NPR logo

Marines Charged with Murder in Haditha Killings

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/6663367/6663368" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Marines Charged with Murder in Haditha Killings

U.S.

Marines Charged with Murder in Haditha Killings

Marines Charged with Murder in Haditha Killings

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/6663367/6663368" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Four Marines are being accused of murder in the deaths of 24 Iraqi civilians in Haditha last year. And four Marine officers are being charged with dereliction of duty for failing to report or properly investigate the killings.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. On the edge of a holiday weekend, I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

When the criminal charges arrived, here's what they said: four American Marines are accused of murders. Four more face charges that they failed to expose the murders. All this relates to an episode that as prosecutors tell it could be one of the darkest moments for the United States in Iraq. The Marines are accused of killing nearly two dozen civilians in the town of Haditha last year. It happened after one of their squad-mates was blown up by a roadside bomb.

NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY: Haditha was known as a hotbed of insurgent activity, so members of the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment's Kilo Company were on their guard as they moved through the town in a convoy, early on the morning of November 19th, 2005. That's when Colonel Stewart Navarre says one of the Humvees was blown up by a roadside bomb or IED.

Colonel STEWART NAVARRE (United States Marine Corps): One Marine was killed and two were wounded by the explosion. Over the next several hours, 24 Iraqi men, women, and children died in the vicinity of the IED explosion.

HORSLEY: The Marine's original account, delivered in a press release the following day, said most of the Iraqi civilians had been killed by the roadside bomb itself, while others died in a firefight that followed. Col. Navarre told a different story yesterday, during a news conference at the Camp Pendleton Marine Base in San Diego.

Col. NAVARRE: We now know with certainty the press release was incorrect, and that none of the civilians were killed by the IED explosion.

HORSLEY: Instead, authorities now say many of the civilians were murdered by Marines. Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich, who led the squad, is charged with personally shooting 12 Iraqis and ordering the killing of six others. He allegedly told his men to shoot first and ask questions later. Three other Marines in the squad have also been charged with murder. If they're found guilty, Navarre says, they could face life in prison.

Col. NAVARRE: The Marine Corps is a close-knit brotherhood, so it is difficult for any Marine to countenance the fact that other Marines might have done something wrong.

HORSLEY: Attorney Neil Puckett, who represents Wuterich, insists the staff sergeant did not do anything wrong. He denies Wuterich filed a false report or encouraged his squad-mate to do so, as authorities have charged. And, Puckett says, while there's no question Iraqi civilians were killed that day, he says they were simply caught in a crossfire as Wuterich and other Marines battled insurgents.

Mr. NEIL PUCKETT (Attorney for Accused Marine): Iraq has been, for a long time, a very, very dangerous environment that puts people on a hair trigger as far as protecting themselves. Everything he did that day was in an effort to protect his Marines from any further harm after the IED went off.

HORSLEY: Authorities say Wuterich and his squad mates went beyond defending themselves, and that Wuterich showed wanton disregard for human life. Theresa Sharratt, whose son Justin is also charged, accuses the Marine Corps of abandoning her son.

Mr. THERESA SHARRATT (Parent of Accused Marine): Justin has given everything to his country, and has done nothing to disgrace it. To the Marine Corps, I simply say, shame on you.

HORSLEY: In addition to the enlisted Marines, authorities have filed dereliction of duty charges against four officers, including the former battalion and company commanders. They are accused of failing to adequately investigate the Haditha killings, even though it was quickly apparent that a roadside bomb was not the whole story. Only an inquiry by Time magazine forced the Marine Corps to take a closer look at the incident. Navarre says while criminal investigators probe the actual killings in Haditha, Major General Eldon Bargewell examined how they were handled by the chain of command.

Col. NAVARRE: The Bargewell investigation found that the Marines were adequately trained, but the reporting of the incident up the chain of command was inaccurate and untimely.

HORSLEY: The charges against the officers in this case carry lighter possible sentences, ranging from six months to five years, but the crackdown on officers is still the widest of the Iraq war. Some, like the group Human Rights Watch, would like to see even tougher sanctions, arguing that officers set the tone for how the war is fought. All of those charged in the Haditha case remain free while the military decides whether a general court martial is warranted.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, San Diego.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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.