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Marine court martial to begin in deaths of 24 Iraqis

January 9, 2012 |  7:27 am

FrankEight Marines were criminally charged by the Marine Corps in the deaths of 24 Iraqis in 2005 in the village of Haditha.

But charges against six were later dropped and one Marine was found not guilty.

On Monday morning, prosecutors at Camp Pendleton will begin their final attempt at a conviction in the case.

Opening arguments are set in the court martial of Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, who was the squad leader, the senior enlisted Marine, on the scene when a roadside bomb killed a Marine and injured two and when Marines then went hunting for the bombers.

The trial is expected to take a month, with most of the witnesses being Marines from the same battalion as Wuterich.

“I can’t think of a single witness that I would say is desirous of being helpful to the United States” in the prosecution, Mjr. Nicholas Gannon told the judge.

Marines under Wuterich’s command killed five college-age men pulled from a car and then 19 family members. Wuterich is charged with manslaughter, assault and dereliction of duty.

Kilo Company of the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment had only been in Haditha for a few weeks and had yet to experience combat.

Haditha’s reputation as one of the most dangerous places in Iraq had preceded it: Marines from previous battalions had been killed there and insurgents had beheaded residents who were friendly to the Marines. The area's terraced landscape also made it easy for insurgent snipers and spotters.

Marines had been warned to expect a “complex attack” involving roadside bombs and snipers. When a bomb exploded beneath a convoy, officers were convinced that such an attack was underway.

A lieutenant gave Wuterich, who was on his first combat deployment, an order to “clear” the houses near the site of the explosion.

The result was tragedy and six years of controversy about the “rules of engagement” and the need for "positive identification" before using deadly force.


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Photo: Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich. Credit: Associated Press