An Open Letter to General Mattis
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    Arrow An Open Letter to General Mattis

    An Open Letter to General Mattis
    Philip V. Brennan
    Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2006

    Lt. Gen. James Mattis, USMC
    Commanding General, First Marine Expeditionary Force
    Camp Pendleton, CA 92055-5019

    Dear General Mattis:

    As you are the convening officer charged with deciding whether the Marines involved in the Haditha incident will be charged with various offenses, I appreciate the fact that you are under intense pressure from both sides of the issue. I would like to take a few minutes of your time to shed a little light on the Haditha incident from the perspective of the Marines involved.

    Some of that pressure is no doubt coming from senior officers who fear that any finding that does not include prosecution for various offenses will be damaging to the reputation of the Corps - a fear born of their recognition that clearing the Marines involved will create a firestorm of criticism from the media, which long ago found the Kilo Company Marines guilty of committing a deliberate "massacre" of 24 "innocent" civilians and have no intention of admitting they were wrong.

    As one of those intimately involved in Haditha as an on-the-spot intelligence observer told me, this group, many of whom were lieutenant colonels and majors during 1991's so-called Tailhook scandal, live in mortal fear of being caught up in anything that can be exploited by a largely anti-military mainstream media, regardless of the real facts of the case.

    On the other end of the spectrum are the Marines who are the focus of the investigation, not one of whom has been charged with any crime yet all of whom have been savaged by a media that immediately found them all guilty of the most heinous crimes, solely because of a Time magazine story and testimony by civilians either living in mortal fear of retaliation by the insurgents who then dominated the area, or themselves insurgent sympathizers and supporters.

    In the days following the Time magazine story, hundreds of newspapers and broadcast outlets around the world compared the deaths of the 24 civilians with the slaughter of hundreds of civilians in My Lai. Haditha was proclaimed the new My Lai.

    The effect of this, plus leaks of inaccurate and often totally false information from some individuals in the Pentagon, has dealt a serious blow to the morale of many Marines, who now think they are being betrayed by the very people they have always believed would protect them to the death. They have caused many to wonder if the Marines' ancient warrior code of not abandoning your wounded has been replaced by the code of CYA. They believe their fellow Marines are being offered up as sacrifices on the altar of political correctness.

    I have no idea of what the NCIS investigation has concluded, but I do know that enormous pressure has been put on that service to find something - anything at all - that will enable the nervous Nellies to tell the media, "Look, we found that so-and-so committed this or that offense, so you can't accuse us of a cover-up." The offense might be equivalent to a charge of spitting on the sidewalk, but it will soothe their delicate consciences, if not the media's skepticism.

    No matter what kind of obfuscation has been employed by the investigators, the facts remain facts. And the facts are indisputable.

    1. An IED explosion killed a Marine.

    2. Marine intelligence operatives learned immediately that the incident now developing was being videotaped by the al-Qaida insurgents, a common practice among this media-savvy group of killers.

    3. Within five minutes of the explosion the Kilo Company Marines came under small-arms fire from the vicinity of two houses in the immediate area of the explosion. Radio communications verify this despite Congressman Murtha's claim that no firefight took place.

    3. A squad under the command of Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich entered the two houses, using normal house-clearing procedures. In the course of this operation, a door was opened and as dictated by the ROEs a grenade was thrown into the room and automatic fire sprayed on the unknown occupants, killing the 15 civilians in the room. In the second house, another civilian was gunned down. The Marines noticed that a rear door was ajar, indicating that someone had fled before they entered.

    4. Within minutes a UAV was in the sky above the area. It remained aloft all day, catching views of armed conflict. Some screen-shot photos were downloaded either at battalion or regimental headquarters.

    5. Within 30 minutes of the explosion an intelligence unit was on the scene and the Marines involved were closely questioned. Those in that unit testify that the Kilo Marines' composure and demeanor were such that it was incomprehensible to them that they could have just participated in the cold-blooded massacre of the civilians.

    6. By nightfall an after-action PowerPoint presentation including the screen-shot photos downloaded from the UAV was sent up the chain of command. It carefully and fully detailed the day's action and was based on the constant radio communications, testimony of those present as participants and after-action investigators, and the data revealed minute-by-minute by the UAV. It left no T's uncrossed and no I's undotted.

    7. Within days of the incident, officers from up the entire chain of command were fully briefed and concluded that the evidence provided them proved that the actions were fully justified by the circumstances on the ground at the time.

