Charges Filed Against Eight Marines in Haditha Case

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CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. (AP) — Eight Marines were charged Thursday in the killings of 24 Iraqi civilians last year during a

bloody, door-to-door sweep in the town of Haditha that came after one of their comrades was killed by a roadside bomb.

In the biggest U.S. criminal case involving civilian deaths to come out of the Iraq war, four of the Marines — all enlisted men — were charged with unpremeditated murder.

The other four were officers who were not there during the killings but were accused of failures in investigating and reporting the deaths.

The most serious charges were brought against Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, a 26-year-old squad leader accused of murdering 12 civilians and ordering the murders of six more inside a house cleared by his squad. He was accused of telling his men to "shoot first and ask questions later," according to court papers released by his attorney.

The highest-ranking defendant was Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani, 42. He was accused of failing to obey an order or regulation,

encompassing dereliction of duty.

At a news conference to announce the charges, military officials would not say what they believe prompted the killings. But

investigators have raised the possibility that the men went on a rampage in a fury over the roadside bombing that killed Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas of El Paso, Texas, and wounded two other Marines.

Defense attorneys have disputed that, saying their clients were doing what they had been trained to do: responding to a perceived threat with legitimate force.

Terrazas' father denounced the charges, saying his son was murdered by insurgents. "What they are doing to our troops ...

it's just wrong," Martin Terrazas said in Texas. "I feel for their families. They are in my prayers."

Wuterich and two comrades charged with murder could get life in prison. The military is not seeking the death penalty. The other men face shorter prison sentences.

The Marine Corps initially reported that 15 Iraqis died in a roadside bomb blast and that Marines killed eight insurgents in an ensuing firefight. That account was widely discredited, and later reports put the number of dead Iraqis at 24.

A criminal probe was launched after Time magazine reported in March, citing survivor accounts and human rights groups, that innocent people were killed.

Lt. Gen. James Mattis, commanding general of the Marine Corps Central Command, said Thursday that the Corps' initial news

release, which stated that the civilians in Haditha had been killed by an improvised explosive device, was incorrect.

"We now know with certainty that the press release was incorrect, and that none of the civilians were killed by the IED

explosion," Mattis said.

As word spread that charges were imminent, some Iraqis said Thursday that American troops should face justice in Iraq.

"They committed a horrible crime against innocents," Naji al-Ani, a 36-year-old laborer, said by telephone from Haditha.

Other residents of Haditha agreed.

"Are they terrorists or are they fighting terrorism?" said Jamal al-Obaidi, a 40-year-old teacher. "The trial is not fair

because it is taking place in America. Executing them is the minimum penalty."

Besides Wuterich, Sgt. Sanick P. Dela Cruz, 24, was accused of the unpremeditated murders of five people and making a false statement. Lance Cpl. Justin Sharratt, 22, of Carbondale, Pa., was charged with the unpremeditated murder of three Iraqis. Lance Cpl. Stephen Tatum, 25, of Edmond, Okla., was accused of the unpremeditated murders of two Iraqis, negligent homicide of four Iraqis and assault.

The other officers charged were 1st Lt. Andrew Grayson, 25, Capt. Lucas McConnell, 31, and Capt. Randy Stone, 34, a military attorney.

The men are not being locked up for now because they are unlikely to flee and are not a danger to themselves or others, said Col. Stewart Navarre, a Corps spokesman.

In Meriden, Conn., Frank Wuterich's father, Dave, said his son was out Christmas shopping. The father said family members believe his son's version of events.

"He says they followed the rules of engagement," Dave Wuterich said. "They were taking small arms fire. They did what they had to do."

Timeline: Investigating Haditha

Full Coverage

Haditha first gained widespread notice in the U.S. media after a roadside bomb there killed 14 U.S. Marines in August 2005. But the town is under the spotlight again after U.S. Marines allegedly killed as many as 24 unarmed civilians in a November 2005 attack. Four Marines have been charged with murder and four others were charged with dereliction of duty.

Meanwhile, other incidents involving alleged atrocities committed by U.S. forces in other Iraqi cities have also come to light.

Aug. 8, 2005: A roadside bomb kills 14 U.S. Marines in Haditha, a Sunni stronghold 140 miles northwest of Baghdad. It is the site of intense insurgent activity.

Nov. 19, 2005: A Marine and Iraqi civilians are killed in Haditha.

Nov. 20, 2005: The Marines release a preliminary report claiming that an improvised explosive device killed 15 Iraqis and one Marine in Haditha on Nov. 19. (Subsequently, the number of Iraqi civilian casualties is revised to 24, including 11 women and children.)

Nov. 22, 2005: The Department of Defense formally announces the death of Marine Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas, 20, of El Paso, Texas, in Haditha on Nov. 19.

Feb. 10, 2006: A Time magazine reporter contacts military sources in Baghdad about the circumstances of the Haditha incident.

Feb. 14, 2006: Army Lt. Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, commander of multinational forces in Iraq, appoints Army Col. Gregory Watt to head a preliminary investigation into the Haditha deaths.

March 3, 2006: Col. Watt completes preliminary report, which recommends further investigation.

March 9, 2006: Lt. Gen. Chiarelli receives the findings of Col. Watt's preliminary report and directs further review.

March 10, 2006: Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, learn of the Haditha investigation.

March 12, 2006: The top Marine commander in Western Iraq, Richard Zilmer, determines there is enough evidence from Watt's preliminary report to mount a full criminal investigation into the Haditha incident and requests the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) to proceed with such a probe.

March 13, 2006: The initial NCIS team arrives in Haditha.

