A US Marine charged over one of the Iraq war’s most notorious massacres of civilians has agreed to a plea bargain that could see him serve only three months in prison.
By Raf Sanchez, Washington
Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich faced nine counts of voluntary manslaughter for his role in the 2005 Haditha massacre, when his squad of Marines gunned down 24 Iraqis, including many women and children.
Yesterday, his attorneys reached a deal with military prosecutors at his court martial in California, allowing him to plead guilty to one count of dereliction of duty in return for the other charges being dropped.
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A spokesman for the Marine Corps told the Daily Telegraph that the maximum sentence he faces is three months confinement, a two-third cut in pay and a demotion of up to five ranks. The sentencing hearing is expected to take place tomorrow.
His guilty plea is the first conviction secured in the years since the killing but is unlikely to satisfy campaigners in Iraq, who have long demanded accountability for the killings. Six other members of his squad saw charges against them dismissed while one was acquitted at court martial.
Prosecutors had earlier told the hearing that Staff Sergeant Wuterich “lost control of himself” after a roadside killed one of his squad members and wounded two others. The court had originally heard allegations that the unit went house-by-house killing civilians with machine gun fire and grenades.
Prosecutors alleged that Staff Sergeant Wuterich had stood at the foot of a bed in a back bedroom and shot dead a woman and her children. That charge has now been dropped.
The soldiers involved said they believed they were operating under the rules of engagement which allowed areas to be designated “hostile” and giving troops permission to open fire on anyone they found there.
In an un-aired 2007 interview that was shown at the hearing, Staff Sergeant Wuterich said he was not “a monster” and expressed regret over the civilian casualties.
The massacre caused international outrage and was one of the key reasons that the Iraqi government last year refused to extend immunity to American forces in the country.
The conviction comes at the end of a difficult month for the Marines Corps, which is currently investigating four of its troops over video footage that appears to show them urinating on the corpses of dead Taliban fighters. Last week, six Marines were killed in a helicopter in Helmand.