criminal charges since the U.S invasion of Iraq in 2003.
On Dec. 21, the Marine Corps charged Dela Cruz, Wuterich and two other enlisted men, Lance Cpls. Justin Sharratt and Stephen Tatum, with murder. It also charged four of their commanding officers with dereliction of duty for allegedly failing to properly investigate and report what happened.
All of the men have said directly or through their attorneys or family members that they are innocent of any wrongdoing.
Gary Solis, a former Marine Corps lawyer who teaches law at Washington's Georgetown University, said Friday that the number of men granted immunity strikes him as odd.
"If they are granting immunity to individuals who aren't alleged to have done anything wrong, you have to wonder if it is necessary. If they did do something wrong, why aren't they being prosecuted?"
Solis said that prosecutors may be working hard to find men willing to testify and not invoke their Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination to buttress the case.
The first pretrial hearings in the Haditha incident will take place at Camp Pendleton this summer. All the defendants are from the base's 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment.
The Haditha killings occurred after one of four Humvees traveling through Haditha on the morning of Nov. 19, 2005, was destroyed by a roadside bomb, killing a lance corporal.
A few minutes later, five Iraqi men who emerged from a car that drove up were shot, allegedly by Wuterich and Dela Cruz who later urinated on one of the slain men.
Following that action, the homes were assaulted leading to the deaths of 19 others, including several women and children. No known insurgents were killed in the incident.
Contact staff writer Mark Walker at (760) 740-3529 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Great piece! Should I post this in Bloggers on Free Republic?