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Haditha case should be studied as bad example, lawyer says

If the case of Marine Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich is studied by future military lawyers, it may be as an example of how not to investigate and prosecute a case, said a former Marine lawyer now teaching the law of war at Georgetown University.

Wuterich  was accused of manslaughter, assault and dereliction of duty for allegedly leading his squad on a bloody rampage on the morning of Nov. 19, 2005, after a roadside bomb killed one Marine and injured two in the Euphrates River town of Haditha. Twenty-four unarmed Iraqis died.

"Acquittal or conviction, six years is an unacceptable delay of justice," said Gary Solis.

Overlapping and overly long investigations and then a dearth of enough prosecutors to handle cases involving eight defendants hampered the case needlessly, Solis said.

"Whose fault was that?" Solis said. "No one's fault, specifically, but perhaps the case could have proceeded to the charging stage earlier, based on the Marine Corps' own early report. Charges can always be amended."

Also, the 1st Marine Division Staff Judge Advocates allowed prosecutors too much time to bring the Wuterich case to trial, Solis said.

"This is not a matter of gross ineptitude or hidden agendas," Solis said. "It is, however, a failure to effectively perform an essential legal leadership task .... The prosecutors themselves share in the blame."

Wuterich was 24 and in his final days as a squad leader when he led his unit on a mission to "clear" houses where Marines suspected a gunman had fired at them after the roadside bombing in Haditha. He is now 31.

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-- Tony Perry

 
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