Military June 04, 2018

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By John Fannin: Sergeant Major Bradley Kasal Retires
By Army Col. Richard Goldenberg, New York National Guard: 100 Years Ago, WWI’s 1st American Hero Fought For Life with a Knife
By John Throckmorton: War Doesn’t Remake People — It Just Highlights Who They Already Are
Article link below this letter:

Hi. Adam Linehan, T&P senior staff writer, here.

If you follow Task & Purpose closely, you may have noticed that my byline disappeared for a while. The reason for my recent absence is an article that we published last week.

Seven months ago, a friend sent me a private link to House Two, an investigative documentary about one of the biggest war crimes cases involving American troops in recent history — the tragedy known as the Haditha massacre. My friend thought I might like to review the film ahead of its debut at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival and offered to put me in touch with the director, Michael Epstein.

Epstein, it turned out, had spent nearly 12 years working on House Two. He was embedded with the defense team of Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, whose squad was struck by a roadside bomb in Haditha, Iraq on the morning of Nov. 19, 2005. The blast killed a beloved member of the squad. By noon, 24 more people — Iraqi civilians — were dead, their bodies strewn across several locations in the surrounding neighborhood.

Of the four enlisted Marines initially charged for the massacre, Wuterich was the only one to ever stand trial. Shockingly, in January 2012, he walked away with a plea deal that ensured no prison time. A lawyer for the victims’ families called the outcome of the case an “assault on humanity.” The Marines had killed children. The youngest was 3.

After the court-martial, Epstein tracked down the two NCIS special agents who led the forensic investigation in the hope that they could help him make sense of why Marine Corps prosecutors failed so miserably. He found one of the agents, Michael Maloney, had been left deeply shaken by the whole ordeal. Maloney said the prosecution’s case collapsed because it was contradicted by the forensic evidence. Epstein spent the next five years trying to determine why prosecutors had opted for what seemed like a self-defeating approach.

In House Two, Epstein argues forcefully that the Marine Corps deliberately bungled the case to ensure the most horrific details of the massacre remained hidden from the public. He also draws a direct link between that effort and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, who steered the initial phases of the Haditha prosecution as commander of I Marine Expeditionary Force. “When the Corps didn’t succeed in burying the truth in Iraq, it buried it in the courtroom,” Epstein told me the first time we met, last December.

I’ll admit that I wasn’t completely sold. Or at least not enough to recommend House Two to our readers. But Epstein proposed a deal: he would hand over the trove of undisclosed court documents, video footage, transcripts, and forensic reports he had amassed over the past 12 years. In exchange, I would mention his film in my article at least once — even if I proved its core theory wrong. The challenge was just too enticing to pass up.

So that’s what I set off to do — prove Epstein wrong — and in doing so I would also answer a big question that it seemed few journalists had even bothered to ask: Why were none of the alleged perpetrators of the Haditha massacre ever punished?

The article I’m sharing with you now is the result of the most intensive reporting process I have ever undertaken. Nights, weekends, holidays, even my best friend’s wedding — I worked through them all. I read everything and talked to everyone who’d answer the phone. And the picture only got uglier the deeper I dug. I came within inches of giving up on numerous occasions, if only for the sake of my mental health.

But I’m glad I stuck with it. The last time I felt this relieved to be done with something — and this proud — I was on an airplane leaving Afghanistan. That was my second, and last, overseas deployment as an Army medic. So I also approached this story as a veteran. It was impossible not to. Counterinsurgency is 99% psychological warfare, and it cuts both ways. When you lose a friend to an IED or a suicide bomb you instinctively blame the locals. They let that happen. They didn’t warn you. It’s extremely difficult to step back and realize that acting on that anger is exactly what the insurgents want.

I’ve written investigative features before, but this one was different. It hit close to home — not just for me, but also many of my Task & Purpose colleagues. My editor, Aaron Gell, is one of the few people at T&P who isn’t a veteran, but he understood the importance of this story from the beginning and fought every inch of the way to ensure that our personal experiences at war only informed the article and never got in the way of telling the truth.

Warning: This is an in-depth article. 12,000 words. But I believe that everything in here is absolutely essential to the story so you can decide for yourself. Did the case collapse because of incompetence? A broken military justice system? A deliberate effort to subvert justice? Or a little bit of all of the above?

I’m sure after reading you’ll have questions for me. I’d like to hear them. Please email me directly at

It’s great to be back.

Regards, Adam

Task & Purpose Adam Linehan: Just Kills: How The Marine Corps Blew The Biggest War Crimes Case Since Vietnam