Murder in Iraq

US soldier’s plea bargain over 24 Iraqi deaths

Updated: 08:25, Tuesday, 24 January 2012

A US soldier court-martialled over the deaths of 24 Iraqi civilians
faces three months’ imprisonment at most after admitting dereliction
of duty, meaning manslaughter charges were dropped.

A US soldier court-martialled over the deaths of 24 Iraqi civilians
admitted dereliction of duty, but manslaughter charges were dropped
Monday and he faces three months’ imprisonment at most.

Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich, who led a group of Marines whose other
members have been let off, had faced nine counts of voluntary
manslaughter and other charges over the 2005 killings in the Iraqi
town of Haditha.

He pleaded guilty to one count of negligent dereliction of duty, and
will face a sentencing hearing today, said a spokesman for Camp
Pendleton in California, where the 31-year-old went to a military
trial earlier this month.

Wuterich could also be reduced in rank to private, and have his pay
cut by two-thirds for three months, he said, while stressing that the
Marine accepted responsibility for giving orders which led to the
deaths.

“Staff Sergeant Wuterich accepted responsibility… and agreed and
admits that he gave a verbal order to shoot first, ask questions
later, or don’t hesitate to shoot, and words to that effect,” said
spokesman Joe Koppel.

“That verbal instruction caused his Marines to (not) positively
identify targets in the two homes. And now, at the sentencing phase,
he’ll be held accountable for those actions.”

Wuterich’s attorney Neal Puckett said his client – who had been
reported to be considering a plea deal last weekend – made the final
decision.

“This was his decision and his decision alone,” he told the North
County Times. “Staff Sergeant Wuterich believed this was the right and
honorable thing to do.”

In all, 24 Iraqi civilians were killed – 19 in several houses along
with the five men who pulled up in a car in the Iraqi town of Haditha
on 19 November, 2005.

The victims included 10 women or children killed at point-blank range.
Six people were killed in one house, most shot in the head, including
women and children huddled in a bedroom.

The other seven Marines charged in the case have been exonerated
through various legal rulings, fuelling anger in Iraq, where
authorities had pushed for US troops to be subject to Iraqi justice
before the US pullout in December.

Yesterday’s plea deal was announced at the start of what would have
been the third full week of the court-martial at Camp Pendleton, where
Wuterich has been an active serving Marine pending the long-delayed
legal action against him.