Two Marines Face Court Martial For 17 Civilian Deaths in Iraq

New York Times

January 1, 2008 – A Marine infantryman accused of killing 17 Iraqi civilians during a combat maneuver in Haditha in late 2005 will be tried by court-martial on charges of voluntary manslaughter but will avoid more serious murder charges originally pressed against him, the Marine Corps announced Monday.

The infantryman, Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich, a squad leader whose men killed 24 Iraqis during a house-to-house raid after insurgents attacked their convoy, will also be tried on charges of aggravated assault, reckless endangerment, dereliction of duty and obstruction of justice, the Marines said in a news release.

In a separate decision on Monday, a Marine first lieutenant was ordered to face court-martial for what Marine prosecutors said was the officer’s role in covering up photographs of the aftermath of the killings, the Marines said.

The two court-martial referrals conclude the preliminary investigations into all eight marines originally charged with crimes in the Haditha matter. Four of those eight — two enlisted men and two officers — will be tried by court-martial, in front of either a military judge alone or a jury of fellow marines.

Lt. Gen. Samuel Helland, the commander of Marine Corps Forces Central Command, the officer who made the two decisions that were announced Monday, decided against pursuing unpremeditated murder charges against Sergeant Wuterich, a graver charge than voluntary manslaughter. General Helland also dismissed two other charges: soliciting another to commit an offense, and making a false official statement.

The lieutenant, Andrew A. Grayson, whose evidentiary hearing was delayed for months while he argued that he was beyond military prosecution because the Marines had discharged him from active duty, will stand trial on charges of making false official statements, obstruction of justice and trying to separate fraudulently from the Marine Corps.

Initially, the Marine Corps charged eight men from the Third Battalion, First Marines with crimes related to the Haditha killings on Nov. 19, 2005. Four infantrymen were accused of murder, and four officers, including the battalion commander, of dereliction of duty and other crimes related to failing to investigate the episode thoroughly.

Sergeant Wuterich, of Meriden, Conn., and Lance Cpl. Stephen Tatum, of Edmond, Okla., will be tried in separate courts-martial on charges of wrongful killings of Iraqis. Of the four officers originally charged in the case, the battalion commander, Lt. Col. Jeffrey R. Chessani, and Lieutenant Grayson will also face courts-martial.

General Helland’s predecessor, Lt. Gen. Jim Mattis, dismissed charges against the four other marines — two enlisted men in Sergeant Wuterich’s squad, and two captains, including a battalion lawyer and a company commander.

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