January 4, 2008 in Nation/World

No murder charges in Haditha killings

Josh White Washington Post

WASHINGTON – 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 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 cold-blooded 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 a total of 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 another was granted immunity to testify.

Wuterich is charged with nine counts of voluntary manslaughter, alleging he had an intent to kill and that his actions inside a residential home and on a residential street in November 2005 amounted to unlawful killing “in the heat of sudden passion caused by adequate provocation.” Charging documents released this week allege he killed at least nine people without properly obtaining positive identification that they were the enemy in the midst of an attack.

Wuterich and Lance Cpl. Stephen Tatum are the only two shooters that day to face criminal scrutiny; Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani, the battalion commander, faces charges that he was derelict in his duty for failing to ask for an investigation.

The charges arise from the November 19, 2005, shootings of as many as 24 innocent civilians who were nearby when a roadside bomb killed a member of Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines.

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