I was in Iraq when “Haditha” hit the fan. Actually, I wasn’t too far from the actual event. It’s interesting that after 6 plus years the Marines involved have had charges dropped. It’s interesting how the ones who have never been to war or served in the countries great military are the first to point at those that have. Remember, when you point at someone, you have three fingers point back at yourself…..
Time for a CGar
Marine Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich agreed to plead guilty Monday to one count of negligent dereliction of duty, ending his trial on manslaughter and related charges for his role in the deaths of 24 Iraqi civilians in 2005.
"This was his decision and his decision alone," Neal Puckett, Wuterich's lead defense attorney, told the North County Times. "Staff Sergeant Wuterich believed this was the right and honorable thing to do."
Negligent dereliction of duty is a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum of 90 days in custody and a reduction or forfeiture of pay. Sentencing is scheduled for Tuesday.
The deal was announced in court early Monday morning. Afterward, Wuterich hugged his parents, who have been watching the proceedings since the trial began.
Under the plea deal, Wuterich acknowledged that he didn't maintain "adequate tactical control" of troops he was leading and made a "negligent verbal order."
In statements to the judge, Wuterich said comments he made to Marines he was leading were negligent and may have led to the "tragic" events.
"I took a team of Marines to clear houses to the south of the site (of an IED explosion) and did use the words 'shoot first, ask questions later,' or something to that effect prior to clearing or entering there," he said.
Wuterich said the Marines he was leading may have taken his words to mean they should disregard the rules of engagement and not make positive identifications before shooting.
"I think we all understood what we were doing, so I should have probably said nothing," Wuterich said. "I offered those words of advice at the time, and I shouldn't have done that."
Wuterich's parents, who sat behind their son and held hands when he submitted his guilty plea, declined to comment.
The agreement has been approved by Lt. Gen. Thomas Waldhauser.
The plea deal ends the six-year saga of eight Camp Pendleton Marines charged with criminal wrongdoing in the incident that took place in the city of Haditha, Iraq, at the height of the war.
Wuterich was accused of being responsible for 19 of the Iraqi deaths in the incident that resulted in the largest war crimes prosecution arising from the conflict.
Puckett said the resolution of the trial that started at Camp Pendleton on Jan. 9 is a "fair and just conclusion."
"No one denies that the events ... were tragic, most of all Frank Wuterich," Puckett said in exclusive comments to the newspaper. "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."
Puckett said Wuterich has always taken responsibility for his actions after a roadside bombing that killed Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas and injured two other Marines as they were returning from a resupply mission in the Anbar province city.
Immediately after the bombing, five men who drove up in a car were shot by Wuterich and one of his Marines from the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment squad. Wuterich said he believed those men represented a threat and were part of the attack following the bombing, which included the squad taking small-arms fire from a nearby house.
The 19 other deaths, including six children and four women, occurred in that house and two others stormed by Wuterich and his troops.
The deaths at Haditha set off a storm of controversy when they came to light several weeks later in a Time magazine report.
Outrage came from around the world and from Washington, D.C., where the late Pennsylvania Rep. John Murtha said he believed the Marines might have "killed in cold blood" and went on to say U.S. troops were overstressed.
The result was eight Marines being charged with crimes at Haditha, including four officers and four enlisted men.
Seven of those eight saw their cases resolved, some with the withdrawal of charges in exchange for their testimony, one acquitted at trial and others having charges dropped entirely.
Wuterich, 31, a Murrieta single father of three girls, had pleaded not guilty.
Prosecutors appeared ready to strike a plea deal last week after their own witnesses gave testimony largely beneficial to Wuterich's position: that he believed he and his men were under attack and responded in keeping with their training.
Puckett said his client continues to believe his actions were lawful despite the civilian deaths, which Wuterich has repeatedly said he regrets.
"He has always taken responsibility for his and his squad's actions that day," Puckett said. "Today's agreement is completely consistent with everything he has said, which is that the decisions he made that day led to an outcome that was tragic and regrettable, but they were not criminal."
Wuterich told the North County Times on the eve of his trial that he was anxious for a resolution, but believed that the testimony from Marines at Haditha that day would show there was much more to the story than him and his squad running amok and shooting everything they saw.
Military law experts had predicted that fuzzy memories, the end of the war and the failure by the government to secure any convictions against the seven other defendants portended an uphill battle.
When it became clear last week that a plea deal was being negotiated, former Marine attorney and judge Gary Solis said prosecutors must have realized the case was not playing out in their favor.
Under the military justice system, it is the prosecution that would have had to approach Wuterich and his attorneys with a plea deal.
The deal that was under discussion last week never dissolved, but it took more work over the weekend to finalize, according to sources close to the case.
The eight-member Marine jury selected to hear the case was dismissed from court shortly after it convened Monday morning and the deal was announced.