Experienced Iraq war veterans will decide the fate of Marine Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich, who is charged with voluntary manslaughter and related charges in the massacre of two dozen civilians in the Iraqi village of Haditha in November 2005.
The pool of potential jurors being questioned today at Camp Pendleton, California include a colonel, two lieutenant colonels, a major, a captain and six enlisted men. All served at least one combat tour in Iraq and nearly all participated in so-called house clearing operations like the one that resulted in the massacre. The dead included an elderly man in a wheelchair and women and children.
Wuterich, 31 and the father of three girls, has pleaded not guilty and said he believes the trial will end with him being exonerated despite incriminating statements that he made to investigators and on “60 Minutes.” The case is just now reaching court because of pretrial rulings and multiple appeals filed by prosecutors and defense attorneys.
Eight Marines were eventually charged with crimes. Seven have since been exonerated, leaving Wuterich as the sole defendant in the largest war-crimes case arising out of the war.
The massacre occurred on November 19, 2005 when Marines from 3/1 Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines opened fire on the civilians not because they had been fired on but in retribution for the improvised explosive device attack on a Marine convoy by insurgents that killed Lance Corporal Miguel Terrazas and wounded two others, one severely when he was thrown from a Humvee and trapped under a rear tire.
The trial of Saddam Hussein had just gotten underway in Baghdad and the Al Qaeda insurgency led by Sunnis disenfranchised by Nouri al-Maliki’s Shiite government in Baghdad was becoming more powerful and was killing and maiming GIs throughout Anbar. These attacks were among the first stirrings of a civil war provoked by the U.S. occupation that was to fully erupt the following February when the Shiite Golden Mosque in Samarra was destroyed in a Sunni bomb attack.
Some 871 Americans were to die before 2005 was over, the third highest yearly death toll of the war.