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Opening Arguments Delivered At Haditha Trial

The prosecution and the defense in the Haditha trial at Camp Pendleton have delivered their opening arguments. No one has yet been convicted for the death of 24 Iraqi civilians - including unarmed women and children - in 2005.

Marine Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich is the last man standing in the Haditha case. One by one, the other members of his squad have had their cases dismissed or have been acquitted, leaving squad leader Wuterich to take the brunt of the legal consequences.

Frank Wuterich is the last of his squad to be on trial for the Haditha case.
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Above: Frank Wuterich is the last of his squad to be on trial for the Haditha case.

The incident hit the headlines in 2006 after a Time Magazine reporter questioned a military press release blaming the civilian deaths on an explosion. An army investigation uncovered that Marines had shot the civilians as the the squad reacted to an explosion that killed one of their own.

The details of what happened that day are not clear. Five unarmed Iraqi men were shot at point blank range when they drove onto the scene. Wuterich said the men did not listen to commands, but the prosecution said it has witnesses who say no commands were given before the killings.

The squad is believed to have come under light arms fire, but Wuterich said he saw no shooting coming from the houses he and three of his men then stormed. Nineteen people, including 11 women and children, died inside of two houses. No weapons were subsequently found.

Reporter Alison St John provides more information on the opening of the trial on Monday's show.

Evening Edition airs weekdays at 5 PM and 6:30 PM on KPBS TV

Prosecuting attorney Major Nick Gannon, played a number of clips from an interview Wuterich gave to 60 Minutes in 2007, in which he said there may have been women and children in the houses he stormed.

Gannon described in gory detail the scene in the bedroom where the women and children were shot.

Gannon concluded his opening statement by saying Wuterich “never lost control of his squad, but he made a series of fatal assumptions,” and that he “lost control of himself.”

Wuterich faces up to 150 years in prison if found guilty on nine counts of voluntary manslaughter.

Yet even the first witness called by the prosecution today - Retired Army Colonel Gregory Watt - was complimentary about Wuterich. Watt conducted an investigation after the Time Magazine report was published; he told the court Wuterich was “forthright and professional.”

However, Watt recalled, he was surprised when Wuterich told him he did not make a positive identification - as the Marine rules of engagement require - before shooting the occupants of the house.

Wuterich appears ready to shoulder the responsibility for what happened, telling Watts: “My Marines did what I told them to do.” He believes his actions were justified, and said: "My job as squad leader is to make sure no more of my guys died or got killed."

The civilian defense attorney Haytham Faraj spent more than an hour going over the details of the case. Faraj cast doubt on the truth of the testimony from Wuterich’s squad members, characterizing them as “a bunch of scared Marines who were offered immunity.”

He also appealed to the eight-man jury, all of whom are Marine combat veterans, by telling them not to get caught up in the gory photographs of the dead civilians, but rather to use their personal experience of combat to put the event in context.

He concluded by asking the jury to “give Wuterich his life back, put Haditha behind us and move on.”

Gary Solis, a former military prosecutor and now a law professor at Georgetown University, said the prosecution will have an uphill battle in this case.

“The prosecution is swimming against the tide,“ Solis said. “Not necessarily because of the facts of the case, which are pretty strong in favor of the prosecution. The prosecution, however, has taken six years to come to trial and the benefit of the delay accrues to the defense.”

The case is expected to last several weeks and to involve dozens of witnesses.

Comments

Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | January 9, 2012 at 9:29 p.m. ― 2 years, 11 months ago

Thank you to KPBS for covering this.

As another poster pointed out yesterday (Thanks missionaccomplished!), Papa Doug, the bigoted religious zealot millionaire real estate developer cum newspaper mogul, has decided to ignore this in his newly acquired Republican propaganda daily known as the "Union Tribune".

I guess it's part of his pledge to only carry "positive news"?

And the local television news stations are no better, probably because they decided decades ago to throw out all journalistic integrity in an effort not to "offend" what they consider their most important demographic - transplanted, low-educate military families.

The good news is that outside of San Diego County, where journalism isn't railroaded, this **IS** big news.

Thanks again to KPBS for being the only local outlet not to ignore it.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | January 10, 2012 at 8:29 a.m. ― 2 years, 11 months ago

Actually, yesterday was the first time I saw it on UTSANDIEGO, Beijing. It has a picture of Wuterlich, looking rather nonchallant.

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Avatar for user 'benz72'

benz72 | January 10, 2012 at 10:50 a.m. ― 2 years, 11 months ago

"transplanted, low-educate military families."

