Lt. in charge of removing bodies in Haditha testifies

LA Times:

...

Lt. Max Frank, who had been ordered to remove the bodies, said he assumed the Marines had "cleared" three houses of suspected insurgents according to their standing orders: by throwing in fragmentation grenades and entering with blasts of M-16 fire.

The smoke from the grenades, Frank said, would have kept the Marines from noticing that they were firing on women and children.

"It was unfortunate, but I had no reason to believe anything they had done was on purpose," Frank said during a videotaped deposition.

...

... Defense attorneys say that Marines were "clearing" houses after receiving gunfire from one of the houses.

But Frank testified that, while hauling away the dead bodies, he saw no indication that insurgents had been using the houses. He said he saw no weapons and no shell casings during the 10 hours he was on the scene.

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"The terrorists are laughing in their caves," Brian Rooney, one of Chessani's lawyers, told reporters. "This is what they want: For us to put each other on trial. This is the culmination of their propaganda campaign that begin Nov. 19." Frank said he talked briefly to Sgt. Frank Wuterich, the squad leader who led Marines in the house clearing. Wuterich told him about firing coming from the houses, Frank said.

...

Hours later, Frank testified, officers talked about what to say in explaining the incident to the town elders in Haditha, a onetime insurgent stronghold in the Euphrates River Valley.

A fellow lieutenant told him, "We should explain it as an unfortunate thing that happens when terrorists use your homes to attack our forces," Frank said.

...
The explanation seems plausible and has the added benefit of being true. It is the first hint that the enemy was camouflaged as civilians and using civilians as human shields. The only piece of Frank's testimony that appears to support the prosecutions case is that he did not see weapons or shell casings. The latter is the more important since the enemy forces could have escaped with their weapons. It would appear that if the enemy was firing it was from a different location, however the story is not clear enough to rule out that Frank may have just overlooked evidence of shell casings and worked on the more gruesome task of getting rid of the bodies rather than engage in a forensic search of the place.

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