Defend Our Marines | July 17, 2007
This is the second of a two-part article Defend Our Marines
Contributing Editor Nathaniel R. Helms.
Read this article's companion piece:
in Haditha: An eyewitness account.
Haditha witness testimony
suppressed by NCIS:
AK-47s seen at the white taxi
by Nathaniel R. Helms
Former Cpl Josh Karlen
former Marine from Kilo Company wounded at Haditha, Iraq on the
day of the alleged massacre told Naval Criminal Investigative Service
investigators he saw Kalashnikov assault rifles propped against a
white taxicab next to the bodies of five Iraqi men killed when the
fighting started. His report contradicts prosecution contentions that
the Iraqis were innocent civilians.
Cash Karlen, 23, from Westminster, Colorado, said Monday that he is
positive he saw the weapons while he was being evacuated from the
battlefield. The following spring Karlen says he reported his
observations to NCIS investigators while being interrogated by two
grilled me over why I was there, why I was driving through the cordon
and what I saw,” Karlen said. “I was in there for about four hours.”
says he repeatedly told the two agents what he witnessed at the ambush
area was cordoned off when we drove by,” Karlen said in a telephone
interview from his home. “I was hit by a grenade and had a severe
concussion so I had to be evacuated out. I was on the south side of
Chestnut (code name for the road running on the south side of the
ambush site) being driven through the cordon. We were going real slow
so I could see a white car, a pile of bodies, and weapons piled
against the car. There were three or four AKs stacked leaning against
a white car and some Marines were standing around. ”
a lengthy interview Karlen’s statement was never included in the
evidence obtained by the defense, according to defense attorney Brian
Rooney. The former Marine Corps Staff Judge Advocate represents Lt.
Col Jeffrey Chessani. Chessani is the former commander of 3rd
Battalion, 1st Marines. Chessani is currently waiting to
discover if he will stand general courts-martial over his role in
Kilo’s alleged murder rampage.
is the first I have ever heard of this!” Rooney exclaimed.
said the NCIS failure to provide Karlen’s eyewitness account to Marine
Corps prosecutors was a “very serious omission” that undoubtedly
harmed his client’s case.
Karlen’s testimony is absolutely essential to the defense, Rooney
added. The outspoken defense attorney is at a loss to understand why
Karlen’s statement was never introduced into evidence, he said.
could never put any weapons with the Iraqis who were killed by the
cab,” Rooney explained Monday night. “This evidence is crucial to
prove the men in the cab were armed insurgents. Early on there were
reports they had weapons, but the weapons were never found.”
Last week Col.
Christopher Conlin, the officer presiding over Chessani’s Article 32
hearing, recommended the career infantryman face general
courts-martial because he "failed to thoroughly and accurately report
and investigate a combat engagement that clearly needed scrutiny."
“The irony is almost
overwhelming,” a very senior Marine noted Tuesday morning.
Karlen’s observations contradict prosecution assertions that the five
men were unarmed Iraqi civilians who meandered into the ambush site
only to be gunned down in cold blood by Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich
and Sergeant Sanick Dela Cruz. Wuterich stands accused of gunning
down the Iraqis in retaliation for the gruesome killing of Lance
Corporal Miguel “T.J.” Terrazas on November 19, 2005 by an IED ambush.
Dela Cruz was granted immunity to testify against him. The prosecution
alleges Wuterich and two other Kilo Marines then rampaged through a
nearby group of houses executing 19 more innocent civilians. Seven
other Marines who were with them as well were later granted immunity
said he was interrogated by two NCIS Special Agents at Camp Pendleton
after returning from home leave following the battalion’s return in
late March, 2006. He was summoned to regimental headquarters sometime
in April or early May along with almost every enlisted man in Kilo who
was at Haditha, Karlen said. At the time he was assigned the guard
detail providing security to regimental headquarters at Camp Horno,
the 1st Marines lodgment area on Camp Pendleton.
time Karlen was interrogated he felt sure the NCIS agents already knew
‘everything” about the incident and just want to see what he was going
to say about it. They told Karlen they wanted to talk to him because
he had actually been at the alleged crime scene. They repeatedly asked
him what he had seen and why he was there, Karlen said.
were two NCIS guys. The young one was friendly and the old guy was
gruff. The young one would ask me questions for awhile, talk about
surfing; how did I like Pendleton - that stuff. And then the old one
would come in and say he had to ask something and he would sound sort
of mean and angry. He would try and be intimidating. It was the good
cop – bad cop routine.
telling them I was wounded and had a concussion and was just riding
by. I kept telling them what I saw and why I was there and then they
would ask me again. They acted like they didn’t believe me. I told
them all I wanted was to get out of the Corps and was this going to
keep me in somehow. Once they realized I don’t have anything they
wanted they let me go.”
the Haditha incident Karlen was an assaultman assigned to Kilo
Company’s Weapons Platoon. He was standing watch at the same Combat
Observation Post - C.O.P. - as former Corporal Joe Haman, another Kilo
witnessed the attack on Wuterich’s squad. Their position was about
600 meters from the ambush site. Wuterich’s patrol had just delivered
the morning rations and supplies before they got hit. By lunch time
Karlen would be wounded in desperate combat with insurgents near the
same site, he said.