I'm trying to decide if this is more offensive or funny. You may have intended to use the word "undereducated", which would have left the comment as merely offensive.
Contrary to your insinuation, most of the service members I know are interested in news about their fellows. I know I am.
I would ask how you had dealt with your troops while you were directing them in combat, but judging by the well thought out and cleverly written comment you posted you are probably too well educated to have volunteered.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | January 10, 2012 at 11:40 a.m. ― 2 years, 11 months ago

BENZ, don't get all hot and bothered over a mere typo.

Maybe another poster on UTSanDiego, said it better in a comment about the Coronado mutliple murder/suicide, "transplanted no hometown-allegiance military."

But it comes down to the same meaning.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | January 10, 2012 at 12:59 p.m. ― 2 years, 11 months ago

benz72, I realized my typo after posting, I was on an ipad that was truncating words.

As far as your offense to what I wrote, I don't care. It's my opinion and I'm entitled to it. I'm also tired of having to tip-toe around military issues because members of the military try and suppress any form of criticism.

Have you seen the local news? It's mostly fluff, military propaganda, and targeted at a population that has about a 6th grade reading and comprehension level. I am not trying to say I am some highly educated "superior" being as your post erroneously implies, I am saying that I'm tired of the military dictating the news and not being able to get anything objective locally.

Watching the local news, it's painfully apparent that the prime demographic are the military and less-educated people. Whether they are one and of the same, I will let you decide.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | January 10, 2012 at 1:01 p.m. ― 2 years, 11 months ago

And before you correct my punctuation again, yes, demographic should be plural.

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Avatar for user 'benz72'

benz72 | January 10, 2012 at 2:02 p.m. ― 2 years, 11 months ago

I have also occasionally wished to be able to edit my post after submitting it.
I also agree that it is your right to be offensive, good job.
The real point I was trying to make with my post though is that the topic is one that is very difficult for most people to put into proper perspective. Nothing seems to invite more super competent armchair generals to comment than mistakes or misconduct by members in service. Though I doubt that sufficient detail will be reported to place the events in context, I have little hope that most readers will muster the self restraint to refrain from second guessing the actions of a guy who thinks he is about to die. Maybe you see my concern as trying to suppress criticism. Let me clarify. I am concerned with the negative UNINFORMED criticism may have on people who make honest mistakes. The dishonest mistakes ones can be criticized and their makers pilloried or crucified for all I care, but differentiating those takes special insight that most of us should be happy not to have.
I don't feel qualified to critique financial auditors, pastry chefs or violinists and I believe any meaningful investigation into their professional failures would hold little interest for most people. I have no idea why UT doesn't report this story, but I find the claim that the topic itself might offend military readers rings false.
Perhaps the UT believes it is just not interesting to their subscribers.
Perhaps they accept that there are some aspects of the human experience that defy meaningful description and choose to focus on other topics more easily explained via their medium.

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Avatar for user 'Oceanside'

Oceanside | January 10, 2012 at 2:06 p.m. ― 2 years, 11 months ago

Just kind of stunned by hateful tone of some of these posters toward the military. You do realize these guys are getting blown up, shot at, etc., by plain-clothesed suicidal insurgents? Right? Really crass of you to go on to insult the families too. Wow.

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Avatar for user 'Oceanside'

Oceanside | January 10, 2012 at 3:33 p.m. ― 2 years, 11 months ago

To ben72, your articulate responses are appreciated. And, I say more funny than offensive. "low-educated" was hilarious.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | January 11, 2012 at 9:36 a.m. ― 2 years, 11 months ago

"Just kind of stunned by hateful tone of some of these posters toward the military."

How many did YOU count???

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Avatar for user 'DeLaRick'

DeLaRick | January 11, 2012 at 9:42 a.m. ― 2 years, 11 months ago

We have impressive and patriotic military forces. Probably, the best in modern times. It is rightfully feared and respected around the world. No argument there.

In my opinion, hypersensitivity to criticism of the military stifles good arguments. Being supportive and critical aren't polar opposites. Criticism of the Middle-Eastern war efforts is rooted in the mission itself. O-side wrote about the difficulty in differentiating between combatants and civilians. I wasn't in Haditha when the incident occurred, but I can only imagine what was going through Sgt. Uterich's mind. (He has his country's sympathy.) But, incidents like that are exactly the reason why that particular war was a terrible idea. I'd like to see an upward departure in the charges: Prosecute those who put our men and women in those situations. (The architects of that war were criminally negligent in their planning and execution. Period.)

There are lots of extremely fair and reasonable people who were rightfully critical of the war. Supporting our troops in an abstract emotional sense doesn't change the facts about the Iraq War. It was a waste.

