|QUOTE (mynameis @ Jan 1 2008, 07:44 PM)|
| Marine Faces Reduced Charges in Iraq Killings|
From News Services
Tuesday, January 1, 2008; A06
CAMP PENDLETON, Calif., Dec. 31 -- The Marine accused of leading his unit in killing 24 unarmed Iraqi civilians in Haditha, Iraq, in 2005 will be charged with voluntary manslaughter and other counts, but more serious charges of unpremeditated murder were dismissed, officials said Monday.
Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich said in a September hearing that he regretted the Iraqis' deaths, but he insisted he had acted properly to keep his men alive.
After a roadside bomb killed a Marine and wounded two others, Wuterich's squad allegedly shot five men by a nearby car. Wuterich then ordered his men into several houses, where they cleared rooms with grenades and gunfire, killing unarmed civilians. Marines said they were searching for hostile combatants.
Many of the Haditha victims were women and children, and the slayings drew international outrage. A senior Democrat and former Marine, Rep. John P. Murtha (Pa.), alleged that the Marines "killed innocent civilians in cold blood." Wuterich has filed a libel suit against Murtha over the remarks.
The decision by the commander of U.S. Marine Corps Forces Central, Lt. Gen. Samuel Helland, follows the recommendation of an investigating officer in October to not charge Wuterich with murder.
Four enlisted men were initially charged with murder in the case, and four officers were charged with failing to investigate the deaths. Charges against several of the men have been dropped, and none will face murder charges.
Wuterich's attorneys viewed the reduction of charges as a partial victory and said they had requested a speedy trial.
"We are confident that a military jury will acquit SSgt Wuterich of all remaining charges, because he is, in fact, not guilty," lawyer Neal Puckett said in a statement.