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December 27th, 2006 - Wuterich Allegedly Ordered ‘Shoot First and Ask Questions Later’

News article by North County Times

Summary of the Haditha Massacre

Wuterich Allegedly Ordered ‘Shoot First and Ask Questions Later’


By Mark Walker

North County Times

December 27, 2006


North County - The man at the center of accusations that Marines under his control murdered 24 Iraqi civilians in Haditha last year ordered his troops to "shoot first and ask questions later," according to a prosecution document.


The document known as a "Charge Sheet" alleges that Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich issued those orders "or words to that effect" during the incident that took place on Nov. 19, 2005.


In doing so, Marine Corps prosecutors further allege, the 26-year-old Connecticut native disregarded so-called rules of engagement directives that required he "have positive identification prior to engaging a target."


The four-page document obtained this week by the North County Times also accuses Wuterich of directing a corporal charged in the case to lie by telling investigators that Iraqi army members shot and killed four men who emerged from a taxi that happened upon the scene. The corporal also was directed to falsely state that he had ordered the men to stop running.


The version of events laid out in the document differs from a version Wuterich presented in a libel suit he filed against U.S. Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., who last summer said the Marines in Haditha had "killed in cold blood."


In the lawsuit version, Wuterich said the men in the taxi were "military-aged" and that the car was "lingering" by the site. After they ignored commands to stop, his lawsuit says, the four Iraqis were killed as part of a standard procedure to "shoot suspicious people fleeing a bombing."


Wuterich, charged with 13 counts of murder, two counts of soliciting another to commit an offense and making a false statement, stands by what was in his lawsuit filed last summer, said Mark Zaid, one of his two civilian attorneys, on Wednesday.


"Our take is that any differences go to the heart of what this case is all about and whether the actions that were taken were appropriate," Zaid said during a telephone interview. "The Charge Sheet is based on what others might have said, and a great deal of this case will come down to what Sgt. Wuterich and the other Marines were thinking."


Charges and evidence


Prosecutors this week sent defense attorneys a computer disk containing thousands of pages of investigative material, information that one lawyer said will take days, if not weeks, to read and sort through.


It was one week ago today that the Marine Corps announced the results of a nine-month investigation into what happened at Haditha. In addition to Wuterich, Sgt. Sanick Dela Cruz was charged with five counts of murder and one of making a false statement; Lance Cpl. Justin Sharratt was charged with three counts of murder; and Lance Cpl. Stephen Tatum was charged with two counts of murder, four counts of negligent homicide and one count of assault.


Prosecutors also filed criminal charges against four officers, the highest number of officers accused of any wrongdoing in Iraq in a single incident since the U.S. invasion in March 2003.


Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani was charged with failing to properly investigate what happened under his command and two counts of dereliction of duty.


Also charged was the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment's legal officer at the time, Capt. Randy Stone, the first legal affairs officer ever charged with criminal acts in a war setting, according to Gary Solis, a Georgetown University law professor who spent more than two decades as a Marine Corps legal officer.


Another accused officer is Capt. Lucas McConnell, the man commanding the Kilo Company squad that included Wuterich and the other enlisted defendants. McConnell is charged with two counts of dereliction of duty.


The fourth officer indicted in the Haditha killings is platoon commander 1st Lt. Andrew Grayson, accused of two counts of dereliction of duty, and one count each of obstruction of justice and making a false statement.


Jack Zimmerman, a Texas-based attorney who is representing Tatum, said Wednesday that analyzing the government's case and the hundreds of interviews, reports and related documents it has now provided will be a painstaking process.


"It took the government and all its lawyers nine months to investigate and put together its case. No reasonable person should expect we can digest all the information very quickly."


Victims and discrepancies


In a release distributed to reporters last week, the Marine Corps identified 21 Iraqis who died at Haditha. While the Marine colonel who announced the charges said last week that there were 24 victims, three of them remain unidentified, a discrepancy that neither the Marine Corps nor defense attorneys was immediately able to address Wednesday.


"The charges that have been preferred reflect the deaths that are supported by the investigation at this point," a statement issued by the Marine Corps said. "The investigation is ongoing and there is always the potential for additional charges."


That is one of the many discrepancies that attorney Zaid said will go to the heart of his client's defense, and likely those of the other seven defendants, none of whom is confined as a result of a decision by Lt. Gen. James Mattis, commander of Marine Corps forces in Iraq and the "convening authority" over the Haditha case.


According to Wuterich and the other Marines at Haditha, the incident began when a convoy of four Humvees was passing through the city at about 7:30 a.m. A massive explosion from a bomb embedded in the road destroyed one of the Humvees, killing 20-year-old Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas of El Paso, Texas.


A short time later, the Marines said, they began taking small-arms fire, prompting an eventual storming of nearby homes where most of the Iraqis were killed.


"There is no dispute now that the Marines came under fire," Zaid said, pointing to the Marine Corps release announcing the decision that confirmed that aspect. "So what Congressman Murtha has said is now completely unsubstantiated."


As a result of the bombing and small-arms fire, Zaid said the rules of engagement will be a key factor in the case.


"They were absolutely following the rules as they understood them to be," Zaid said of his client and the other enlisted Marines. "I don't represent murderers, and I don't believe Sgt. Wuterich is a murderer."


Grayson called victim of politics


Joseph Casas, a San Diego attorney who represented a Marine private accused in the kidnapping and death of a retired Iraqi policeman in April (an unrelated case involving a different Camp Pendleton unit), has been retained to represent Grayson in the Haditha case.


Casas said he believed the Marine Corps was pressured to charge the officers in the Haditha case because of the worldwide outrage expressed when the incident came to light.


"It is clear that military investigators, evidently bowing to political pressure, were on a witch hunt to find a cover-up," Casas said Wednesday. "1st Lt. Grayson is a consummate Marine. He is saddened that the Marine Corps has targeted him, but he is confident that the military justice system will confirm his innocence."


Casas, who represented Pfc. John Jodka III in the unrelated April kidnapping and killing of the former Iraqi policeman in the village of Hamdania, said Grayson had been recommended for a Bronze Star with combat distinguishing marker for his actions in Iraq last year.


That award has been put on hold pending the outcome of the case against Grayson.


"Based on my conversations with 1st Lt. Grayson regarding the Haditha incident and my initial review of the facts and evidence, I am unequivocally convinced that military investigators barked up the wrong tree with this Marine officer," Casas said.


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