A military jury has acquitted 1st Lt. Andrew Grayson of all charges that he helped cover up the killing of 24 Iraqis in Haditha following the IED ambush of a Marine patrol.
Grayson, a Marine intelligence officer, had been accused of having a military photographer erase digital photos of the dead Iraqis. Grayson had turned down a plea deal to face charges on five counts that could have led to a maximum of 20 years in prison. An obstruction-of-justice charge against Grayson had been dismissed by the judge earlier in the week.
The November 19, 2005 killings of 24 Iraqi civilians was once a key talking point for anti-war activists and politicians, who likened the event to a modern day My Lai.
The original Marine account issued the next day claimed that 15 civilians had been killed by an enemy improvised explosive device (IED) that also killed Marine Lance Corporal Miguel Terrazas, and that eight insurgents were killed in the ensuing firefight. Exactly four months after events took place, TIME Magazine posted an article Collateral Damage or Civilian Massacre in Haditha? which claimed, based upon interviews with locals, that the 24 civilian dead were the result of Marines “who went on a rampage” after Terrazas was killed.
The evidence spurred multiple investigations, including an investigation to determine if the troops deliberately targeted Iraqi civilians, and another investigation to determine if there was evidence of a cover-up.
Early in the investigations, based upon unknown evidence, Democratic Rep. John Murtha (PA) stated that “there was no firefight, there was no IED that killed these innocent people. Our troops overreacted because of the pressure on them, and they killed innocent civilians in cold blood.”
Barack Obama, asked about Murtha’s charge by Alan Colmes in June of 2006, stated, “I would never second guess John Murtha… I think he’s somebody who knows of which he speaks.”
Murtha’s “in cold blood” statement and the Democratic Presidential nominee’s unquestioning acceptance came seven months before the military charged eight Marines with various offenses in December of 2006. Charges against five of the eight Marines have since be dropped for lack of evidence, and in the first of three scheduled trials, Grayson has been acquitted. It remains to be seen if Rep. Murtha or Senator Obama will offer Lt. Grayson an apology, cold-blooded, or otherwise.
Of the two cases remaining, only Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich faces charges directly related to the killings. The most serious charges he faces are nine counts of involuntary manslaughter. Curiously, his case has been postponed indefinitely, and was not expected to resume until after both of his military defense attorneys had retired, weakening his defense in a complex case. Late-breaking information from Bruce Kessler of The Democracy Project, who has been covering the Haditha cases in detail, states that Lt. Col. Colby Vokey will delay his retirement again to stay with Wuterich’s defense.
The third case, against commanding officer Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani, is said to be tainted by “unlawful command influence” in charging Chessani according to the judge presiding over the case, suggesting that Chessani is a political scapegoat for higher-ranking officers seeking to appease anti-war politicians. His trial is expected to commence June 17.