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Marine Will Not Do Time In Haditha Killings


Former Times Reporter Recounts Haditha Atrocity

Aired 1/23/12 on KPBS Midday Edition.


Jane Siegel, Adjunct Professor at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law

Alison St. John, KPBS Senior Metro Reporter

Tim McGirk, Time reporter who broke Hadita story, Damage or Civilian Massacre in Haditha?


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.

"Words cannot express my sorrow for the loss of your loved ones,'' Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich said at his sentencing at Camp Pendleton today, addressing family members of the Iraqis killed in the town of Haditha.

"I know there is nothing I can say to ease your pain,'' he continued. I wish to assure you that on that day, it was never my intention to harm you or your families. I know that you are the real victims of Nov. 19, 2005.''

Wuterich, 31, was sentenced to a reduction in rank a day after pleading guilty to negligent dereliction of duty for his role in the Haditha deaths. He agreed to the plea in the middle of a court-martial at Camp Pendleton.

A military judge, Lt. Col. David Jones, ordered Wuterich to serve 90 days in jail, but that was set aside under the terms of the plea agreement.

Military prosecutor Lt. Col. Sean Sullivan asked for the maximum punishment for Wuterich -- 90 days in custody plus a reduction in rank and forfeiture of pay.

The sentencing ended the longest-running criminal case against U.S. troops stemming from the Iraq War. The civilian deaths in Haditha occurred after a roadside bomb killed a member of Wuterich's squad.

Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, of Meriden, Conn., led the Marine squad in 2005 that killed 24 Iraqis after a roadside bomb exploded near a Marine convoy, killing one Marine and wounding two others.

Wuterich's plea Monday interrupted his trial at Camp Pendleton before a jury of all combat Marines who served in Iraq.

The plea agreement called for manslaughter charges to be dropped.

"No one denies that the events .... were tragic, most of all Frank Wuterich," defense attorney Neal Puckett told the North County Times on Monday. "But the fact of the matter is that he has now been totally exonerated of the homicide charges brought against him by the government and the media. For the last six years, he has had his name dragged through the mud. Today, we hope, is the beginning of his redemption."

The issue at the court martial was whether Wuterich reacted appropriately as a Marine squad leader in protecting his troops in the midst of a chaotic war or disregarded combat rules and ordered his men to shoot and blast indiscriminately at Iraqi civilians. Wuterich was charged with nine counts of manslaughter, among other charges, and is one of eight Marines initially charged. None has been convicted.

Prosecutors said he lost control after seeing the body of his friend blown apart by the bomb and led his men on a rampage in which they stormed two nearby homes, blasting their way in with gunfire and grenades. Among the dead were women, children and elderly, including a man in a wheelchair.

Wuterich's former squad members testified that they did not take any gunfire during the 45-minute raid on the homes nor find any weapons, but several squad members testified that they do not believe they did anything wrong, fearing insurgents were inside hiding.

The prosecution was further hurt by the testimony of Wuterich's former platoon commander who said the squad was justified in its actions because house was declared "hostile," and from what he understood of the rules of combat at the time that meant any use of force could be used and Marines did not need to positively identify their targets.

Wuterich has said he regretted the loss of civilian lives but believed he was operating within military combat rules.

After Haditha, Marines commanders ordered troops to try and distinguish between civilians and combatants.

The killings in Haditha on Nov. 19, 2005, still fuel anger in Iraq and was the primary reason behind demands that U.S. troops not be given immunity from their court system. It is considered among the war's defining moments, further tainting America's reputation when it was already at a low point after the release of photos of prisoner abuse by U.S. soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison.

The trial was delayed for years by pre-trial wrangling between the defense and prosecution, including over whether the military could use unaired outtakes from an interview Wuterich gave in 2007 to CBS "60 Minutes." Prosecutors eventually won the right to view the footage

Six squad members have had charges dropped or dismissed, including some in exchange for testifying at the trial. One was acquitted.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | January 23, 2012 at 5:24 p.m. ― 5 years, 2 months ago


**this** is precisely the type of corrupt crap that turns public opinion against the military.

6 people had the charges dropped, and now this guy has to do 3 months.

3 months!!!!!!

We have petty misdemeanor drug users serving longer.

Talk about a double standard.

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Avatar for user 'skottfree'

skottfree | January 23, 2012 at 7:52 p.m. ― 5 years, 2 months ago

First you need to realize that the original reporter one Tim Mcgirk (sp) dropped out of sight days after releasing the information to John Mertha!