    As I reported in on June 26:

    "This is what happened in Haditha that day. It was a daylong engagement with armed insurgents that involved civilian casualties who died as a result of being caught in the middle of a firefight. It had been reported as a blast followed by a TIC - Marine Corps terminology for 'Troops in Contact.' In other words, gunfire directed at the Marines. As the battalion went about compiling information on the insurgents' identities and determining who had been involved in the attack, its actions in the ensuing weeks resulted in the detention of several insurgents who masterminded the attack, and who remain incarcerated in Abu Ghraib prison today."

    In another story on August 25 I wrote the following:

    "Unnamed sources in the Pentagon with their own agenda have been leaking false information about the killing of civilians in Haditha by Marines last November, has learned.

    "A Marine intelligence agent who investigated last year's Nov. 19 shootings of civilians in Haditha in the immediate wake of the incident has stepped forward to defend the Kilo company Marines against charges that they massacred the victims.In Thursday's Washington Post, Marine intelligence operative Sgt. J.M. Laughner is quoted as calling the shootings an appropriate response to a coordinated insurgent attack.

    "In a transcript of his interview with two investigating colonels, Laughner, described by The Post as a member of a Marine human-intelligence exploitation team that was hunting down insurgent bomb-makers, said his unit went from house to house in Haditha on Nov. 19, 2005, in the immediate aftermath of the incident. He acknowledges finding two dozen bodies, including some women and small children.

    "Laughner said the scenes of the slayings appeared to match the version of events the Marine squad provided that day and did not seem especially out of the ordinary, according to a transcript of his interview.

    "Laughner's account, The Post noted, supports the argument made by some Marines in Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines - that they believed they were following their rules of engagement when they opened fire on groups of people inside at least three homes after a roadside bomb killed a member of their unit. Several Marines are under criminal investigation in connection with the civilian deaths that day, but no one has been charged.

    "Laughner's statement is further evidence that Marines who were on the ground that day viewed the civilian deaths as accidental rather than the result of a vengeful rampage.

    "The transcript was provided to The Post by someone The Post said is sympathetic to the enlisted Marines facing scrutiny for the shootings.

    "According to NewsMax's Marine intelligence sources, the intelligence unit Marines, which included Laughner, arrived within 30 minutes of the incident. Our sources said the unit reported that they were deeply impressed with the attitude and professionalism of the Kilo company squad and believed that it makes absolutely no sense that they could have maintained their composure and conducted themselves so professionally by the time Laughner's unit arrived if they had been in a rage and conducting a massacre only minutes before.

    "In recent days, The New York Times, The Associated Press, ... carried stories quoting the usual unnamed sources in the Pentagon as saying that parts of a video allegedly taken by a Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) had disappeared, that pages of a logbook dealing with the actions on that day were missing, and that the report of the action attributed the civilian deaths only to the IED explosion.

    "None of this is accurate.

    "NewsMax's sources say there was no video taken from the UAV, only photos. These were included in an after-action report sent to regimental and division headquarters the night of the incident. That report, a PowerPoint presentation, contained a detailed account (with the UAV photos) of the events of that day. It told the whole story of the Haditha incident and was so complete that the superior officers, including Lt. Col. Jeffrey R. Chessani, 3rd Battalion commander, rightly concluded that the Marines had acted appropriately.

    "In a statement to military investigators in March, obtained by The Post, Chessani said he did not consider the deaths of 24 Iraqis, many of them women and children, unusual and did not initiate an inquiry, according to a sworn statement he gave to military investigators in March.

    "'I thought it was very sad, very unfortunate; but at the time, I did not suspect any wrongdoing from my Marines,' he said, adding, 'I did not have any reason to believe that this was anything other than combat action.'

    "The Post reported that Chessani had told investigators he concluded that insurgents had staged a "complex attack" that began with a roadside bomb, followed by a small-arms ambush that was intended to provoke the Marines to fire into houses where civilians were hiding.

    "I did not see any cause for alarm," especially because several firefights had occurred in the area the same day - Nov. 19, 2005 - Chessani said. Because of that conclusion, he added, he did not see any reason to investigate the matter, or even to ask how many women and children had been killed. "I just saw this as a large combat action that had been staged by the enemy," he told investigators.

    "Chessani's conclusions were based on the compelling evidence provided him in that PowerPoint presentation and subsequent interviews with Marine officers present during the incident.

    "As far as the so-called missing pages of the logbook are concerned, Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich has told the media that the logbooks were merely records of radio transmissions. NewsMax can report, however, that "rolls and rolls" of the yellow-slip message papers on which the radio operator writes all transmissions were turned over to investigators, and they reflect the tone and exact times of Kilo company reports of that morning."