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Avatar for user 'benz72'

benz72 | January 11, 2012 at 12:03 p.m. ― 2 years, 11 months ago

One can certainly support the actor without endorsing the action.

Just out of curiosity, when you claim that the planning was criminally negligent, what standard are you comparing that to? Could you perhaps point to a war that was sufficiently well planned as some sort of minimum acceptable threshold?

I am also a little unclear about which level of architect you are indicting.
The president who ordered it? The congress that authorized and funded it? The joint staff who oversaw it? The theatre commander who published the ROE? The separate commanders who directed the operations?
There are lots of moving parts involved and it is possible to find a error from any of those actors if you look for it (as I suspect most of them will admit). Who do you think was negligent and why?

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Avatar for user 'Oceanside'

Oceanside | January 11, 2012 at 1:12 p.m. ― 2 years, 11 months ago

I find that what is not said often speaks volumes about one’s perspective. What happened in Haditha was terrible. But, I typically find the critics who leap to the opportunity to scrutinize the actions of the military don’t seem to ever utter a word of criticism about what the insurgents are doing, or a word of support for members of the military or their families. Here’s a sampling of ten reports on the KPBS website on the subjects of military members suffering from PTSD, TBI from IEDs, Military Family struggles, insurgent attacks against US troops as well as their own people. And, following are the number of comments posted to each.

“Military Kids Struggling At Home With Parents Deployed Abroad”. 0 comments.
“Brain Injuries Challenge Veterans’ Marriages”. 0 comments
“How Does Stress Of War Affect Military Families?”. 0 comments.
“27 Killed As Blasts Rock Shiite Areas Of Baghdad”. 0 comments.
“Dozens Killed In Rare Attacks On Afghan Shiites”. 0 comments.
“Insurgents Attack U.S. Embassy In Afghanistan”. 0 comments.
“Afghan Civilian Deaths On The Rise Due to Insurgent Attacks”. 0 comments.
“8 U.S. Troops Killed In Two Afghanistan Attacks”. 0 comments.
“Pendleton Marines To Come Home From Hell”. 0 comments.
“Afghan Pilot Kills 9 at Airport; Panetta, Petraeus to Shift Security Roles”. 0 comments.

That’s 0 for 10, and lots of atrocities to comment on there. Interesting isn’t it how the criticism seems to go in one direction only. Speaks volumes to me.

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Avatar for user 'Len'

Len | January 11, 2012 at 2:05 p.m. ― 2 years, 11 months ago

@Oceanside. Are you saying that attrocities by the "enemy" justify attrocities by us? (Yes, "us," as these killings are in our name, whether we like it or not.) As a 30-year military officer (retired) who served in Vietnam, I'm not unaquainted with war. The blame goes to Bush W and, especially, because he's more intelligent, Obama, that some 48,000 U.S. troops have been killed or wounded in the Iraq and Afghanistan (undeclared) "wars." Though I don't see much concern expressed by media or commenters, a Lancet/Johns Hopkins study found about 1,000,000 Iraqis died because of the war, directly--shot, bombed, and collateral--disease, lack of electricity and potable water, destruction of hospitals and infrastructure. The "official" number is 100,000, but that's as reliable as the statement by an administration official that not "one" civilian noncombatant has been killed by our drone attacks.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | January 11, 2012 at 3:37 p.m. ― 2 years, 11 months ago

While none of us can know for sure what happened, it is a fact that many soldiers have seen combat overseas, but not many have been charged with what this guy has been charged with.

I think it's a bit naive to brush this off as, "soldiers go through trauma we can't imagine, so sweep this under the rug" or "All is fair in war" or "If you aren't in his shoes, don't judge" etc.

In the end fellow military will determine this man's fate. I can only hope they base their decisions on what they truly feel happened as opposed to "protecting one of their own". If there truly are extenuating circumstances as that would lead to exoneration, so be it. But people should think of the families destroyed on the other side of the world by what this man did, and truly look at the evidence closely to see if it was understandably accidental or negligent. These were not "enemy combatants" that died, they were innocent people, someone's loved ones.

We are lucky to live in a country that has not been invaded and that's not a war zone. If you were born and lived in a country that was invaded and became a war zone, and someone shot your wife and kids by mistake, would you accept "war trauma" as an excuse to avoid prosecution?

