Marine Corps Staff
Sergeant Frank Wuterich will soon get his day in the United States
Court of Appeals to present oral arguments regarding a lower court
decision compelling Congressman John Murtha to explain why he called
the decorated infantryman and his squad “cold blooded” murderers,
according to a court order.
Wuterich is scheduled to
appear on November 18 before a panel of judges who will decide whether
Murtha must make himself available for a deposition.
On Thursday morning, LCpl
Justin Sharratt, a member of Wuterich’s squad, sued Murtha in US
District Court in Pennsylvania for slander and violating
the veteran Marine's right to a fair trial
and due process . Sharratt is represented by Pittsburgh lawyer Noah
Geary. (See previous article at the
Wuterich, 28, is currently in legal limbo at
Camp Pendleton, California, waiting to face general court martial for
manslaughter, aggravated assault and related charges. His
court-martial is on hold while government prosecutors settle a side
dispute in the US Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces with the CBS
television network over video outtakes it wants and so far can’t
Before Murtha stopped condemning the Marines
in public during the summer of 2006, he variously said he learned of
the alleged murders from former Marine Corps Commandant General
William W. Hagee, during command debriefings, and/or Time
The Time magazine reports he cited
were written by Tim McGirk, who wrote for the March 19, 2006 issue
that a squad of Marines from Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st
Marines murdered 24 innocent Iraqi citizens in retaliation for a
On national television Murtha accused a
squad of Marines led by Wuterich of cold-blooded murder and war crimes
during the Haditha incident. Wuterich sued Murtha for libel and
invasion of privacy over his comments.
August 2, 2007 Washington, D.C.- based attorneys Neal Puckett and Mark
Zaid filed suit in US District Court on his behalf, arguing that
Murtha tarnished the Marine's reputation by claiming publicly he was
leading a squad of unbridled killers. Murtha told several television
news reporters that Wuterich’s unit went berserk after a roadside bomb
killed one of its members on November 19, 2005 and "killed innocent
civilians in cold blood." Murtha also said repeatedly that the
incident was covered up by Wuterich’s officers.
Zaid was unavailable for
comment Thursday, but will elaborate on the order Friday, he said.
On September 29, 2007 a
federal judge ordered Murtha (D-Pa.) to
testify in the defamation case. That order is being fought by
the Justice Department.
U.S. District Judge Rosemary M. Collyer told
Justice Department lawyers representing Murtha for free that she
wanted the powerful 18-term Pennsylvania Congressman to explain why he
made those statements and to provide the court any documents he has
related to the incident.
'You're writing a very wide road for members
of Congress to go to their home districts and say anything they choose
about private persons and be able to do so without any liability. Are
you sure you want to do that?'' Collyer said.
The Justice Department
appealed Collyer’s decision, arguing the case should be dismissed
because Murtha was acting in his official role as a lawmaker.
Assistant U.S. Attorney John F. Henault said the comments were made as
part of the debate over the war in Iraq.
On June 19, 2008, former 3/1 battalion
commander Lt. Col Jeffrey Chessani gave notice he is considering
whether to sue Murtha as well. Charges of dereliction of duty and
orders violations against Chessani were dismissed in June after the
presiding military judge ruled he was the victim of unlawful command
The Marine Corps is appealing that decision
In an interview with nationally syndicated
radio talk host Michael Savage, Brian Rooney, the lead attorney for
Chessani, said his client will look into suing Murtha and McGirk.
Rooney told the syndicated talk show host
McGirk was duped by an insurgent propaganda agent.
Two months later, on May 17, 2006, Murtha
told CNN he had learned of the alleged massacre from “the highest
levels of the Marine Corps” there was no firefight and Marines "killed
innocent civilians in cold blood."
"All the information I get, it comes from
the commanders, it comes from people who know what they're talking
about," Murtha told reporters at the time.
A Marine Corps spokesman quickly denied that
any Marine was party to Murtha’s characterization of events at
Nathaniel R. Helms
Defend Our Marines
25 September 2008
Note: Nat Helms is a Contributing Editor to Defend Our
Marines. He is a Vietnam veteran, former police officer, war
correspondent, and, most recently, author of
My Men Are My Heroes: The Brad Kasal Story (Meredith Books, 2007).