March 15, 2006: In a second incident in which Iraqis claim that U.S. forces intentionally killed civilians and that eventually will attract the scrutiny of Pentagon investigators, U.S. forces attack a site at Ishaqi, a village north of Baghdad, looking for a suspected terrorist and a bomb-maker. Under heavy fire, U.S. forces bring in attack helicopters and warplanes and later find the bodies of the bomb-maker and three civilians. An official military report says that as many as nine civilians could be dead, though it's hard to say because the walls have collapsed. Iraqi civilians claim the Americans shot the civilians, then destroyed to building to hide evidence. The military denies that troops targeted civilians.

On June 2, a military investigation into allegations that U.S. troops intentionally killed Iraqi civilians in the Ishaqi raid clears the troops of misconduct, despite dramatic video footage of slain children. The probe found that the escalation of force was justified under the circumstances (the troops were taking heavy fire) and that allegations the military intentionally killed family is not warranted.

March 16, 2006: The existence of a criminal investigation into the deaths in Haditha is reported in the media.

March 17, 2006: At a press conference, Lt. Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli summarizes the events at Haditha and the preliminary investigation into Marine involvement in the deaths. He says, "We take these allegations of potential misconduct seriously, and they will be thoroughly investigated."

March 19, 2006: After receiving final recommendations from Col. Watt, Lt. Gen. Chiarelli appoints Army Maj. Gen. Eldon Bargewell to investigate two major aspects of what happened in Haditha: training and preparation of Marines prior to the engagement and the reporting of the incident at all levels of the chain of command.

Time magazine publishes report on the civilian deaths in Haditha — the first to piece together an entire story, from the Iraqi allegations of a massacre to questions regarding reporting up the Marine chain of command.

April 26, 2006: In a third incident in which Iraqis claim that U.S. military personnel intentionally targeted civilians, seven Marines and a Navy medic patrol Hamdania, a city west of Baghdad, for a suspected insurgent. They do not find the man they are looking for. They are accused of then entering a nearby house, removing an Iraqi man, and shooting him. They allegedly leave a shovel and an AK-47 assault rifle to make it look as if the man was an insurgent.

May 9, 2006: In still another incident in which Iraqis claim that U.S. military personnel intentionally targeted civilians, U.S. soldiers shoot and kill three Iraqi prisoners near the volatile town of Balad, north of Baghdad. The soldiers first report that the three were running away when shot.

May 17, 2006: In a press conference, U.S. Rep. John Murtha (D-PA), a former Marine, speaks about the Nov. 19 incident in Haditha, saying that "(our troops) ... killed innocent civilians in cold blood."

May 25, 2006: The Marines' top officer, Gen. Michael W. Hagee, flies to Iraq to speak with troops to reinforce the need for Marines to adhere to the Corps' values and standards of behavior and to avoid the use of excess force amid allegations of Marine misconduct at Haditha and Hamdania.

May 28, 2006: Sen. John Warner (R-VA), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, says the panel will hold hearings on the Haditha incident.

Rep. Murtha (D-PA) appears on ABC's This Week and discloses that U.S. Marines made condolence payments to the families of Iraqis killed in Haditha — at a time when the Marines' official explanation for the deaths was a roadside bomb. (These payments are usually made for accidental deaths during fighting.) Murtha calls Haditha "worse than Abu Ghraib."

May 30, 2006: In his first statement on the case, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki says in a television interview that the killings of civilians in Haditha were not justified and expressed remorse over the deaths.

May 31, 2006: President Bush makes his first public comments about the deaths in Haditha, promising that "If in fact, laws were broken, there will be punishment."

June 6, 2006: Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Warner says his panel won't investigate alleged U.S. Marine atrocities at Haditha until the Pentagon completes its own investigation. But he renews his vow to hold open hearings on the incident.

June 16, 2006: The report by Maj. Gen. Bargewell into training and preparation of Marines prior to the Haditha incident and the reporting of information concerning the incident is forwarded to Lt. Gen. Chiarelli, the top U.S. commander in Iraq. The report finds no evidence of a cover-up, but instead finds that officers failed to ask the right questions or press the Marines about what happened.

August: Lt. Gen. James Mattis, the incoming commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Pendleton, Calif., is briefed on the Haditha investigative report by officials from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. Mattis will convene with his lawyers to determine whether charges should be filed.

Aug. 2, 2006: Military investigators find that there is evidence supporting allegations that U.S. Marines deliberately shot unarmed civilians in the Iraqi town of Haditha last November, according to unnamed Pentagon sources. Military prosecutors are still weighing whether to recommend criminal charges.

Dec. 21, 2006: The Marines file charges of unpremeditated murder against Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, Sgt. Sanick Dela Cruz, Lance Cpl. Justin Sharratt and Lance Cpl. Stephen B. Tatum. Charges of dereliction of duty charges for failing to investigate are filed against Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani, Capt. Lucas McConnell, Capt. Randy Stone and 1st Lt. Andrew A Grayson. Grayson also faces charges of making a false official statement and of obstruction of justice.

April 2, 2007: Charges are dismissed against Marine Sgt. Sanick Dela Cruz. He is granted testimonial immunity.

May 8, 2007: The military's equivalent of a grand jury proceeding, known as an Article 32 hearing, begins at Camp Pendleton, Calif., for Capt. Randy Stone, a military attorney. He is one of four Marine officers charged with failing to properly investigate the Haditha killings.

May 30, 2007: Marine Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani faces a military hearing on charges that he failed to report the Haditha killings. He is the highest-ranking Marine swept up in the probe so far.

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