Credibility an issue for witness in Haditha case

NY Times:

A marine sergeant offered gruesome testimony on Friday against a former squad leader charged with killing 17 Iraqi civilians in Haditha nearly two years ago, suggesting that the defendant, Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich, was predisposed to the violence, carried it out ruthlessly and sought to cover it up.

The prosecution witness, Sgt. Sanick Dela Cruz, was ordered to testify with immunity after murder charges against him for killing five of the men were dismissed in April.


It is unclear how much weight the hearing’s presiding officer will give to the testimony of Sergeant Dela Cruz, whose credibility has been an issue in hearings for other marines charged in the Haditha killings. The presiding officer, Lt. Col. Paul J. Ware, will recommend to a Marine Corps general whether to try Sergeant Wuterich in a full court-martial.

Sergeant Dela Cruz has admitted to lying to an Army colonel who initially investigated the Haditha episode, in which Marine riflemen killed 24 Iraqis, including at least 10 women and children, after a roadside bomb killed one of their comrades.

In a sworn statement, he told the colonel that Iraqi Army soldiers traveling with his unit had killed the five men near the car, and that he had yelled at them to stop, to no avail.

Sergeant Wuterich’s lawyers took pains to point out that Sergeant Dela Cruz’s immunity deal protected him from being charged in the Haditha episode, and they have said he lied about Sergeant Wuterich’s actions to cover up his own criminal behavior in Haditha.

Another witness on Friday, Staff Sgt. Justin Laughner, a member of a Marine intelligence unit that inspected the scene of the Haditha killings, said Sergeant Wuterich had told him the men had run from the car when they were shot.

Sergeant Laughner also said squad members had been worried that the car could have been carrying a bomb.

The prosecution has not gotten much mileage out of its accomplice witnesses that have been given immunity. Their credibility has been challenged and Ware has disregarded their testimony in previous hearings so its not clear why he would give more weight to their testimony in this case.

Th Washington Post has this on the issue of Dela Cruz's credibility:


The damaging content of Dela Cruz's testimony was tempered by his demeanor: He appeared wooden on the stand and often took long moments to produce answers to apparently simple questions.

At other times, he appeared contentious. Dela Cruz readily admitted to urinating onto the broken head of one Iraqi man lying dead in the road. But he disputed another Marine's allegation that while removing bodies from one of the nearby houses where more than a dozen Iraqis were killed, he kicked a dead man's head and said, "I killed that [expletive]."

"If I had the guts to tell I urinated and confessed about it, why would I deny this?" Dela Cruz said. "Pissing is worse than kicking."

"Oh, is it?" Lt. Col. Colby Vokey, a defense attorney, asked loudly.

The witness drew back. "They're both worse, sir."

Dela Cruz also admitted to abusing prisoners in Iraq, saying he kicked detainees in a way that was unlikely to leave bruises. And at Haditha, he said, he fired perhaps eight rounds into the men he said Wuterich killed. In reasoning that clearly puzzled the investigating officer, Dela Cruz said he joined Wuterich in a cover story out of fear that those shots would get him jailed.

"Was it your understanding that if you shot a dead body you could be charged with murder?" asked Lt. Col. Paul Ware, who will recommend whether Wuterich should face court-martial.

"Yes, sir," Dela Cruz said.

"Why?" Ware asked, then quickly shook his head. "Never mind."


Dela Cruz does not come across as a very bright bulb on the witness tree. Accomplice witnesses are rarely very savory characters, but in the Haditha cases they all seem to come across as much worse than the defendants. The first witness put up by the prosecution could not identify Wuterich as shooting anyone and and talked about what a good leader he was. It made you wonder why they even called him. Dela Cruz leaves you wondering the same thing for different reasons. He also makes you wonder if they did not give immunity to the wrong people.


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