Just Read the Headline; Don’t Ask Any Questions

When Marines were accused of committing atrocities at Haditha, Mad Jack Murtha and many others rushed to convict them. We have followed the story as those accusations have fallen apart, and one Marine after another has been exonerated. Now, at least two of the cleared Marines have either sued, or stated their intention to sue, Mad Jack for defamation.
The mainstream media don’t seem to have noticed that the Haditha prosecutions have crumbled. Hence, headlines like this one, by AFP: Marine tells of order to execute Haditha women and children. That is an arresting headline, and the story’s lead takes up the same theme:

A US Marine was ordered to execute a room full of terrified Iraqi women and children during an alleged massacre in Haditha that left 24 people dead, a military court heard Thursday.

But if you look past the sensational lead, what is actually being reported by AFP?
The testimony in question came in a preliminary hearing on the prosecution of Marine Sergeant Frank Wuterich. You might think from the headline that the witness who told of the “order to execute women and children” was testifying against Wuterich. But no:

Later in cross-examination Mendoza [the witness whose testimony led the story] praised Wuterich’s leadership. “I think he’s a great Marine, sir,” he said.

Instead, Mendoza’s testimony implicated someone entirely different, who was not on trial:

During a subsequent search of the house, Mendoza said he received an order from another Marine, Lance Corporal Stephen Tatum, to shoot seven women and children he had found in a rear bedroom.
“When I opened the door there was just women and kids, two adults were lying down on the bed and there were three children on the bed … two more were behind the bed,” Mendoza said.
“I looked at them for a few seconds. Just enough to know they were not presenting a threat … they looked scared.”
After leaving the room Mendoza told Tatum what he had found.
“I told him there were women and kids inside there. He said ‘Well, shoot them,’” Mendoza told prosecutor Lieutenant Colonel Sean Sullivan.
“And what did you say to him?” Sullivan asked.
“I said ‘But they’re just women and children.’ He didn’t say nothing.”

Apart from the fact that Tatum is not the defendant in the current proceeding, this is a highly ambiguous account, made more so by the fact that Mendoza testified that he did not carry out Tatum’s purported order. Later, AFP reports:

Of the four Marines charged with murder, two have since had charges withdrawn, while allegations against Tatum are also expected to be dismissed.

Why, in view of the ostensibly shocking testimony that headlined the current account, is a dismissal of the charges against Tatum “expected?” AFP gives no clue. Moreover, AFP fails to explain why Mendoza didn’t carry out the ostensible “order” from Tatum. It does report, however, that defense counsel suggested that, according to a survivor, it was Mendoza himself, contrary to his testimony at the hearing, who killed the civilians in question.
Those issues remain for another day. At present, the charges being heard are those against Sergeant Wuterich. If you read AFP’s article carefully, what evidence do they describe against Wuterich?
None. That’s right, none at all. AFP describes not a word of testimony to support the murder charges against Wuterich. If I were to bet a nickel on the proceedings, I would bet that Wuterich won’t be charged; or, if charged, will be acquitted. But AFP achieved what it was after with the headline: “Marine tells of order to execute Haditha women and children.”
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