Skip to comments.Marine Charged With 13 Civilian Murder Counts (Haditha)
Posted on 12/21/2006 11:03:18 AM PST by areafiftyone
CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. - A Marine Corps squad leader was charged Thursday with 13 murder counts stemming from the killings of 24 civilians in the Iraqi town of Haditha last year, his attorney said.
Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich was charged with 12 counts of murdering individuals and one count of murdering six people by ordering Marines under his charge to "shoot first and ask questions later" when they entered a house, according to charging sheets released by defense attorney Neal Puckett.
As many as eight Marines could be charged in the case, the biggest U.S. criminal case to emerge from the war in Iraq in terms of people killed.
The deaths occurred on Nov. 19, 2005.
Lawyers for two Marines already have said they expect their clients will be charged and its believed up to six others could join them.
(Excerpt) Read more at msnbc.msn.com ...
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11th MEU combat in Najaf: A fireteam's tale Marine Corps News
Story Identification #: 20049284211
Story by Cpl. Matthew S. Richards
FORWARD OPERATING BASE HOTEL, Iraq (Sept. 2, 2004) -- Early August, the world watched as Marines and sailors of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) battled against Muqtada al-Sadr and his militia in the opening days of a tough fight in a huge cemetery sacred to the Shia Muslims.
By August 6, the struggle was well known as it flashed across television sets around the globe, but the story of the men wedged inside this vicious fight was untouched by the eyes of the world.
These Marines and sailors trained for many months before this day arrived. Infantrymen and corpsmen participated in the battle, along with many other Marines from varying technical specialties. All, however, walked in the footsteps imprinted in history by the endless unsung heroes who fought America's battles before them.
Men like Lance Cpl. Sanick P. Dela Cruz, a twenty-one-year-old team leader from Chicago. Lance Cpl. Nathaniel A. Ziobro, a twenty-year-old rifleman from Temecula, Calif. Private first class Ryan D. S. Cullenward, a nineteen-year-old rifleman from Cool, Calif. And Pfc. Heladio Zuniga, a nineteen-year-old rifleman from Jackson, Mich.
These Marines, only one of which is old enough to buy a beer, all walked away from the battle unscathed and without individual recognition. Their names won't be remembered for their actions that day, except for a lifetime by the men who fought alongside them.
They were just another fireteam with 2nd Platoon, Company C, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 11th MEU (SOC).
They were relaxing in between shifts of guard duty at Forward Operating Base Duke, Iraq, when they got the word to saddle up and get ready. They were going into combat to join the ongoing fight.
"It was not really a shock, but we were excited and nervous at the same time," said Dela Cruz, the fireteam's only veteran from Operation Iraqi Freedom I.
They were split at the time of the announcement. Dela Cruz and Zuniga had come back from breakfast when they heard the news. But Cullenward and Ziobro were told as they came back from sitting up all night on the flight line, ready to jump on a helicopter in case a casualty needed to be evacuated.
"We were just coming in after a long night and we were thinking we would get some sleep when they told us to pack our stuff and get on the seven-ton (truck)," Cullenward said.
But they were ready for the action.
"A lot of us were kind of excited to get off guard and kind of do something," Cullenward said.
Zuniga agreed with him.
"Just like he said, I was happy we got to do something," Zuniga said.
The battle had been going on for one day and was all over the news. More important than the politics behind the fighting, they only cared about the battle they were called to join, deep inside that massive cemetery.
They loaded up and rushed to the fight. No sooner had they arrived there than a rocket-propelled grenade flew directly over their heads.
"I heard it go right over our heads and heard the boom right behind us," Cullenward said, mimicking the flutter sound of an RPG in flight.
Except for Dela Cruz, it was the fireteam's first taste of combat and it came as a shock at first.
"I first thought, 'whoa, I'm getting shot at,'" Ziobro exclaimed. "It was kind of funny because the walls are real short and I'm kind of a tall guy."
They joined the rest of the Marines lined up down the road that ran along the edge of the cemetery. The fireteam happened to be on the far right side while the company pivoted on the left. They moved the farthest and the deepest into the cemetery, and were responsible for covering the company's right flank.
"Above all, we knew our responsibility was that flank," Dela Cruz said. "It was only our fireteam covering it."
They took constant sniper fire, mortars and RPGs. They could hardly ever see who was shooting at them.
