The high-profile court-martial of Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich ended abruptly at Camp Pendleton yesterday. In a case that began with 9 counts of manslaughter charges, Wuterich accepted a plea deal to serve a maximum of three months' confinement.
Back in November 2005, Wuterich and troops under his command shot and killed 24 Iraqis in the village of Haditha – including several women and children. The Marines had just been attacked by an IED (improvised explosive device) that killed one Marine and severely injured two others.
Wuterich's defense team argued he responded using the accepted "rules of engagement." They argue Wuterich's squad was justified in its actions because the houses were declared “hostile”. A former platoon commander testified that from what was understood of the rules of combat at the time, that meant Marines did not need to positively identify their targets.
Prosecutors said Wuterich lost control after seeing his friend blown apart by the IED and led his men on a rampage. The Iraq war saw intense urban warfare. Soldiers were warned of complex attacks incorporating roadside bombs, snipers and human shields used by combatants.
What's your reaction to the plea deal? Should the prosecution or military have handled this case differently? How can troops react when the enemy is scattered among the innocent? Why did this case take so long to reach this conclusion? What is the reaction in Iraq?
Gary Solis, Retired Marine Corps Prosecutor and Judge at Camp Pendleton; Professor of Law at Georgetown University Law Center; former head of West Point’s law of war program
Jeffrey Addicott, Professor of Law, St. Mary's University (San Antonio, Texas); Former active duty Army officer in the Judge Advocate General's Corps for 20 years; Former Senior Legal Advisor to the United States Army's Special Forces.