June 10, 2006

Marine says rules followed at Haditha: Report

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A sergeant who led a squad of U.S.
Marines accused of killing 24 Iraqi civilians at Haditha told
his lawyer the unit did not intentionally target civilians,
followed rules of engagement and did not try to cover up the
incident, The Washington Post reported on Sunday.

The newspaper said Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, 26, told his
lawyer several civilians were killed in the November incident,
when the squad went after insurgents firing on them from a
house. But Wuterich said there was no vengeful massacre and
described a house-to-house hunt that went awry in a chaotic
battlefield, his lawyer said.

"It will forever be his position that everything they did
that day was following their rules of engagement and to protect
the lives of Marines," said Neal Puckett, who represents
Wuterich in the ongoing investigation of the incident.

"He's really upset that people believe that he and his
Marines are even capable of intentionally killing innocent
civilians," he said.

The Post said Wuterich's account was the first public
version of what happened in Haditha from a Marine who was on
the ground when the shooting occurred.

A criminal investigation is under way into whether some
Marines deliberately killed civilians. Separate investigations
are looking into whether there was a cover up and whether
commanders were negligent in probing the deaths.

As leader of 1st Squad, 3rd Platoon, Kilo Company, 3rd
Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, Wuterich was in a platoon of
Humvees hit by a roadside bomb. He entered a house where
Marines thought fire was originating and made the initial radio
reports to company headquarters on the incident, Puckett said.

Wuterich told his lawyer the shootings were the result of a
sweep for enemies in a firefight, the Post reported. He was a
member of a four-man team of Marines who entered the house,
kicked in the door to a room and tossed a fragmentation grenade
inside. One Marine fired clearing shots into the room, killing
several people, Wuterich told his lawyer.

They found men, women and children, most likely civilians,
inside, but believed the insurgents had escaped to another
house. They went to that house and used a grenade and gunfire
to clear another room, killing more people, the Post account

Wuterich called for a stop and went back to the platoon
leader to reassess the situation. Puckett said his client knew
a number of civilians had been killed and never tried to
obscure the fact, immediately reporting 12 to 15 civilians had
been killed.