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Marine avoids jail in Iraq trial

The lone Marine to face sentencing for the killing of two dozen unarmed Iraqis in one of the Iraq War's defining moments has walked away with no jail time after defending his squad's storming of the homes of Haditha as a necessary act "to keep the rest of my Marines alive".

Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich's sentence ends a six-year prosecution for the 2005 attack that failed to win any manslaughter convictions.

Eight Marines were initially charged; one was acquitted and six others had their cases dropped.

Wuterich, who admitted ordering his squad to "shoot first, ask questions later" after a roadside bomb killed a fellow Marine, ended his manslaughter trial by pleading guilty on Monday to a single count of negligent dereliction of duty.

The deal that dropped nine counts of manslaughter sparked outrage in the besieged Iraqi town and claims that the US did not hold the military accountable.

"I was expecting that the American judiciary would sentence this person to life in prison and that he would appear and confess in front of the whole world that he committed this crime, so that America could show itself as democratic and fair," said survivor Awis Fahmi Hussein, showing his scars from a bullet wound to the back.

Military judge Lieutenant Colonel David Jones recommended three months of confinement, which prosecutors said Wuterich deserved; but after learning the terms governing the plea agreement, Lt Col Jones said the deal prevented any jail time for the Marine.

Lt Col Jones recommended that the sergeant's rank be reduced to private, but not to dock his pay because the divorced father has sole custody of his three daughters. The rank reduction has to be approved by a Marine general, who already signed off on the plea deal.

Wuterich read a statement apologising to the victims' families and said he never fired on or intended to harm innocent women and children. But he said his plea should not be seen as a statement that he believes his squad dishonoured their country.

"When my Marines and I cleared those houses that day, I responded to what I perceived as a threat and my intention was to eliminate that threat in order to keep the rest of my Marines alive," he said.

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