Thursday, December 21, 2006

Squad Leader Charged in Killings of 24 Iraqi Civilians

By THE NEW YORK TIMES
Published: December 21, 2006

A Marine Corps squad leader was charged today with 13 counts of murder for his role in the killings of civilians in the Iraqi town of Haditha last year, and seven other marines face counts ranging from unpremeditated murder to failure to report the killings, the Marine Corps announced today.

The charges came after an inquiry into the November 2005 killings of 24 people, many of them unarmed women and children, and what military officials described as “untimely and inaccurate reporting” of what happened that day.

Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich was charged with 12 counts of murdering individuals, plus one count of murdering six people by ordering Marines under his charge to ”shoot first and ask questions later” when they entered a house, according to charging sheets released to The Associated Press by defense attorney Neal Puckett.

Puckett said his client is not guilty and acted lawfully, The A.P. reported.
Lance Cpl. Justin Sharratt, 22, of Carbondale, Penn., was accused of one charge of murder involving unpremeditated killings of three males in a house, said his attorney, Gary Myers. “Our view has been and continues to be that these are combat-related deaths,” Myers told The A.P. today.

Lance Cpl. Stephen Tatum, 25, of Edmund, Okla., also was charged, but his attorney, Jack Zimmerman, declined to specify the allegations before the government’s announcement.
A military investigation into the killings and the subsequent handling of the case by the Marine Corps began last March and lasted nine months. Marines from the Third Platoon of Company K, Third Battalion, First Marine Regiment, are accused of killing the villagers after a roadside explosion killed one of their comrades.

A Marine Corps official and a defense attorney representing one of the marines said earlier this month that charges were expected against Sgt. Wuterich, 26, of Meriden, Conn., the squad’s leader; Lance Cpl. Stephen Tatum, 25, of Edmund, Okla.; Lance Cpl. Justin Sharratt, 21, of Carbondale, Penn.; Cpl. Sanick Dela Cruz, 24, of Chicago; and Cpl. Hector Salinas, 22, of Houston.
The five marines are said to have been the ones who killed the 24 Iraqis, including five men in a taxi that approached the marines’ convoy after an explosion killed a 20-year-old lance corporal. About 10 of the dead were women and children in houses nearby who appeared to have been killed by rifle fire at close range, military officials said.

The marines have said they believed that they were coming under small-arms fire from a house on the south side of the road. Lawyers for several of the marines have said their clients were responding appropriately, and lawfully, to an attack in a dangerous region of Iraq.