Marine accused of losing control in war crime
A Marine sergeant charged in the biggest criminal case against U.S. troops in the Iraq war made a series of fatal assumptions and lost control of himself when he and his squad killed 24 Iraqis, including unarmed women and children, a military prosecutor said Monday.
Maj. Nicholas Gannon made the accusations to a jury of battle-hardened Marines hearing the case against Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich more than six years after the squad committed the killings in the town of Haditha.
“The evidence will show that none of the victims were a threat,” Gannon told jurors in his opening statement.
Prosecutors told the military jury of four officers and four enlisted Marines that Wuterich shot indiscriminately without taking time to identify his targets after a roadside bomb exploded and killed a Marine.
The prosecution has implicated Wuterich in the deaths of 19 of the 24 Iraqis killed that day.
Wuterich and another Marine fatally shot five men in a car near the site where the bomb went off, prosecutors said. Wuterich then ordered his squad to clear a nearby home with gunfire and grenades, telling them to shoot first and ask questions later, according to the prosecution.
After killing men, women and children inside the first home, the Marines went to a second home, where Wuterich stood at the foot of a bed in a back bedroom, spraying a woman and children with bullets, Gannon said.
The killings in Haditha on Nov. 19, 2005, are considered among the war’s defining moments, further tainting America’s reputation when it was already at a low point after the release of photos of prisoner abuse by U.S. soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison.
In his opening statement, Wuterich’s attorney Haytham Faraj told jurors that Navy investigators, under pressure to show the Marine Corps was not covering up the massacre, brutally interrogated the other Marines in the squad for up to 14 hours and offered to drop charges against them if they testified against their squad leader.
“You have a bunch of scared Marines promised immunity who are going to tell you about things that did not happen,” Faraj said.