June 02, 2006

Exhumation (NOT YET) Granted in Haditha (Updated)

Update: Lawhawk wrote to inform me that I goofed, and he was right: the families of the victims have not yet granted the NCIS permission, but that the NCIS is looking to exhume the bodies of those killed. Big difference. If permission is not granted, it could potentially make the case more difficult for presecutors.

As the Haditha investigation goes forward, Iraqis appear to have reversed course and are now allowing the bodies of the victims to be exhumed so that forensic evidence could be collected by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) investigation. Traditionally, Muslims do not allow disinterment.

The Washington Post's article about this development caught my attention with this paragraph, particularly the sentence highlighted in bold:

A source close to the inquiry said Naval Criminal Investigative Service officials have interviewed families of the dead several times and have visited the homes where the shootings allegedly occurred to collect as much evidence as possible. Exhuming the bodies could help investigators determine the distance at which shots were fired, the caliber of the bullets and the angles of the shots, possibly crucial details in determining how events unfolded and who might have been involved.

Forensically, I was initially perplexed at how they intended to judge the distance at which the shots were fired. At extremely close ranges inside a house, the terminal velocity of bullets can't change much from 15 feet to 5, but the possibility is that shots would leave varying amounts of powder residue depending on their distance to target. A shot at contact range would presumably deposit far more residue on the victim's body around the wound than would a shot fired from across a room. I know it depends upon the exact circumstances, but it would seem that closer contact range shots might be more consistent with an execution, where shots from across a room might be more consistent with room-clearing fire.

It may perhaps be nothing but a mere formality (in fact, that is what I suspect and what WaPo reporter Josh White just confirms via email) but the investigators are also interested in verifying the caliber of the bullets.

This might be of interest because all all standard Marine Corps entry weapons (variants of the M4 and M16 rifles, and the M249 SAW) are 5.56 NATO caliber weapons, with the possible exception of the 9mm NATO round in the M9 Beretta pistol and the 12-gauge round fired by shotguns sometimes used by entry teams.

I think it is highly unlikely that the autopsies with uncover any other weapon calibers, but if 7.62/.30 caliber bullets or bullet fragments are found, then this case would get very, very interesting, to say the least.

The U.S. has 7.62 NATO rounds in use by the Marine Corps, but they occur primarily in sniper rifle systems and the M240 medium machine guns—neither of which are practical for house-to-house raids cited in this case. The 7.62x39 Warsaw pact round, or ".30 Russian" as it is sometimes know, is the standard caliber for the Russian small arms favored by the insurgency. Anything other than 5.56mm NATO or 9mm NATO rounds would be a major surprise.

In any event, I hope that the NCIS investigation is able to find conclusive, unambiguous evidence so that the Marines involved face justice based upon the strength of solid evidence, not mere speculation or questionable eyewitness accounts.

Update: I'm not certain of the veracity of the charge, but I'll put out the link so that you can read it and decide for yourself. Sweetness & Light notes that the doctor who conducted the initial autopsies may have ties to an insurgency-supporting group.

Posted by Confederate Yankee at June 2, 2006 10:04 AM | TrackBack

In maintaining faith that our Marines didn't just go berserk, range determination (bullet distance traveled)could also validate the claim of returning fire. Remember, our Tactics Techniques and Procedures has changed from taking a defensive position when attacked to counter attacking as quickly as possible. Counter attacking would have sent a lot of lead down range to keep heads down while executing the assault. A lot of lead down range could produce collateral damage, especially if set up for that outcome by insurgents.

I want so much for these guys to be cleared of "cold blooded murder". However, if the worst is true, then I want justice served for us as well as the Iraqis. in the mean time, I want the media and politicians to shut up!

Posted by: Old Soldier at June 2, 2006 10:58 AM

A shot at contact range would presumably deposit far more residue on the victim's body around the wound than would a shot fired from across a room.

Absolutely, an execution-style contact shot will not just put larger amounts of GSR on the victim but will even burn the flesh and/or clothing around the wound. Those are some hot gasses driving the ball.


Posted by: Toby928 at June 2, 2006 11:12 AM

Toby929, I wouldn't use the term "Execution-style" this is already hyped enough. No offense but I would prefer to tone it down to "close range small arms fire" and CY is correct that it will show powder residue impregnated into the wound areas and bullet deformities. One thing I also would be a little leary of is the fact that the insurgents have some captured U.S. weapons and could have possibly inflicted some of those gunshot wounds. I am not saying that the Marines could not have killed those folks but, we must look at all the evidence before making wild accusations concerning this incident. I pray that it was a justifiable shooting. Those folks like to use innocents as human shields. But it also makes you wonder how culpable those innocents were at the time. The Marines carry the 5.56/.223 lethal but a pop gun round compared to the 7.62x39 Ak and sks round. 5.56 round is notorious for it ricochet
I'm sure old soldier will back me up on that fact. The msm and politicians need to just state that the incident is under investigation and the EXPERTS are gathering all the evidence.

Posted by: Faithful Patriot at June 2, 2006 01:25 PM

I saw on Drudge that the Haditha marines were exonerated, but then it disappeared. Did you hear anything about that?

Posted by: Kevin at June 3, 2006 06:25 AM

Right idea, wrong incident.

The military cleared the unit involved at Ishaqi.

ABC news is reporting exhumation at Haditha WILL NOT be granted, which is goig to make justice more difficult. Whether the Marines are right are wrong I'd like to see all the facts possible, and these families are now effectively blocking an important part of that investigation.

Posted by: Confederate Yankee at June 3, 2006 06:46 AM

Before the war and even now, many Americans railed against the Iraqi leader for slaughtering innocent Iraqis. Now the Iraqi leader is (allegedly) railing against America for slaughtering innocent Iraqis. Move along everyone, no irony here.

I am very glad to see our brave soldiers exonerated at Ishaqi. AlJazeera was probably responsible for that bullcr** story.

However, it would suit me just fine if Marine officers responsible for any coverup at Hiditha were implicated and convicted... Even if it wasn't publicized until AFTER trial. Real justice would be served. I'm just sick and tired of non-coms and privates exclusivly being blamed for all this.


Posted by: hogwild at June 3, 2006 11:36 AM

Oops, my above comment was wrong. The marines exonerated were in Ishaqi. My apologies.

Posted by: Kevin at June 3, 2006 12:10 PM

Toby929, I wouldn't use the term "Execution-style" this is already hyped enough.

No aspersion intended.


Posted by: Toby928 at June 3, 2006 12:59 PM

I read today that one of the top Iraqi offcials has already backtracked and stated that the attack has been overstated. Could be that another left wing democratic/terrorists assisted made for TV production just happened.

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