U.S. court hearing set for Iraq massacre leader

A U.S. Marine accused of leading troops who Iraqi witnesses say massacred 24 unarmed civilians in Haditha will appear on Thursday for proceedings to determine if he should face court-martial.

U.S. court hearing set for Iraq massacre leader
A U.S. Marine accused of leading troops who Iraqi witnesses say massacred 24 unarmed civilians in Haditha will appear on Thursday for proceedings to determine if he should face court-martial.

Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich faces what is known as an Article 32 hearing in connection with the Marine squad's fatal shootings of men, women and children on November 19, 2005.

Prosecutors say the killings were retaliation for the death of a fellow Marine cut in half by a roadside bomb.

The Haditha killings were among a series of apparent abuses by U.S. soldiers in Iraqi towns and at the Abu Ghraib prison that caused outrage in Iraq and internationally.

Attorneys for Wuterich, one of eight U.S. Marines originally charged in the Haditha case, were expected to argue in the hearing at Camp Pendleton, north of San Diego, that the civilians died during a chaotic house-to-house battle in and around the western Iraqi town.

"The argument is quite simple, that the Marines that day were reacting to a hostile and dynamic environment and that their conduct, although it led to tragic results, was completely lawful," Wuterich attorney Mark Zaid told Reuters in an interview.

"The civilians who died were collateral damage as part of a combat operation where insurgents would intentionally place civilians into harm's way," Zaid said.

Military authorities earlier this month dismissed charges against two of the Marines, Lance Cpl. Justin Sharratt and Capt. Randy Stone, citing battle conditions against a "shadowy insurgent enemy".

Murder charges were dismissed in April against Sgt. Sanick Dela Cruz in exchange for his testimony and he was expected to be one of the first witnesses to testify against Wuterich. Four other Marines have still to be dealt with.

Thursday's proceedings against Wuterich will help an investigating officer determine if he should face court-martial. That decision is expected within about a month of the hearing's conclusion.

Dela Cruz testified in May he watched Wuterich shoot five Iraqi men whose hands were up near a car as they tried to surrender. Dela Cruz said Wuterich told him that, if asked, he should report that the men were shot by the Iraqi army as they ran away.

Dela Cruz admitted urinating on one of the corpses, saying he did so because his comrade, Lance Cpl Miguel "T.J." Terrazas, had been ripped apart by the roadside bomb.


Reuters
Last Mod: 30 Ağustos 2007, 15:34
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