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No Murder Charges Filed In Haditha Case

Buried quietly in the Washington Post:

No Murder Charges Filed in Haditha Case

Four Marines to Face Lesser Charges After Two-Year Inquiry Into Iraqi Killings

By Josh White
Friday, January 4, 2008; A05

After a two-year investigation into the killings of up to 24 civilians in Haditha, Iraq, the Marine Corps has decided that none of the Marines involved in the incident will be charged with murder. Instead, two enlisted Marines and two Marine officers will face trial in coming months for the killings and for failing to investigate them.

The most serious charges have been leveled against Marine Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich, who is scheduled to be arraigned on charges of voluntary manslaughter in California next week, the last step before the case officially moves to trial.

Initially called a massacre by Iraqi residents of Haditha and later characterized as coldblooded murder by a U.S. congressman, the case has turned not on an alleged rampage but on a far more complex analysis of how U.S. troops fight an insurgency in the midst of a population they seek to protect.

The Marine Corps at first charged eight Marines and officers with murder or failing to investigate an apparent war crime. The charges have since been narrowed to four men in the unit, after three were cleared and a fourth was granted immunity to testify…

Public attention to the Haditha case increased in the spring of 2006 when Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) said after briefings from military officials that the Marines had killed civilians “in cold blood.” The killings are among the most infamous of the Iraq war; 69 U.S. troops have been charged in connection with killing Iraqi civilians, and 22 of them have been convicted of murder, negligent homicide or voluntary manslaughter.

Military law experts said the manslaughter charges reflect the military’s reluctance to pursue murder charges because they are hard to win in court — especially as military juries tend to give combat troops the benefit of the doubt. Investigating officers in the cases have recommended lesser charges because they have found that the Marines determined the houses were hostile and believed they could kill everyone inside, more likely a case of recklessness than intent to commit a crime…

Mark Zaid, one of Wuterich’s defense attorneys, said the charges show there was no “massacre” and that the case highlights how difficult it is for U.S. troops to make tough battlefield decisions. He said Wuterich and the other Marines were following their rules of engagement when they shot and killed their targets in Haditha, with unfortunate — but not illegal — consequences.

“Every Marine, period, is trained with the intent to kill,” Zaid said. “What everyone will realize at the end of the day is that the characterization of the events was nothing like reality, that the training the troops on the ground received was primarily responsible for what happened, and that the fog of war sometimes ends up with terrible results.”

Brian Rooney, an attorney for Chessani, said yesterday that Chessani’s trial, scheduled for April, is merely a way for the Marines to show they prosecuted an officer even after they administratively punished at least three senior officers who never ordered an investigation. Military probes blamed Chessani and several others for failing to take civilian deaths seriously.

“It’s clear now that no massacre occurred, yet this legal fiction is moving forward,” Rooney said.

Eugene Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice, said that while the charges against the Marines are still “very serious,” they are not “the bang that people expected at the front end.” Each charge of voluntary manslaughter carries a potential maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.

Thus ends it.

Public attention to the Haditha case increased in the spring of 2006 when Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) said after briefings from military officials that the Marines had killed civilians “in cold blood.”

This is a blatant lie, of course. As we have previously noted, Mr. Murtha was briefed after his despicable comments.

In a better world Mr. Murtha would be on trial.

This article was posted by Steve on Friday, January 4th, 2008. Comments are currently closed.

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