SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, the accused leader in the 2005 killings of 24 Iraqi civilians in Haditha, will face voluntary manslaughter charges but not more serious murder charges, the U.S. Marines said on Monday. (h/t AP)
The initial reactions to this will likely be outrage that he is a fall guy. I disagree and I think that the charges may be the proper answer. I am not speaking from a legal perspective, I am talking about what would be best for justice and the Marine Corps. My most comprehensive look at this incident is here.
The charges against all the junior enlisted men involved in the incident have all been dropped and rightfully so. They were shown to be lawfully following the orders of their squad leader SSGT Wuterich. The question now is did SSGT Wuterich lawfully make those orders and were his actions appropriate. Two of the most questionable killings happened when he opened fire and another Marine close to him joined in assuming, as they are trained, that his opening fire designated a valid target.
There were several junctures where the senior man had an obligation to evaluate the situation and determine what actual threats they faced. There is no evidence that they took any fire at all after they entered the first building. The charges reflect the possibility that SSGT Wuterich was either temporarily or inherently incapable of making good decisions under the incredible stress of combat, remember this was his first live action. If his actions and decisions were within the regulations covering this it was just barely, D- level.
I don't know SSGT Wuterich and I bear him no ill will; actually I hope he is acquitted of the charges and think he will be. But the Marines are right to hold the combat leader to a higher level than those acting based on his judgments. The main questions to be asked in the trial all revolve around what SSGT Wuterich perceived the threat in each instance to be. There doesn't actually have to be a threat if he honestly and reasonably believes there is one. I think that is why he will be acquitted by a jury of his peers, because every one of those Marines wants the benefit of the doubt in that situation. If he is convicted it will be because those Marines believe he is lying, if they believe he saw threats he will walk.
You can contrast this with my thoughts when MSG Anderson was tried for Murder for a shooting in Afghanistan and that is fair. First of all I know MSG Anderson personally and he qualifies as a good MoFo, which many of you understand is the highest praise. All the facts in this case pointed to a 100% righteous shoot and there was little question what had happened and why. I heard the story direct from MSG Anderson and his version tracked perfectly with all the facts I had learned independently. There have been many and important questions about what happened and why in Haditha. The evidence and testimony thus far has rightfully exonerated the junior enlisted folks. A Squad Leader is held to a higher standard and we will now see if SSGT Wuterich's peers believe he committed any crimes.
Both MSG Anderson's case and this one illustrate what a fine line our combat troops are forced to walk. I hope the result in both cases reinforces the idea that anyone operating in good faith and eliminating perceived threats deserves deference since they and their troops were the ones who would be dead if they didn't shoot when they should have.I have also just learned that LTG Kearney who brought charges against both MSG Anderson and a Marine Spec Ops Company is being investigated regarding that.