    According to my sources, this whole incident was filmed, produced and directed by al-Qaida insurgents. They provoked the Marines' counterattack, used the civilians as human shields, peddled the video they shot for weeks until they found a gullible Time reporter who swallowed their story hook, line and sinker, thereby giving life to the insurgents' massacre hoax.

    In an August speech at Fallon Air Station during a Q&A session, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld addressed the issue of the insurgents' use of the media to promote their propaganda. Here's what he said:

    "'More than half of this battle is taking place in the battlefield of the media. We are in a media battle in a race for the hearts and minds of Muslims.' The speaker was not some modern-day image consultant in a public relations firm here in New York City, it was Osama bin Laden's chief lieutenant, Ayman al-Zawahiri. I mention this because I want to talk today about something that at first might seem obvious, but really isn't obvious.

    "Our enemies have skillfully adapted to fighting wars in today's media age, but for the most part we, our country, our government, has not adapted. Consider that the violent extremists have established media relations committees - these are terrorists, and they have media relations committees that meet and talk about strategy, not with bullets but with words. They've proven to be highly successful at manipulating the opinion elites of the world. They plan and design their headline-grabbing attacks using every means of communication to intimidate and break the collective will of free people.

    "They know that communications transcend borders and that a single news story handled skillfully can be as damaging to our cause and helpful to theirs as any other method of military attack. And they're doing it. They're able to act quickly. They have relatively few people. They have modest resources compared to the vast and expensive bureaucracies of Western governments.

    "They are actively manipulating the media in this country" by, for example, falsely blaming U.S. troops for civilian deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said. "They can lie with impunity."

    Don Rumsfeld, who I remember as a brash, opinionated crewcut freshman in the House of Representatives during my days on the Hill, said that. I don't know whether he was thinking about Haditha, but you can be sure that if you send the Kilo Marines back to duty with the honor due to them, I don't think you'll have to worry about your top boss's reaction.

    And you can be sure that the grunts will applaud you when you prove that you meant it when you said that Marines can be your best friend and your worst enemy. The Kilo Company Marines need a best friend. They couldn't have a better one than James Mattis, who recently told San Diego's North Country News the story of a Marine unit that had just seen several of its members wounded in a roadside bomb explosion yet took the time to wave to Iraqi children after the dead and injured were evacuated and it was leaving the area.

    You said, "It's not a small issue to wave to kids after just seeing your buddies blown up, but that shows on the most pedestrian level the kind of sturdiness that is needed in what is just a morally bruising environment where the enemy hides among the people."

    As you know, that's what Marines do when confronted by a situation like the one in Haditha. They don't massacre civilians in cold blood.

    Semper Fi

    Phil Brennan, Cpl. USMC 1943-46

    * * * * * *

    Phil Brennan is a veteran journalist who writes for He is editor & publisher of Wednesday on the Web ( and was Washington columnist for National Review magazine in the 1960s. He also served as a staff aide for the House Republican Policy Committee and helped handle the Washington public relations operation for the Alaska Statehood Committee which won statehood for Alaska. He is also a trustee of the Lincoln Heritage Institute and a member of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers.

  2. #2
    Marine Free Member jerryk's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2006
    sir: thank you for telling what i have liked to say,it shore aint our marine corp.that i was in in vietnam

  3. #3

    Why are they in the Brig?

    With such compelling evidence as this "fine" reporter has eluded to...."WHY ARE THESE MEN IN THE BRIG, AND HIRING LAWYER'S, AND HAVE PLACES TO SEND MONEY FOR THEIR DEFENSE?" Why hasn't the Military, prosecutor's given all the "evidence" to the defense?" These Marines in no way shape, form, fashion should be held in confinement, unless as he says, "it's CYA!!" What a crock of sheet. I hope the Gen. got to read the letter. SF to you Sir.

  4. #4
    The last thing the Marine Corps needs now is a cover up. I trust that the reviewing officer will take the time to get all the facts and act on them. There will be more investigations on this incident no matter what the decision is. The Marine Corps should get all the facts and let the chips fall where they may.

  5. #5
    I absolutely agree with MGySgt Koenig.

    LtGen Mattis will not respond to pressure of any kind, but will do his utmost to ensure the integrity of the military justice process. I fear, however, that those who have pre-judged the allegations on both sides will be unpersuaded by the findings of facts and conclusions of military law, and that he and the Marine Corps will be damned either way.

    This entire matter tests our commitment to the values that we profess. I, too, place my trust in our ability to hold ourselves accountable for living those values, in this matter as much as in battle for this, too, is about honor.

    Thanks, MGySgt Koenig for reminding us all that the facts should drive the outcome.

    S/F, former Sgt Tom Mattis

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