The case of a U.S. marine accused of killing 24 unarmed civilians in Haditha, Iraq came to a surprising end today. Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich reached a deal with prosecutors and pleaded guilty to dereliction of duty, a misdemeanor that carries a maximum sentence of three months in confinement.
The North County Times, which broke the story today, reports that this marks the end of a 6-year saga that stretches to back the height of the Iraq war. This case was also the biggest war crimes case to come out of the war in Iraq.
"No one denies that the events ... were tragic, most of all Frank Wuterich," Neal Puckett, Wuterich's attorney told the County Times. "But the fact of the matter is that he has now been totally exonerated of the homicide charges brought against him by the government and the media.
"For the last six years, he has had his name dragged through the mud. Today, we hope, is the beginning of his redemption."
The AP has some background:
"The issue at the court martial was whether Wuterich reacted appropriately as a Marine squad leader in protecting his troops in the midst of a chaotic war or disregarded combat rules and ordered his men to shoot and blast indiscriminately at Iraqi civilians. Wuterich was charged with nine counts of manslaughter, among other charges, and is one of eight Marines initially charged. None has been convicted.
"Prosecutors said he lost control after seeing the body of his friend blown apart by the bomb and led his men on a rampage in which they stormed two nearby homes, blasting their way in with gunfire and grenades. Among the dead were women, children and elderly, including a man in a wheelchair."
The County Times reports that the prosecution decided to offer a deal after its own witnesses testified in Wuterich's favor, saying that he believed he and his troops were under attack.