The purloined pages of the Second Marine Division
Remember Frank D. Wuterich?
A Marine Corps staff sergeant who led the squad accused of killing two dozen civilians in Haditha, Iraq, will file a lawsuit today in federal court in Washington claiming that Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) defamed him when the congressman made public comments about the incident earlier this year.
Attorneys for Frank D. Wuterich, 26, argue in court papers that Murtha tarnished the Marine’s reputation by telling news organizations in May that the Marine unit cracked after a roadside bomb killed one of its members and that the troops “killed innocent civilians in cold blood.” Murtha also said repeatedly that the incident was covered up.
Zaid said the filing is designed partly to force Murtha to disclose what information he received from the Defense Department and the Marine Corps commandant to form his opinion, essentially trying to speed up the discovery process in a potential criminal trial.
“This case is not about money; it’s about clearing Frank Wuterich’s name, and part of that is to identify where these leaks are coming from,” Zaid said in an interview. “Congressman Murtha has created this atmosphere that has already concluded guilt. He’s created this environment that really smells, and he’s the only one who has done that.”
Well it’s getting a little stinkier:
A high-level military investigation into the killings of 24 Iraqis in Haditha last November has uncovered instances in which American marines involved in the episode appear to have destroyed or withheld evidence, according to two Defense Department officials briefed on the case.
The investigation found that an official company logbook of the unit involved had been tampered with and that an incriminating video taken by an aerial drone the day of the killings was not given to investigators until Lt. Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, the second-ranking commander in Iraq, intervened, the officials said.
Those findings, contained in a long report that was completed last month but not made public, go beyond what has been previously reported about the case. It has been known that marines who carried out the killings made misleading statements to investigators and that senior officers were criticized for not being more aggressive in investigating the case, in which most or all of the Iraqis who were killed were civilians. But this is the first time details about possible concealment or destruction of evidence have been disclosed.
The report, based on an investigation by Maj. Gen. Eldon A. Bargewell of the Army, does not directly accuse marines of attempting a cover-up, but it does describe several suspicious incidents, according to the Defense Department officials.
It says that the logbook, which was meant to be a daily record of major incidents the marinesâ€™ company encountered, had all the pages missing for Nov. 19, the day of the killings, and that those portions had not been found, the officials said.
No conclusions are drawn about who may have tampered with the log. But the report says that Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich, the leader of the squad involved in the killings, was on duty at the unitâ€™s operations center, where the logbook was kept, shortly after the killings occurred, the officials said.
Neal A. Puckett, a lawyer for Sergeant Wuterich, was unavailable to comment.
Coincidence? No more so than Wuterich’s lawsuit against John Murtha a few months before the election.