Marine accused of losing control of himself in war crime in Iraq

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Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich walks into court during opening statements in the Haditha murders trial at Camp Pendleton on January, 9, 2012 in Oceanside, California USA. Staff Sgt. Wuterich is being charged in the deaths of 24 Iraqis during a military operation in 2005. AFP PHOTO/Sandy Huffaker (Photo credit should read Sandy Huffaker/AFP/Getty Images)

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. – A Marine sergeant charged in the biggest criminal case against U.S. troops in the Iraq war made a series of fatal assumptions and lost control of himself when he and his squad killed 24 Iraqis, including unarmed women and children, a military prosecutor said Monday.

Maj. Nicholas Gannon made the accusations to a jury of battle-hardened Marines hearing the case against Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich more than six years after the squad committed the killings in the town of Haditha while clearing homes.

Prosecutors told the military jury that Wuterich shot indiscriminately without taking time to identify his targets after a roadside bomb exploded and killed a Marine.

Retired Army Col. Gregory Watt, who led the initial probe, testified that Wuterich said he had instructed his squad to shoot first and ask questions later.

Wuterich’s attorney Haytham Faraj, a retired Marine, said Wuterich’s battalion had been told that the city was becoming a hotbed of insurgents. The day of the killings, he said, Haditha was “abuzz with activity” with troops making more than 20 arrests and engaging in gunfire.

Wuterich’s squad moved to clear homes with grenades and gunfire as they were coming under small arms fire after the roadside bomb exploded. He said they believed insurgents were inside the homes.

“We don’t believe there was a crime committed here,” Faraj said. “It was the unfortunate result of an attempt to do the right thing, but it turned out to be tragic.”

Wuterich is charged with voluntary manslaughter in nine of the deaths and with other crimes. He has said he regretted the loss of civilian lives but believed he was operating within military combat rules. AP

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