Haditha Killings: Marine Avoids Jail Time, Manslaughter Charges
A military judge ruled Tuesday that Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich will not serve any jail time following a plea deal concerning his squad’s involvement in the killing of 24 Iraqis in November 2005.
Wuterich, 31, apologized for the killings which left three women and seven children among the dead, but defended his actions as a necessary recourse following the death of a U.S. marine from a roadside bomb. He admitted to ordering his troops to “shoot first, ask questions later,” but said that he had been concerned about keeping “the rest of my Marines alive.”
"The truth is I never fired my weapon at any women or children that day," said Wuterich to the judge.
Questions first arose after survivors and local officials objected to the U.S. military’s official account of the 2005 incident; the military had originally attributed the civilian deaths to the roadside bomb and an ensuing fire fight between Marines and insurgents.
TIME reported in March 2006 that, according to Iraqi eyewitnesses, the squad had actually killed the civilians while raiding surrounding households following the bombing:
…the details of what happened that morning in Haditha are more disturbing, disputed and horrific than the military initially reported. According to eyewitnesses and local officials interviewed over the past 10 weeks, the civilians who died in Haditha on Nov. 19 were killed not by a roadside bomb but by the Marines themselves, who went on a rampage in the village after the attack, killing 15 unarmed Iraqis in their homes, including seven women and three children. Human-rights activists say that if the accusations are true, the incident ranks as the worst case of deliberate killing of Iraqi civilians by U.S. service members since the war began.
The 2006 article, which prompted the investigation, quoted Eman Waleed, 9, who survived the incident:
"First, they went into my father's room, where he was reading the Koran," she claims, "and we heard shots...I watched them shoot my grandfather, first in the chest and then in the head. Then they killed my granny." She claims the troops started firing toward the corner of the room where she and her younger brother Abdul Rahman, 8, were hiding; the other adults shielded the children from the bullets but died in the process. Eman says her leg was hit by a piece of metal and Abdul Rahman was shot near his shoulder. "We were lying there, bleeding, and it hurt so much. Afterward, some Iraqi soldiers came. They carried us in their arms. I was crying, shouting 'Why did you do this to our family?' And one Iraqi soldier tells me, 'We didn't do it. The Americans did.'"
Wuterich’s plea marks the end to the military’s investigation into the Haditha Massacre. The Huffington Post reported that with Wuterich’s plea, the Haditha Killings will have resulted in no manslaughter convictions:
The sentencing of Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich ends a six-year prosecution for the 2005 attack that failed to win any manslaughter convictions. Eight Marines were initially charged. One was acquitted, and six others had their cases dropped.
In reaction to the news, the Web site Support Sgt. Frank Wuterich, which solicited donations to help Wuterich fund his defense, released a statement in approval of the ruling:
For six years, he's had his name dragged through the mud. Today, we hope, is the beginning of his redemption. He has always publicly taken responsibility for the lawful actions of his squad that day...Today's agreement is completely consistent with everything he has always said. Which is that the decisions he made that day led to an outcome that was tragic and regrettable and he takes responsibility for them, but they were not criminal.
CNN reported that Iraqis have expressed “outrage” in response to the court’s ruling:
"This court is unjust and its decision was unfair for Iraqi people," Shaeed Fakhri, a lecturer at Babel University in Hilla, said Wednesday as he visited Baghdad. "This soldier should be executed. The verdict is unfair and unjust for the innocent people who were killed in this incident."
"This is very sad and very painful," said Hashim Khader, a store owner in Baghdad. "They were just civilian people who did not raise weapons against the occupiers and they were killed this way. This is a heinous crime and the soldiers should get the most severe punishment."
Wuterich admitted to one count of negligent dereliction of duty. Military judge Lt. Col. David Jones recommended Wuterich be demoted to private.
The Meriden, Connecticut native initially faced nine counts of involuntary manslaughter, three counts of dereliction of duty, and two counts of assault with a deadly weapon, which would have amounted to a 152-year jail sentence.
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