It’s beginning to look like Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich can quit worrying about a lifetime in the military stockade and start thinking about a long term contract, with signing bonus, playing for the Blackwater Homicidal Mercs:
A Marine Corps official has recommended that murder charges be dismissed against a Camp Pendleton squad leader accused in the deaths of 17 civilians killed in the Iraqi city of Haditha two years ago.
The official, Lt. Col. Paul Ware, said in a recommendation obtained by the North County Times that rather than face murder charges, squad leader Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich should be tried for the lesser offense of negligent homicide in the deaths of five children and two women.
Ware recommended 10 other murder charges against Wuterich be dismissed.
“I believe after reviewing all the evidence that no trier of fact can conclude Staff Sgt. Wuterich formed the criminal intent to kill,” Ware wrote in reference to the women and children. “When a Marine fails to exercise due care and civilians die, the charge of negligent homicide, and not murder, is appropriate.”
I’m impressed that the killing of seventeen people, including women and children, can be reduced to a “Whoopsie! My bad” moment, but there you go. But it helps to hand over the case to Gen. James Mattis:
“Actually it’s quite fun to fight them, you know. It’s a hell of a hoot,” Mattis said, prompting laughter from some military members in the audience. “It’s fun to shoot some people. I’ll be right up there with you. I like brawling.
“You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn’t wear a veil,” Mattis said. “You know, guys like that ain’t got no manhood left anyway. So it’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them.”
Or, in this case, to shoot the women so that they will never suffer the indignity of being slapped again.
Four officers were eventually charged with dereliction of duty at Haditha and four enlisted men charged with murder. Charges have since been dropped for two officers and two enlisted men.
Ware’s recommendations are headed to Camp Pendleton’s Gen. James Mattis, who will decide what happens to Wuterich. The 27-year-old Connecticut native, whose first combat experience came at Haditha, could face a life sentence in prison if convicted of murder at trial. Negligent homicide carries a maximum three-year prison term.
Mattis can accept or reject Ware’s recommendations. The general’s power under the military justice system includes authority to drop the case altogether, which he did for two officers and two enlisted men.
The civilian deaths came after Wuterich led his squad in an attack on a group of homes following a roadside bombing that destroyed a Humvee, killing a lance corporal and injuring two Marines.
Five Iraqi men were the first to die when Wuterich shot them shortly after they emerged from a car that drove up immediately after the bombing. Ware recommends the charges in those deaths be dismissed, accepting Wuterich’s statement that he believed those men were insurgents taking part in the attack.
The Marine Corps initially reported the Iraqis died in the bombing and subsequent small arms fire. Several weeks later, the military corrected the number of deaths to 24 after questions were raised by a Time magazine reporter who spoke to relatives of the slain Iraqis.
The first media reports resulted in an international outcry, prompting military officials to order a full-scale investigation, which brought on criminal charges.
A decision on whether Wuterich’s battalion commander at Haditha, Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani, will face court-martial on dereliction charges is pending, as is a recommendation that murder charges against Lance Cpl. Stephen Tatum be dismissed.
Murder charges against Lance Cpl. Justin Sharratt were dropped after the general found he acted within the rules of engagement. Ware also presided over the hearings for Sharratt and Tatum and recommended their charges be dismissed.
The fourth enlisted man in the case, Sgt. Sanick Dela Cruz, had murder charges against him dropped in April in exchange for his testimony.
Dereliction charges have been dropped against Capts. Randy Stone and Lucas McConnell. A pretrial hearing for 1st Lt. Andrew Grayson is set to begin later this month.
During Wuterich’s hearing, which concluded in early September, he told Ware that he regretted the civilian deaths but maintained he and his men acted in response to their training and within the rules of engagement.
“I will always mourn the unfortunate deaths of the innocent Iraqis who were killed during our response to that attack,” Wuterich said. “As a sergeant and a squad leader, I am responsible for the decisions made to employ the tactics we used that day.”
Former Marine Corps judge and prosecutor Gary Solis, now a military law professor at Georgetown University, said the outlook for Wuterich is a lot brighter now.
“We are seeing the system at work,” Solis said, “and the question now is if he does face trial on negligent homicide, will a jury at Camp Pendleton convict him?”
Of course it works. Just never in the favor of the dead.