Five Marines may face charges in Haditha killings

Military authorities may soon charge five Camp Pendleton Marines in the deaths of 24 Iraqi civilians in the city of Haditha just over one year ago, according to a story Tuesday on National Public Radio that named the five men.

The radio network reported that prosecutors are weighing whether to file charges of negligent homicide or murder against the men. The five are identified in the story as Sgt. Frank Wuterich, who has since been promoted to the rank of staff sergeant, Cpls. Hector Salinas, Sanick De la Cruz and Lance Cpls. Stephen Tatum and Justin Sharratt.

Marine Corps spokesman Lt. Col. Sean Gibson said he could not confirm the radio report, which attributed its information to unnamed Pentagon sources.
"We are not making any announcements," Gibson said from his office at Camp Pendleton. "No decisions have been made."

Iraqi witnesses have contended that Marines from the 1st Squad, 3rd Platoon of Kilo Company attached to Camp Pendleton's 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment went on a rampage after one of their own was killed by a roadside bomb as the Marines passed through the city.

This summer, Wuterich made statements defending himself and the other Marines, saying the deaths occurred as the troops pursued what they believed to be enemy insurgents.

Wuterich's attorney Zaid said Tuesday that he was getting tired of unsubstantiated reports out of the Defense Department that his client and other Marines are "about" to be charged.

"The cowardly anonymous DOD sources have been saying for the last four months that charges were imminent -- so we have stopped trying to figure out when it is," Zaid said.

Tatum's attorney, Houston-based Jack Zimmerman echoed those feelings.

"People have been predicting somebody was going to get charged in this case ever since last summer -- so eventually, someone is going to be right," Zimmerman said in a phone interview late Tuesday. "Lance Cpl. Tatum did not commit any crime."

In August, Wuterich filed a lawsuit against U.S. Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., after the congressman told reporters in May that the Marines in the Haditha incident had "killed innocent civilians in cold blood." Murtha is a retired Marine colonel.

Wuterich reported that after his convoy was hit by a roadside bomb, a car full of "military-aged" men approached in a taxi. When the men ran after being ordered in Arabic to stop, the Marines shot and killed them, Wuterich stated in the complaint against Murtha.

In Tuesday's radio story, however, the network reported that investigators took photos a short time after the killings that showed all five bodies were next to the cab and no evidence that "any of them ran."

Zaid, who is representing Wuterich in the lawsuit against Murtha, said that even though the photos may show the bodies very close to the cab, that doesn't mean the men weren't fleeing.

"First of all, I don't believe any rumors coming out of the Defense Department -- I need to see the physical evidence," Zaid said. "We have no idea if anybody moved any of the bodies."

Secondly, most people have a "non-wartime" perception about what it means to say they started to run, he said. The convoy had been attacked at the time the men showed up and they failed to obey the order shouted in Arabic to get out of the car and on the ground, he said.

The Marines had no idea if the men were armed, and under the rules of engagement, once the men failed to obey orders and "started to run" -- even if only a few feet from the cab --- they could be considered hostile.

"I definitely think the rules of engagement permitted them to have fired," Zaid said.

Washington attorney Gary Meyers, who represents Lance Cpl. Sharratt, said his client was not near the cab at the time passengers were shot.

He added he is not overly concerned that charges may be filed.

"If charges are brought, charges are brought and we'll see what they are," Meyers said, adding negligent homicide should not be one of the charges.

"It's absurd to apply civilian standards of 'due care' in a combat environment," Meyers said. "Negligent homicide cannot be on the table in this setting."

In Wuterich's lawsuit against Murtha, the sergeant alleges that gunshots were heard from homes at the side of the road and that the Marines then invaded three of the houses in pursuit of what they believed were enemy combatants.

In the third house, the Marines saw a man running into the home, pursued him and killed him and three others as they "attempted to fire their weapons," the lawsuit complaint stated.

Don't Think Americans Support The Troops, The Comments Below Say Otherwise:

Samuel wrote on November 22, 2006 7:52 PM:"You know, pretty soon, at the rate they're going, they are going to try and charge every Marine who fought in combat for murder. Pathetic!"

pam wrote on November 22, 2006 9:43 PM:"hello!!!! war is ugly, if our Marines can't fight to protect themselfs then God help them bring them all home now."

Adam wrote on November 22, 2006 9:45 PM:" 3,709 Iraqi civilians were killed in the month of October. What's a few more here or there. During time of war people get killed If we don't like it then the president should pull our troops out of there. I have no problem with "cut and run". Let the Iraqis fix their own problems."

Cpl S. wrote on November 25, 2006 12:49 AM:
"SSgt Wuterich was one of my instructors at Marine Combat Training. I would've followed him then and now. He was calm and collected and always trying to do the right thing for we Marines. -Semper Fi"

Walter... wrote on November 25, 2006 8:15 AM:"i want some leakers doing ten to twenty, especially when the consequence of the leaks is destructive of the moral of front line troops."

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