IRAQ: From war zone to courtroom
The Marines in Anbar province are no longer engaged in daily firefights. But courts-martial continue at Camp Pendleton arising from allegations of misconduct by Marines when combat was a daily occurrence.
* HAMANDIYA. Lawrence Hutchins (left), convicted as the ringleader in the killing of an unarmed Iraqi suspected of insurgent ties, is set soon to be transferred from the Camp Pendleton brig to the military prison at Ft. Leavenworth, Kan.
Hutchins' sentence was reduced last week from 15 years to 11 years by Lt. Gen. Samuel Helland, commander of Marine Forces Central Command. Helland met with Hutchins' family and lawyer before making his decision.
A sergeant when the April 2006 killing occurred, Hutchins has been busted in rank and given a dishonorable discharge. The cases against six other Marines and a Navy corpsman involved in the incident are completed; none is currently behind bars.
* HADITHA. The court-martial of Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, the squad leader whose troops killed 24 civilians in November 2005, has been delayed while his attorneys appeal evidentiary rulings by the military judge.
Attorneys for Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani, accused of dereliction for not launching a war-crimes investigation into the killings, are awaiting a ruling on their assertion that Chessani is being made a "political scapegoat" by the Marine Corps in an attempt to appease "the anti-war press and their fellow politicians in Congress." Court-martial is tentatively set for June.
A pretrial hearing for 1st Lt. Andrew Grayson is underway. He is charged with hindering the investigation by ordering that pictures of the dead Iraqis be destroyed. Cases against other Marines have been completed; none is serving time.
* FALLOUJA. Two active-duty Marines and a former Marine await trial for allegedly killing prisoners during the battle for Fallouja in November 2004 rather than taking time to handle them according to the rules of war. The former Marine is set to be tried in federal court in Riverside in July.
In an interview this week with Marine Corps Times reporter Gidget Fuentes, former Marine Jose L. Nazario told of the trauma of being fired as a probationary police officer in Riverside when the charges were announced. He said he has lost 30 pounds and is battling depression.
“I’m a former sergeant of Marines, and I can’t even provide the basic necessities for my family,” he said. “It’s depressing.”
Tony Perry, in San Diego
Photo: Lawrence Hutchins, then a sergeant, leaving the courtroom at Camp Pendleton. Photo credit: Associated Press.