Sergeant says he and Marines followed rules in Haditha
There is much more including details of the shootings in the various houses and those believed to be fleeing.
A sergeant who led a squad of Marines during the incident in Haditha, Iraq, that left as many as 24 civilians dead said his unit did not intentionally target any civilians, followed military rules of engagement and never tried to cover up the shootings, his attorney said.
Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich, 26, told his attorney that several civilians were killed Nov. 19 when his squad went after insurgents who were firing at them from inside a house. The Marine said there was no vengeful massacre, but he described a house-to-house hunt that went tragically awry in the middle of a chaotic battlefield.
"It will forever be his position that everything they did that day was following their rules of engagement and to protect the lives of Marines," said Neal A. Puckett, who represents Wuterich in the ongoing investigations into the incident. "He's really upset that people believe that he and his Marines are even capable of intentionally killing innocent civilians."
Wuterich's detailed version of what happened in the Haditha neighborhood is the first public account from a Marine who was on the ground when the shootings occurred. As the leader of 1st Squad, 3rd Platoon, Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, Wuterich was in the convoy of Humvees that was hit by a roadside bomb. He entered the house from which the Marines believed enemy fire was originating and made the initial radio reports to his company headquarters about what was going on, Puckett said.
Wuterich's version contradicts that of the Iraqis, who described a massacre of men, women and children after a bomb killed a Marine. Haditha residents have said that innocent civilians were executed, that some begged for their lives before being shot and that children were killed indiscriminately.
Wuterich told his attorney in initial interviews over nearly 12 hours last week that the shootings were the unfortunate result of a methodical sweep for enemies in a firefight. Two attorneys for other Marines involved in the incident said Wuterich's account is consistent with those they had heard from their clients.
Kevin B. McDermott, who is representing Capt. Lucas M. McConnell, the Kilo Company commander, said Wuterich and other Marines informed McConnell on the day of the incident that at least 15 civilians were killed by "a mixture of small-arms fire and shrapnel as a result of grenades" after the Marines responded to an attack from a house.
McConnell was relieved of his command in April for "failure to investigate," according to McDermott. But the lawyer said McConnell told him that he reported the high number of civilian deaths to the 3rd Battalion executive officer that afternoon and that within a few days the battalion's intelligence chief gave a PowerPoint presentation to Marine commanders.
"It wasn't a situation that dawned on him as the captain of Kilo where it was like, 'Okay, guys, we need to conduct a more thorough investigation,' " McDermott said. "Everywhere up the chain, they had ample access to this thing."
Gary Myers, a civilian attorney for a Marine who was with Wuterich that day, said the Marines followed standard operating procedures when they "cleared" the houses, using fragmentation grenades and gunshots to respond to an immediate threat.
"I can confirm that that version of events is consistent with our position on this case," Myers said. "What this case comes down to is: What were the rules of engagement, and were they followed?"
The defense attorneys said the rules of engagement -- which vary depending on the mission, level of danger and other factors -- are likely to become a central element of their cases because those rules guide how troops can use deadly force on the battlefield. One Marine official said such rules usually require positive identification of a target before shooting but noted that the rules are often circumstantial.
"Once you go back over it, you have to determine if they applied the rules," the Marine official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the Marine Corps does not discuss rules of engagement. "Did they feel threatened? Did they perceive hostile intent or hostile action?"
Wuterich told Puckett that no one was emotionally rattled by Terrazas's death because everyone had a job to do, and everyone was concerned about further casualties. As Wuterich began briefing the platoon leader, Puckett said, AK-47 shots rang out from residences on the south side of the road, and the Marines ducked.
A corporal with the unit leaned over to Wuterich and said he saw the shots coming from a specific house, and after a discussion with the platoon leader, they decided to clear the house, according to Wuterich's account.
The story sounds plausible, expecially when you consider the lack of credibility of the Iraqi witnesses many of whom have changed their stories several times and some of which have had suspect associations with the enemy.
This is the first account from the Marines who have been accused. Wuteruch denies telling his superiors that the civilians were killed by the roadside bomb. They were all killed by bullets or fragmentation grenades according to Wuterich. Whether the action Wuterich describes violated the rules of engagement will apparently be the nut of the case.
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