“We Should Kill Everyone”: U.S. Marine Sergeant Frank Wuterich Ordered Troops to “Shoot First, Ask Later” in Haditha Massacre
A U.S. Marine sergeant ordered his men to “shoot first and ask questions later” as one of the worst American atrocities of the Iraq war began to unfold. When it was all over, 24 innocent men, women and children, from infants to the elderly, were slaughtered in cold blood.
CBS News and Agence France-Presse report that Sgt. Sanick Dela Cruz testified yesterday at the military trial of accused war criminal Sgt. Frank Wuterich that Wuterich called for violent reprisals against any and all Iraqis, guilty or not, after a roadside bomb killed popular 20-year-old Lance Corporal Miguel Terrazas and wounded two other Americans.
Dela Cruz testified that Wuterich told his men: “If we ever get hit again, we should kill everyone in that vicinity,”
Prosecutors allege that witnessing Terrazas’ mangled body sent Wuterich over the deep end.
“That image influenced the accused’s thinking that day,” prosecutor Major Nicholas Gannon argued in an opening statement at the court martial, which is taking place at the Camp Pendleton Marine base in southern California. Wuterich has pleaded guilty to nine counts of involuntary manslaughter and is the last defendant in the most significant criminal case against U.S. troops in the Iraq War.He also stands accused of aggravated assault, reckless endangerment, dereliction of duty and obstruction of justice.
Six other members of Wuterich’s squad had their charges dropped or dismissed, with one Marine being acquitted of any wrongdoing in connection with what became known as the Haditha Massacre.
Just after dawn on November 19, 2005 four U.S. Marine Corps Humvees were traveling in a convoy through Haditha, a particularly violent insurgent stronghold on the Euphrates River about 150 miles northwest of Baghdad. Suddenly a roadside bomb blasted the last vehicle in the convoy, killing Terrazas, wounding two others, and rattling the survivors. Minutes later they ordered a nearby taxicab to stop; the driver and his four teenage passengers exited the car and stood with their hands up in the air or behind their heads. Wuterich and Dela Cruz executed the five captives in cold blood.Then Dela Cruz sprayed the bodies with bullets and, in a rage, urinated on one of them. He later testified that Wuterich told him that if anyone asked about the killings he should lie and say the victims were shot by Iraqi soldiers as they attempted to run away.
The Marines then proceeded to go house to house in the neighborhood and massacre every man, woman and child they encountered. The first house they stormed belonged to the Waleed family. Nine year-old Iman Waleed survived the ensuing bloodbath but seven of her relatives were murdered. “I watched them shoot my grandfather, first in the chest and then in the head,” the little girl told Time magazine, “Then they killed my granny.” Her father was gunned down while he read the Koran and prayed for his family’s safety. Iman and her younger brothers huddled in a corner but the Marines had no intention of sparing them. They opened fire and would have killed them were it not for the adult relatives who sacrificed their own lives by throwing themselves over the children. Still, four year-old Ali died.
The bloodthirsty Marines quickly moved on to the house next door where they slaughtered eight members of Safa Younis’ family, including her mother, her father, her aunt, her baby brother and three of her sisters. Some of them were shot at point-blank range, others were killed by grenades the Marines tossed into the kitchen and bathroom. Safa, age thirteen, only survived because she’d fainted and gotten splattered with her dead mother’s blood. The Americans thought she was already dead.
The Marines raided two more homes. They found four brothers in one of them and executed them all in a closet. One of the men had a gun. It was never fired. That was the only weapon discovered among all the victims of that day’s massacre, and it is by no means any indication that any of the brothers were members of the Iraqi resistance. As in the United States, it is quite common for households in Iraq to have one weapon; this was even allowed under Saddam Hussein.
All told, some 24 men, women and children, from infants to the elderly, were slaughtered by U.S. Marines that morning. The guilty troops, as well as their superior officers, then conspired to cover up the massacre. A subsequent probe of the events called the killings “collateral damage” instead of deliberate murder, but Congressman John Murtha (Democrat- Pennsylvania), himself an ex-Marine and decorated Vietnam War veteran, disagreed, saying “Marines overreacted… and killed innocent civilians in cold blood.” Wuterich sued Murtha for his remarks, claiming the congressman had caused “permanent, irreversible damage” to their reputations. Never mind the permanent, irreversible damage that Sergeant Wuterich and the Marines under his command inflicted upon the 24 innocent civilians they massacred in Haditha.
In a 2007 interview with CBS “60 Minutes,” Wuterich confirmed that he ordered his men to “shoot first and ask questions later.”
“I didn’t want my Marines to check for weapons first; I told them what to do and they did a good job,” he said. “I had to make sure that none of the rest of my guys… got killed.”
During his court-martial, Wuterich’s defense attorney Haytham Faraj said Haditha was “abuzz with insurgents” and that “there was no intent to do anything wrong.”
“The emotion took over, sir,” Dela Cruz testified, saying he regrets urinating on one of the dead Iraqis. “We just had on Marine (who) died.”
Wuterich’s fate now lies in the hands of the Marine jury of four officers and four enlisted men, all of whom have served in Iraq. If convicted of all offenses, Wuterich could be sentenced to more than 150 years behind bars. But the families of the Haditha victims shouldn’t hold their breath; no Marine charged in the massacre has been found guilty and if history is any guide, Wuterich could get off without much more than a slap on the wrist.
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