Haditha Squad Leader in Court Today
Posted Aug 30, 2007 8:29 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss
A squad leader who led a 2005 assault on several houses in Haditha, Iraq, appears before a military hearing officer today to determine whether he should be tried for murder.
Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich is accused of killing 18 people in the attacks, the most serious charges against any U.S. soldier serving in Iraq, the Washington Post reports.
The killings began after a roadside bomb killed a Marine driver. Wuterich and another Marine shot five men outside a nearby car, and then Wuterich and his squad entered homes to look for the bombers.
Wuterich said he ordered his men to “shoot first, ask questions later” because he believed they were being fired upon. His lawyer contends he and his men were properly responding to an attack.
Twenty-four Iraqis died at Haditha, but so far prosecutors have run into problems, the New York Times reports. Charges have been dismissed against two enlisted Marines and an officer, and a hearing officer has recommended dismissal of charges against a third infantryman.
Gary Solis, a law professor at Georgetown University, said the problems are not unusual, since the Uniform Code of Military Justice often confers immunity on combat actions.
“One could view this as a case crumbling around the prosecutor’s feet, or one could see this as the unique U.C.M.J. system of justice in operation,” he said.
Updated 11:20 a.m. CST to reflect Wuterich is a U.S. soldier.