"We had no idea where they were coming from, we just would shoot where everyone was shooting," Dela Cruz said. "Every now and then they'd pop out at us."
This was different from what they had expected.
"I was kind of hoping they'd show their face a little more," Cullenward said as Dela Cruz acted as if he was ducking behind a wall and shooting blindly. "If you're going to shoot someone, show yourself."
They eventually became accustomed to the never-ending, incoming fire.
"After a while you just get used to it," Cullenward said. "You're just standing by a tomb as rounds fly by you head."
At one point they were taking constant sniper fire from a building near the cemetery. The enemy fire ended abruptly, however.
"We started taking fire from a building and the (81mm Mortar Platoon) told us they'd been taking fire all day from that building," Dela Cruz said. "Then all of the sudden the whole building just went boom! Someone had called in an air strike or artillery on it."
Once they took up a defensive position, they continued to receive sniper and mortar fire.
"What (stunk) was we could hear the mortar rounds being walked in on us," Cullenward said. "One landed just to the left side of us and our doc had to go to help a Marine that didn't make it."
Cullenward felt an inner conflict when he thought of all the Marines taking heavy fire.
"You're relieved when it hits somewhere else, but it's difficult because it might have hit someone else," he said.
Later that day, water began to run low during the hottest part of the afternoon and Cullenward became very dehydrated.
"When we had no water, my tongue felt like paper," he said. "I could just tear it in half."
Dela Cruz did the best he could for the team.
"I tried to rotate them all into the shade while we were fighting," he said.
Once nightfall came the fireteam was still there. They were constantly watching for the enemy and spent a restless night watching and waiting. They each only got an hour of sleep.
"I kept hearing their flags flapping, thinking it was somebody coming," Ziobro said.
The other Marines joked and poked fun at Zuniga because during the course of the night he claimed to have seen two ghosts.
"That cemetery is a spooky place, I swear I saw two ghosts," Zunga said as the others laughed. "Maybe I was just hallucinating from the heat."
Dela Cruz wasn't worried about ghosts, he was thinking about the fight the next day.
"I didn't want the morning to come," he said. "The only thing I was scarred about was one of us getting hurt, and I was worried about Cullenward being a heat casualty."
But morning inevitably came. They didn't stay long that next day. In fact, after the fireteam was tasked as a security element for their company first sergeant, the entire BLT pulled out of the engagement.
They had to run the 500 meters back to their trucks under mortar and sniper fire in full combat gear.
"I was the very last one of our platoon in the seven-ton," Zuniga said.
They lived through the battle that day and fought like Marines, their contribution a small footnote in Marine Corps history.
Thanks for the ping. This whole deal continues to get more absurd if that is at all possible.
The nerve to charge these heroes...
Thanks Lily and Red.
Pleasure, jaz! It means so much to read something like this rather than just think of Dela Cruz as one of eight accused. See you tomorrow!
Tomorrow, Red. :-)
God Bless our Troops!
How did it go from "Great Job" in 2002, to "unpremeditated murder" in 2006? I had an unpremeditated fit when I read the article.
Sorry, I meant 2004 "Great Job".
"Does this mean that Time magazine is the higher-raking officials our troops are to report to?"
Sometimes I think there is nothing "higher ranking" than the media.
Similar to avaricious trial lawyers, there is little, if any accountability and comeuppance, when they are negligent, unjust, exploitive or just plain wrong.
Since you asked.....around November 18, 2005 the dynamic began to change. On May 19, 2006, the trial by public opinion began with no evidence and no investigation. That did NOT stop the despicable ENEMEDIA or John al-Murthawi, however.
They were pronounced guilty of "killing innocent civilians in cold blood" and "no doubt about it" became the mantra. We were repeatedly told WHEN the investigation was complete that that is "exactly what we will find" and voila, it is done!
Sometimes I think there is nothing "higher ranking" than the media.
The only way they can attain and hold that ranking is by the American people. As long as they buy their printed dead trees and watch the trash they put out on the airwaves, I imagine they will maintain their vaunted status.
By: MARK WALKER - Staff Writer
NORTH COUNTY -- The fact that four of the 24 Iraqi civilians allegedly killed by a group of Marines in Haditha, Iraq, in 2005 have not been identified by prosecutors may mean that there isn't a solid enough case to tie those victims to the accused, a military law expert said Tuesday.
Gary Solis, a military law professor at Washington's Georgetown University and a former Marine Corps lawyer and judge advocate general, said the government's not naming the four may be meaningless.
