Plea Deal for U.S. Marine Sgt. Frank Wuterich, who led Haditha Slaughter of 24 Innocent Iraqi Civilians: Demotion, Pay Cut… NO PRISON
A U.S. Marine squad leader who commanded his men to “shoot first, ask questions later,” leading to the cold-blooded slaughter of 24 innocent Iraqi civilians, has reached a plea deal under which he will not serve any time behind bars.
CNN reports that Sgt. Frank Wuterich, who originally faced 152 years in prison in connection with the 2005 Haditha Massacre, will be punished for the horrific mass murder with a reduction in rank to private and a pay cut for three months. In exchange for pleading guilty to one count of negligent dereliction of duty, military prosecutors dropped nine counts of involuntary manslaughter, two counts of assault with a dangerous weapon and three counts of dereliction of duty.
Wuterich was the last of eight Marines charged in the Haditha killings; charges were dropped against six others and one was acquitted.
The sentence has infuriated Iraqis, who time and again have watched as U.S. troops and private contractors have gotten away with atrocities, usually with little more than a slap on the wrist.
Here’s the gruesome backstory:
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 20-year-old Lance Cpl. Miguel 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 Sgt. Sanick 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.
The case did not receive widespread attention until after Time magazine reported the massacre. Two months after that article appeared, the U.S. military finally launched its investigation.
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.”
Despite this shocking slaughter, Wuterich’s attorney portrayed the Marine as a victim.
“Today, Staff Sergeant Wuterich stands vindicated by the very same system that has held him captive for over six years,” attorney Neal Puckett in a statement.
“We believe justice prevailed for Staff Sgt. Wuterich, and in turn, he wishes it was within his power to impart that same measure of justice to the families of the victims of Haditha,” he added.
Addressing the military court, Wuterich, who is a father of three young children not far off in age from the ones his Marines executed at point-blank range in cold-blooded vengeance, said:
“For six years, I have had to accept that my name will always be associated with a massacre, being a cold-blooded baby killer, an ‘out of control’ monster, and a conspiring liar. There’s nothing I can do about whoever believes these things.”
He had this message for the families of his victims: ”It was never my intention (to) harm you… Words cannot express my sorrow for the loss of your loved ones.”
Wuterich says his “shoot first, ask questions later” order was misinterpreted by his Marines.
“When I told my team to shoot first and ask questions later, the intent wasn’t that they would shoot civilians, it was that they would not hesitate in the face of the enemy,” he told the court.
Still, Wuterich stood by his murderous Marines.
“The truth is, I don’t believe anyone in my squad, nor any member of of Kilo Co, 3/1/ behaved in any way that was dishonorable or contrary to the highest ideals that we all live by as Marines,” he told the court.
Iraqis, from the highest government authorities to everyday Baghdad residents, were infuriated by the lenient sentence. Former President George W. Bush vowed to punish any Marines who were found to have killed unarmed civilians. No such punishment, at least not anything serious, ever followed. Khalid Salman, head of the Haditha local council, told CNN that ”we have been following this case since 2006 and we were hoping that those soldiers, who killed 24 innocent people, will receive fair punishment. But now we are convinced that the judicial system in America is unjust. This is not the end and we will continue pursuing those soldiers legally through the international courts.”
Taleb al-Essawi, political adviser to the governor of Anbar province, told CNN that the sentence was a “big disappointment.”
“I can’t believe that the court decided to drop all the charges except one charge, which is negligent dereliction of duty. This is a joke, because according to the Iraqi law, all those soldiers should be executed,” he said.
Indeed, if the proverbial shoe had been on the other foot and 24 innocent American civilians were massacred in cold blood by foreign military forces, it is hard to imagine anything but death sentences being handed down by a U.S. court. Such is the hypocrisy of America’s dealings with the world; incidents like this are the reason why the Iraqi government insisted upon denying immunity from prosecution for U.S. troops in Iraq. That refusal was a crucial factor leading to the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq late last year.
The shocking lack of accountability for one of the worst American atrocities in the War on Terror will likely fuel resentment and hatred against the United States for years to come. The U.S. military just handed al-Qaeda a major recruiting tool and propaganda victory. Whenever Americans opine that terrorists “hate us for our freedoms,” they would do well to consider the shameful case of Frank Wuterich and the Marines who got away with the cold-blooded slaughter of 24 innocent civilians, the very people that our (mis)leaders told us we were invading Iraq to save.
It turns out that we’re the ones they needed saving from.
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