Vietnam vet: Plea deal in Iraqi slayings closes 'disgraceful' case
The court-martial of Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich in the killings of 24 civilians in Haditha, Iraq, has been closely watched by retired Marines, many silently furious that criminal charges were brought against the young squad leader.
John Kaheny, a Marine veteran from the Vietnam War, including the epic battle at Khe Sanh, said the plea bargain ends "one of the most disgraceful episodes in Marine Corps legal history."
Kaheny blames the late Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), a retired Marine general, for a "rush to judgment" in declaring that the Marines had killed the Iraqis in "cold blood."
"That not only stained his reputation as a retired Marine Corps officer but resulted in undue political influence," Kaheny said. "The initial investigation was rushed and evidence was compromised. A tragic event was then morphed into an almost endless witch hunt."
"This was a sad episode not only for Wuterich and his squad but all those who serve in combat and need to make quick decisions in the face of ultimate danger in a confused and dangerous environment," said Kaheny, who retired as a Marine colonel and later as city attorney in Chula Vista.
Wuterich on Monday pleaded guilty to a single count of negligent dereliction of duty. Other charges were dismissed.
He faces a maximum sentence of three months in the brig; a penalty hearing is set for Tuesday at Camp Pendleton.
-- Tony Perry
Photo: Marine Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich walks into court Jan. 9 with his attorney, Neal Puckett. Credit: Sandy Huffaker / AFP/Getty Images