"It's speculation, but if I'm the prosecutor and the evidence is weak with regard to one victim of a multiple crime, I might not charge that case," he said. "Having 20 identified victims is as good as having 24." Solis' comments came after Marine Corps officials last week acknowledged that 24 Iraqis died -- allegedly at the hands of the four Marines from the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment's Kilo Company -- but that only 20 had been identified in charging documents.
"The charges that have been preferred reflect the deaths that are supported by the investigation at this point," Marine Maj. Jeff Nyhard said in a prepared statement. "The investigation is ongoing and there is always the potential for additional charges."
Another possibility, according to Solis, is that there might not be sufficient evidence to establish that the four unnamed Iraqis were innocent civilians, as some witnesses contend that all the victims had been.
In charging documents filed Dec. 21, Marine Corps prosecutors allege that the civilians died under the direction of Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, who is accused at one point of ordering his men to "shoot first and ask questions later."
Attorneys for Wuterich and three other enlisted Marines, Sgt. Sanick Dela Cruz and Lance Cpls. Stephen Tatum and Justin Sharratt, contend their clients did nothing wrong in Haditha on Nov. 19, 2005. The men face unpremeditated murder and negligent homicide charges.
The attorneys contend that the Marines at Haditha followed established "rules of engagement" after a large, hidden bomb in the roadway destroyed one of four Humvees passing through the city that morning. The explosion killed 20-year-old Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas.
In addition to the four enlisted men, four officers in the battalion's chain of command at the time face dereliction of duty charges for allegedly failing to adequately investigate what happened.
One of those officers, 25-year-old 1st Lt. Andrew Grayson, told an Ohio newspaper over the weekend that he was saddened by the charges against him.
"I'm sad, taken aback and definitely surprised by the allegations," Grayson, a native of Springboro, Ohio, told the Dayton Daily News. "I know that this is going to take away from all the wonderful things that the Marines on the ground have done there."
Grayson, an intelligence officer, said that he had been ordered to investigate the bombing that killed Terrazas and the Marines' report that they then had come under small-arms fire. It was those two events that led to the killing of five men who came upon the scene in a taxi cab and the eventual slayings, with grenades and small-arms fire, of an additional 19 Iraqis in Haditha, including nearly a dozen women and children.
Like the enlisted men, civilian attorneys hired by the accused officers maintain their clients are innocent.
With the case still under investigation, some Marines not charged in the Haditha incident have hired attorneys as a precautionary step. Jeremiah Sullivan, a San Diego attorney, said last week that he is representing a Marine he would not identify and who has not been charged.
Solis, the military law professor, said that retaining an attorney is a wise step for any service member who worries that he may be implicated.
"With the Marine Corps indicating at least that more could be charged, it's a prudent move for anyone within the scope of the investigation," he said.
Accused get more help
This week, the Marine Corps is expected to name military defense attorneys who will assist the civilian attorneys hired by the eight Marines charged in the Haditha incident.
Last week, the civilian defense attorneys were given computer disks containing thousands of pages of investigative material, which they say will take them weeks to sift through.
The next formal step for each of the accused will be pretrial court sessions known as Article 32 hearings. Prosecutors and defense attorneys will present their cases, and a hearing officer will then recommend whether their cases should advance to courts-martial.
Pretrial hearings over evidentiary matters and related issues could take place before the Article 32 hearings, which are not expected to begin for two to three months.
For any cases that are not resolved at the Article 32 hearing or by a plea agreement and that move forward to courts-martial, the defendants are entitled to a trial before a military judge or jury. If they opt to have their fate determined by a jury, the defendants have the right to demand that one-third of the panel include their peers, meaning, in the cases of the enlisted men, that one-third of the juries would composed of troops who are not officers.
As the convening authority over the case, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force Lt. Gen. James N. Mattis would have final say on the selection of the jurors.
If a case results in a conviction, Mattis has the power to throw out a guilty finding, suspend all or part of a sentence or lower a sentence.
A conviction at trial is subject to an automatic appeal to the Court of Criminal Appeals if the sentence includes confinement for a year or more, a bad conduct or dishonorable discharge, or a dismissal from the service in the case of a commissioned officer.
Staff writer William Finn Bennett contributed to this report. Contact staff writer Mark Walker at (760) 740-3529 or email@example.com.
Morning, pink. Should have pinged you to the above.
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