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Avatar for user 'benz72'

benz72 | January 11, 2012 at 4:08 p.m. ― 2 years, 11 months ago

I think that above is the first Peking Duck post that I have read and though 'yup, that is right on the money'.
Certainly the trial should take into account the context of the environment. Absolutely we should enfore our codes of coduct. Nobody should get a free pass, any more than anybody should be put into an untenable situation and blamed for the outcome.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | January 11, 2012 at 6:37 p.m. ― 2 years, 11 months ago

US Marines 'urinate on corpses' - video claim | News.com.auwww.news.com.au/...marines-urinate.../story-e6frfkp9-12262423600...
You +1'd this publicly. Undo
THE US Marine Corps said today it would investigate a video that has surfaced on the internet, purporting to show US servicemembers ...
Get more results from the past 24 hours

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | January 11, 2012 at 6:43 p.m. ― 2 years, 11 months ago

"By the time Hersh was ready to write a book about the massacre, MY LAI 4, he had interviewed dozens of participans and officials and discovered myriad macabre details, including how COL. GEORGE S. PATTON III--son of THEE Patton--sent out a Christmas card readking "Peace on Earth" with photographs of "dismembered Viet Cong soldiers stacked in a neat pile."
-- from the into by David Remnick in Seymour Hersh, CHAIN OF COMMAND: The Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib, (Harper, 2005)

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | January 11, 2012 at 6:47 p.m. ― 2 years, 11 months ago

LaRick, yet the Right continually asserts that they have been decimated by policy and budget cuts under Obama!

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Avatar for user 'DeLaRick'

DeLaRick | January 12, 2012 at 1:41 p.m. ― 2 years, 11 months ago

Benz,

Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, Scooter Libby, Richard Cheney and Ahmed Chalabi just for starters.

Do you really think that a well-equipped and funded team of investigators wouldn't find anything beyond that which is plausibly deniable? If push came to shove, they'd accept plea deals and turn into witnesses for the prosecution. All their sworn statements leading up to the war were patently false. Were it not for Colin Powell's prescient request that they seek UN approval first, they'd all be awaiting their turns at The Hague. Exonerating the planners while acknowledging the war's substantive failure is disengenuous.

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Avatar for user 'benz72'

benz72 | January 12, 2012 at 3:39 p.m. ― 2 years, 11 months ago

I'm not sure what charge your hypothetical investigators would be examining. If they made false official statements, fine... hammer them for that, but I don't see that as implying criminal negligence in the plan or execution. Actually, I think that is a UCMJ punitive article, so none of those guys would be subject to it anyway. Is there a charge to level at politicians who lie? If so, and if we choose to enforce it, can we get a new crop when (almost?) all of the current ones get the ax?
You imply those guys were the planners, and I just don't see that. Perle and Wolfowitz advocated for invasion, Feith manipulated Intel summaries. Others were proponents of the invasion, but I find it a stretch to think of that advocacy as criminal, much less a war crime.
The consequence of failure for a political decision is a political loss. They all lost their jobs. If you beleive there were actual crimes, why do you think charges have not been laid?

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Avatar for user 'Oceanside'

Oceanside | January 13, 2012 at 8:44 a.m. ― 2 years, 11 months ago

Len, my posts have been about criticism regarding the military, and hypocrisy that I see is typical in doing so. Am stumped how atrocity justification is read into that. Also not buying the argument that we're all to blame for war atrocities.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | January 13, 2012 at 9:31 a.m. ― 2 years, 11 months ago

@Oceanside, you not seeing a connection between stifling criticism regarding the military and atrocities is part of the problem.

When any entity is beyond criticism and scrutiny from the public, it tends to become corrupt, and creates an environment for abuse.

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Avatar for user 'Oceanside'

Oceanside | January 13, 2012 at 12:17 p.m. ― 2 years, 11 months ago

PDSD, actually I do agree that government needs to be subject to scrutiny. I was making an observation, and a different point. That is to say critics of these wars and the US military can typically only muster a criticism against the US or our people in service. If an insurgent suicide bomber kills dozens of people, intentionally, including women and children, the comment board on the KPBS website has “0 comments.” Why is that?

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | January 23, 2012 at 7:46 a.m. ― 2 years, 11 months ago

Don't make stupid statements, Oceanside. Your apologetics for blood on the hands of the military is despicable, though not surprising. Yes, I have seen comments on such stories, ususally superficial chauvinist ones, though not many. You will find the same situation on the UTsandiego website. Usually, those rightwingers don't care as long as it's "A-rabs killing other A-rabs."

In this town, most military gets a free pass. Even Liberals are careful not to "offend" because they don't want to be compared to those who "spat on the troops.".

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Avatar for user 'Oceanside'

Oceanside | January 23, 2012 at 1:02 p.m. ― 2 years, 11 months ago

MissionAccomplished, what’s wrong, you can’t come up with a single board response on the KPBS website to all the articles about the insurgent suicide bombers, who have targeted civilians, including women and children? I am happy with my opinion, as much as it gets under your skin and makes you personalize this discussion.

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