Sgt Frank Wuterich was one of eight Marines originally charged with murder or failure to investigate the killings.
The charges against six of them were dropped or dismissed, and one was acquitted.
Lisa Mullins talks with correspondent Jane Arraf in Baghdad.
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Lisa Mullins: I’m Lisa Mullins and this is The World. A US Marine has pleaded guilty to dereliction of duty in connection with an incident in Iraq known as the Haditha Massacre. Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich was in command of a squad of marines in the western Iraqi city of Haditha on November 19, 2005. One of his men died when a roadside bomb exploded. What followed is still not clear, but 24 Iraqi civilians were killed by the marines. Now, as part of a plea deal, manslaughter charges against Sergeant Wuterich are being dropped. Cases against all other marines involved have collapsed. Reporter Jane Arraf is in Baghdad. You were in Iraq as well at the time of the incident, Jane. I know at some point you’ve been embedded with this particular marine unit. What was Haditha like at that time in November 2005?
Jane Arraf: Well, I was embedded with a wider unit and really it was an atmosphere all through that year in which they really did believe that everyone was their enemy. Haditha has become one of the tragedies of the war, not just because of the killing of these 24 people, including women and children, but really because it was a case that was seen by a lot of military people as one where they could never have an impact. It was a case where the marines came in. They were few and far between. And it was a huge area. And as people tried to help them, as officials tried to help them, they were assassinated. There were never enough troops to go around in that area. And by the time November 2005 rolled around they were really living in a kind of environment where they were being killed. They believed that they couldn’t trust anyone and everyone was a potential assassin.
Mullins: So as we said, what happened was a roadside bomb went off on this particular day, exploded right next to a marine convoy. One marine was killed. A couple of others were wounded. What’s your understanding based on what was said in court, happened next?
Arraf: According to the staff sergeant he was ordered to clear the houses. Now, when you go in and clear houses you don’t actually knock on the door. You clear a house because you believe that there’s danger there. So what they appear to have done is gone into two houses where they were looking for insurgents, apparently, the insurgents that blew up one of their buddies, and started shooting. Now at the end as we now know, 24 people were dead, including women, children and a 70-year-old man in a wheelchair, clearly no one who posed a threat to him. But again, it’s a case where under their rules of engagement at the time, and rules of engagement that were prevalent in places like that in Iraq, if a commander felt there was any sort of hostile threat, and that goes all the way down a squad leader and others, you could actually start shooting and that is what they did.
Mullins: And were they being shot at?
Arraf: They apparently were not being shot at. They believed at the time that they were under danger. They believed that they were under threat and that was the defense that they used all through this trial, which has we have to remember, lasted for several years. Now, we’ve reached one of the relatives of some of the people killed in Haditha, who also happens to be an Iraqi lawyer, and he says he believes that this is what was intended all along, that they’d just drag on the case until it went away. And that is what he believes has happened.
Mullins: Well, I don’t know to what extent other Iraqis are reacting the same way, but are there cases, maybe similar to this, that would contradict this thought that this would end up in a whitewash?
Arraf: There’s a really deep mistrust here and that’s putting it mildly of what happened during the war, of US motives and of really any attempt to bring people to justice. We have to remember that the milestones of this war aren’t really the schools that were opened, or the highways that were reopened, or security that was brought back to towns that were undergoing violence. Really what people will remember here are the horrible things like Haditha, like the rape and murder of a little girl named Abir, like the Blackwater killings, and those are the things that will remain in people’s minds for generations. This is not a country, not a community that forgets these things and it’s part of the reason why today there are no US soldiers here. It’s part of the reason why Iraq insisted that they be subject to immunity, and part of the reason why the US could never agree to that.
Mullins: All right, thank you, speaking to us from Baghdad, Iraq, reporter Jane Arraf, thanks.
Arraf: Thank you.
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