Mertha aired this in 2005, the Marines that had all charges dropped, tried to sue Mertha for slander but couldn't because Mertha was a congressman!

Mertha claimed the report he had was an official report but the report wasn't released until the day after Mertha aired his comments!

The low man on the totem pole gets a slap on the wrist because the evidence was all from the insurgence and we all know they tell the truth!

As far as the video it is all hacked up and the sections that proved the Marines were doing their jobs has been withheld.

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Avatar for user 'benz72'

benz72 | January 24, 2012 at 8:29 a.m. ― 5 years, 2 months ago

PDSD, If you knew of any evidence that could have given the prosecution a stronger case you probably should have disclosed it before now. Otherwise, you presumably don't know anything more than what the prosecutor knew, which must have been that he didn't have enough evidence to convict on the charges filed.
The only other option would be that the prosecutor was somehow negligent. If that is what you believe, then you may want to present a more compelling argument for corruption than that the situation disgusts you.

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Avatar for user 'HarryStreet'

HarryStreet | January 24, 2012 at 9:23 a.m. ― 5 years, 2 months ago

In truth, all the training we offer doesn't take away the fact many people in uniform are kids straight out of high school. Even those in their early twenties haven't matured.

We clothe them in a uniform, arm them with deadly weapons, and send them to kill in a war toted as necessary for peace. Those same men & women are suddenly in situations no one can fathom other than watching a movie. War changes people and makes them do things they normally would not do.

Then we judge them. Sometimes by people with same experiences, sometimes not. The fact remains is that we all could act differently and wouldn't know it until it was all over.

Watch the movie 'Breaker Morant'. It's one of the first of its kind that details the complexities of judging people for murder in the field of battle. A whole new concept enters the frame of mind.

I'm not justifying what happened. But who among us should?

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Avatar for user 'TMail'

TMail | January 24, 2012 at 9:43 p.m. ― 5 years, 2 months ago

On July 17, 1998 in Rome, by a margin of 120-7, delegates from the nations of the world voted to establish an international criminal court to bring to justice soldiers and political leaders charged with war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. Unlike the International Court of Justice in the Hague, formed to adjudicate claims between nations, this court was designed to have jurisdiction over individuals.

Britain, France, Holland, Canada and Germany supported the treaty. The United States voted against it. In his opening speech, American Ambassador Bill Richardson said the U.S. would only support a court that received cases solely from the United Nations Security Council, where a single American vote can veto any action.

Can there be any wonder why Iraq refused a Status of Forces Agreement with the U.S.?

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | January 25, 2012 at 9:02 a.m. ― 5 years, 2 months ago

This is a travesty.

Does anyone for a moment think they are not keeping up with this story in Iraq?

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | January 25, 2012 at 9:05 a.m. ― 5 years, 2 months ago

Good point, TMail. Wasn't it Dub Ya's dad who said he would never apoligize for America no matter what the facts?

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Avatar for user 'Satariel'

Satariel | January 25, 2012 at 9:20 a.m. ― 5 years, 2 months ago

I am glad that he is not going to serve time behind bars. He was just a kid in a tough situation, he does not deserve to go to jail for that.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | January 25, 2012 at 11:07 p.m. ― 5 years, 1 month ago

Satariel, tell that to the innocent people murdered in Iraq from this incident.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | January 25, 2012 at 11:09 p.m. ― 5 years, 1 month ago

Benz, there was obviously enough evidence to show culpability here, he plead guilty. The ridiculously light sentence is a slap in the face of humanity.

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Avatar for user 'benz72'

benz72 | January 26, 2012 at 7:43 a.m. ― 5 years, 1 month ago

Guilty of dereliction. What do you believe an appropriate sentence is for dereliction? This is an article 92 violation (failure to obey order or regulation), not 118 (murder) or 119 (manslaughter).

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | January 26, 2012 at 7:57 a.m. ― 5 years, 1 month ago

SATYRIEL, I wonder if you would apply that same moral relativism of yours to other "situations" involving teens? Or is it only when it fits your rightwing ideology?

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Avatar for user 'Satariel'

Satariel | January 26, 2012 at 9:18 a.m. ― 5 years, 1 month ago

What, MA? This might give you a clue about how I feel. When I hear of a 14 year old boy being charged as an adult for murder, and who will go to jail for life, I think it is tragic and heartbreaking. I know he killed someone, but does it do anyone any good to put a 14 year old boy in jail for 50 years? Does a 14 year old even understand the consequences of his actions as an adult should, and can he be so held accountable?

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