Marines’ legal problems began when Time Magazine published an account
in March, 2005 claiming 24 Iraqi civilians, including the five men
killed by the white taxicab, were innocent Iraqis. Reporter Tim McGirk
wrote that the five men in the taxi were mercilessly gunned down by
Marines while on their way to school. They were the first to die in
retaliation for an IED attack the patrol had just endured, McGirk
has an entirely different take on the incident, he says. He was on
guard duty on top of a building when he heard a loud boom. He didn’t
know what had happened except it came from the direction Wuterich’s
four-HUMVEE patrol had just taken. The IED explosion was followed by a
strong exchange of gunshots, he said.
blatantly obvious somebody was getting hit,” Karlen said. “Corporal
Haman was the senior Marine NCO on the C.O.P. so he could hear the
radios, know what all was happening. I didn’t know anything except
there was a firefight going on and we were going out.”
grew relatively quiet for a few minutes. The talk later on was the
ambushed Marines had to regroup, Karlen said.
had to figure out where the fire was coming from and collect their
wounded. Wuterich came out of the School of Infantry. He was a good
Marine. He was an instructor. They teach other guys so he had to be a
good Marine. The guys who were with him said he did exactly right. All
the time there were gunshots going off all over the place. I couldn’t
distinguish what kind of weapons were firing. I was gearing up so I
wasn’t paying that much attention. Gunfire is always going off in
30 minutes later they were told to proceed to some houses down the
road that were reportedly occupied by insurgents, Karlen said. After a
two minute run their 12-man squad stopped in front of some houses
where headquarters thought the insurgents were hiding. Without hearing
the radio traffic Karlen didn’t know they were from the same group
that ambushed Wuterich’s patrol. He wouldn’t learn anything about that
for several months, he said.
time he thought his patrol was part of a larger operation because
there were groups of insurgents running all over the place, he said.
There was gunfire erupting everywhere, he said. All he knew for sure
about Wuterich’s patrol was that somebody’s “kill number” had been put
out over the radio so he knew a Marine was dead, he explained.
the squad cleared the first house they came to with grenades, Karlen
split up from Haman’s team and went on the other side of the building
with Lt. Zall, Sgt. Raphael, the Navy corpsmen and several other
Marines. He was standing about 15 feet from Lt Zall and the corpsmen a
few minutes later when Iraqi insurgents hiding on the roof of the
adjacent building attacked them with a grenade barrage. The attack
erupted when a grenade dropped from the roof and exploded about five
feet from Lt. Zall and the corpsman. Karlen sustained a serious
concussion in the blast, he said.
the lieutenant and corpsman get hit so we ran out and pulled them into
the house under cover. Lt. Zall was hit in both his legs and the
corpsman was hurt pretty bad as well. They both had broken legs,
Meanwhile Karlen’s team lost contact with Haman and his fire team. All
he knew was that some of the Marines he was with went on the roof of
the first house to get a better position to counterattack the Iraqi
grenadiers. He was worried about his friend Haman and the other
Marines in the squad.
isn’t good to get in a cross-fire between friendlies,” he said.
Immediately the fight grew in intensity. It rapidly escalated turned
into a “grenade free-for-all,” Karlen said.
“Grenades were going off all over the place. I don’t know how many
grenades were thrown. Almost everybody got wounded. Then we used
flares to get back in contact. It was just a vicious firefight,”
the ORF (Quick Reaction Force) showed up, Karlen added. His team
eventually ran across the road and joined up with Haman’s group and
the reinforcements. By then almost all the Marines were wounded to
some degree, Karlen said. After they regrouped he joined other Kilo
Marines who went on the roof on still another house to engage the
Iraqi insurgents. Karlen stayed there firing on the insurgents until
he was ordered to the rear to receive medical attention.
overpowered them with our medium machine guns. The QRF was lighting up
the buildings with the two-forties (M-240G 7.62 mm medium machine
gun),” Karlen said. “They didn’t have nothing to stand up to our
that is about where the war ended for me. I had a pretty bad
concussion and they said I had to be evacuated. That is why I was
driven past the cordon. Everything else I learned about talking to
Kilo Marines when I got back to Camp Pendleton.”
Karlen lives in a suburb of Denver. He was married last November and
has a newborn son. He is currently employed by a private security
company guarding the Federal offices in the Denver area. Karlen
eventually hopes to return to school to obtain a business degree and
open his own company. Karlen father served six years in the Marine
Corps during the Vietnam War, including combat operations in Southeast
Defend Our Marines
17 July 2007
Note: Nat Helms is a Contributing Editor to Defend Our
Marines. He is a Vietnam veteran, former police officer, war
correspondent, and, most recently, author of
My Men Are My Heroes: The Brad Kasal Story (Meredith Books, 2007).