Charged Marine Sergeant Says Haditha Violence Was Justified

Thursday, March 15th 2007, 9:18 pm
By: News On 6

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. (AP) _ A Marine staff sergeant charged with unpremeditated murder in the killing of 24 Iraqi civilians in Haditha admitted firing at five unarmed Iraqi men, but said in an interview that it was justified.

Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich, 26, spoke publicly for the first time about the events of Nov. 19, 2005, in an interview with the CBS' ``60 Minutes,'' scheduled for broadcast Sunday night.

Wuterich said he was justified in firing at the men because he had identified them as military-age males in a car close to where a roadside bomb had just detonated, killing one of Wuterich's squad. He said they tried to run from the car, instead of obeying an order not to.

``Normally the Iraqis know the drill. If something happens, get down, hands up,'' Wuterich, of Meriden, Conn., told CBS. ``They started to take off, so I shot at them.''

The government investigation into the killings was leaked to The Washington Post. In January, the newspaper ran a story that said witnesses told investigators that the men did not run away and Wuterich shot them as they stood, unarmed, by the taxi about 10 feet in front of him.

CBS spokesman Kevin Tedesco said the interview was filmed in late October somewhere near Camp Pendleton, Wuterich's home base. Wuterich was charged in December with 13 counts of unpremeditated murder.

Three other squad members also were charged with unpremeditated murder and four officers were charged with failing to properly investigate or report the killings.

Tedesco said it is not unusual for a ``60 Minutes'' story to take months to report before it is broadcast.

Wuterich's attorney, Neal Puckett, did not comment on the CBS interview and declined an Associated Press request to speak to Wuterich.

Following the taxi shooting, Wuterich said, he was given permission from a superior officer to raid a house suspected to have a sniper inside. The Marines did this using grenades and gunfire, according the CBS News release.

Wuterich said he knew women and children were killed in that house, but he didn't stop the assault because he saw an open doorway leading toward a second house and believed the sniper had escaped through it. He said he had a responsibility to look out for his men.

Wuterich said he was sorry women and children died, but he believes he was acting according to how he'd been trained.

``There is nothing that I can possibly say to make up or make well the deaths of those women and children, and I am absolutely sorry it happened that day,'' Wuterich told CBS. ``What I did that day, the decision that I made, I would make those decisions again today. Those are decisions that I made in a combat situation and I believe I had to make those decisions.''