SAN DIEGO — The last defendant in the biggest and lengthiest criminal case against U.S. troops to arise from the Iraq War goes on trial this week, more than six years after his squad killed 24 Iraqis, including unarmed women and children.
The killings in Haditha on Nov. 19, 2005, further tainted America's reputation after the release of photos of prisoner abuse by U.S. soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison.
The case continues to fuel anger in Iraq because not one of the eight Marines initially charged has been convicted — a main reason behind the country's demands that U.S. troops be subject to its laws if its forces remained there after the war ended in December. Those demands turned out to be the deal-breaker that led to the withdrawal of all American forces.
Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, from Meriden, Conn., was the leader of the Marine squad that cleared several homes by tossing in grenades and then peppering them with gunfire shortly after a roadside bomb hit a Marine convoy. One Marine was killed, and two others were wounded.
His lawyer, Neal Puckett, said Wuterich, 31, is confident the all-military jury will acquit him.
Wuterich has said he regretted the loss of civilian lives but believed he was operating within military combat rules when he ordered his men to attack after the roadside bomb exploded. Marines in the unit have said they were under gunfire at the time.
Jury selection will take place today, and opening arguments are scheduled for Friday before the military jury at Camp Pendleton, north of San Diego.