By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
This potent mantra seems to foretell the heroic and brutal reputation that Kilo 3/1 will achieve in Iraq. In early 2006, before charges are brought against Nazario, come the most notorious allegations against the company: that four members of the unit had massacred 24 civilians in Haditha, Iraq, in 2005.
Eight Marines faced Article 32 hearings at Camp Pendleton on charges ranging from dereliction of duty to unpremeditated murder. The NCIS investigation bore out in antiseptic detail how members of Kilo Company moved through four houses in Haditha after an IED attack, killing the inhabitants, including women and children. Two members of the unit still face criminal charges related to civilian deaths, four eventually saw their charges dismissed, and one member of the unit has received immunity for cooperating with the prosecution. The dead from Haditha were almost exclusively civilians, most of whom were slaughtered in their own homes. (On February 19, PBS's Frontline examines the Marines of Kilo 3/1 and their role in the Haditha killings.)
Former Lance Corporal Justin Sharratt, who was in Kilo Company with Nazario throughout 2004's Operation Phantom Fury, participated in the 2005 killing of three brothers in their home in Haditha. He cleared the room the men were found in — much in the manner practiced in Fallujah when he fought alongside 3rd Squad — and emptied his pistol into the three men, whom he stated had pointed weapons at him. Sharratt faced unpremeditated-murder charges for the deaths of the brothers, but last August he was exonerated on all three counts. He says that clearing houses, as he'd done in both Haditha and Fallujah, demands both speed and decisiveness. "You have to basically shoot first," he says. "Mistakes do happen. The wrong people do get shot — it's neither side's fault."
I ask Sharratt his impression of Nazario. "He was a good squad leader," he says. Sharratt describes how Nazario joined Kilo Company and was assigned to take over 3rd Squad. "What everyone liked about him was that he kind of sat back and saw how they actually ran the squad," Sharratt says. "Then he started taking over leadership of the squad."
When I speak with Nazario's wife, Diette, she describes how her husband's arrest has reorganized their life: "One day he had a job and the next day he was unemployed." She'd intended to stay home with their son for his first two years, then return to work in her field of criminal justice — she holds two master's degrees — and make plans for their second child. But she's now back in the workforce full time.
"Everything right now is on pause," Diette says. She's supporting the family, after taking the first job she could find, as a customer-service representative. She says that when she applied for that position, her employer asked, "Why are you taking this job when you have all this experience?" She didn't disclose her situation to her employer and thought to herself, "Because I really need this job."
She says she's traded the fear she felt during her husband's deployment — that someone might "come to the door with a flag" — for the worry that her husband may be incarcerated for a decade. "I just feel betrayed," she says. "I think the government is wrong, not just accusing my husband, but other men, of these crimes."
IF NAZARIO'S INDICTMENT SPELLS out a rigid chronology of the killings for which he is accused, the eyewitness statements behind the indictment render the events in greater detail, but with more striking ambiguity. An NCIS agent named Mark Fox eventually tracks Cory Carlisle to Lawrence, Indiana, where he has lived and worked as a missionary for the Latter-day Saints. Sergeant Jermaine Nelson remained at Camp Pendleton, where Fox questioned him at the NCIS office over the course of an hour last March. In recorded interviews provided to L.A. Weekly by a source who wishes to remain anonymous, these two men recount seemingly similar but fundamentally different versions of the events of November 9.
Carlisle, interviewed by NCIS in the company of a Mormon church elder, recounts entering the house on Phase Line Henry. He is the point man, with Weemer immediately behind him. Sergeant Nazario, Sergeant Nelson and Lance Corporal James Prentice follow. Third Squad immediately discovers four unarmed males in a large living room, and Nelson begins questioning them. Carlisle alone identifies one of the prisoners, an older man with a white beard, wearing a long off-white shirt that Carlisle mistakenly refers to as a "turban." Nazario orders Carlisle and Prentice to clear, then search, the house.
In his separate NCIS interview at Camp Pendleton, Sergeant Nelson recounts interrogating the prisoners, who understand little or no English, demanding to know whether they have weapons. Carlisle and Prentice appear after searching the house with two AK-47 rifles; the weapons aren't chambered, but Prentice has found spent shell casings on the roof of the home.
"That's when Nazario starts gettin' fuckin' pissed," Nelson says. "'You said there were no weapons.' And shit, he just cocked him," Nelson continues as he recalls Nazario striking a prisoner. "BOW! Head bounced off the wall and shit. I was like, 'Yo! What the fuck are you doin'?'"