After this piece was written, SSgt Wuterich's trial was delayed once
again to June 27, 2011.
by Nathaniel R. Helms |
January 17, 2011
The General Court
Martial of Marine Corps Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich has been
postponed again. He is the last Marine facing criminal charges for
the alleged “Haditha Massacre” more than five years ago. The new date
for trial is April 11, 2011.
At the time of this
writing the Marine Corps has not commented. Neal Puckett, Wuterich’s
lead defense attorney, said the delay is linked to appellate
proceedings that have been chugging along for several years.
appellate activity," Puckett wrote in an e-mail Monday morning. "Back
in September, we alleged that Lt. Col. [Colby] Vokey's severance from
the case at his retirement in 2008 was without good cause and that the
case should not proceed without some remedy. The military judge denied
our motion and NMCCA [Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals]
denied our extraordinary writ for relief from the MJ's denial. CAAF
[US Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces] has decided to review the
denial of our writ petition by NMCCA on the 'Hutchins' issue.”
was Wuterich’s Marine Corps appointed defense attorney until the
Marine Corps insisted he leave the service at the end of his tour of
duty. Puckett filed a motion in part claiming Vokey’s involuntarily
and premature dismissal prejudiced his client’s case because Vokey was
essential for providing Wuterich a sound defense. The Marine Corps
says all lawyers are equal and interchangeable except for the
prosecutors essential to throwing Wuterich under a bus.
Two legal observers said
don’t make book on the new date. They claim both sides are looking for
a face saving way out. Puckett won’t comment on speculation.
The only Marine left
standing to face the music doesn’t have much say in the matter at all.
The highly trained and demonstrably skilled small unit combat expert
reportedly remains busy doing important paperwork at Camp Pendleton,
California while his fate is being decided.
For readers who weren’t
born yet, or no longer remember the particulars of the so-called
“Haditha Massacre” due to the passing of time, Wuterich stands accused
of fomenting a murderous incident on November 19, 2005 in Haditha,
Iraq after Iraqi insurgents ambushed the 12-man infantry squad
Wuterich was leading and it counter-attacked. Twenty four Iraqi
insurgents and noncombatants died as a result. One Marine was killed
and 11 more were wounded in the brutal day-long exchange. Seven other
defendants, including both his company and battalion commanders, have
been exonerated. The why has been fiercely debated ever since.
The 30-year old infantry
squad leader grew up in Meriden, Connecticut and graduated from
Orville H. Platt High School in 1998. He was an honor student, jazz
trumpet player, and drama club president. Wuterich joined the Marine
Corps to play in its famous band. It didn’t work out that way. He got
the infantry instead. After years of teaching others how to fight he
was sent to Iraq in 2005 to find out for himself. In his first and
only fire fight he got pinned down in a cross fire that hasn’t let up
yet. It may be the longest continual small unit action in the history
of the world.
Since the fateful day in
November 2005 many things have changed. Perhaps the biggest is the war
in Iraq is ostensibly over. We reportedly won. The people who started
it, directed it, and caused Wuterich to be tried for allegedly killing
and wounding innocents while America was winning have all departed.
Gen. James N. Mattis, the Marine general who ordered Wuterich
prosecuted, now commands the Central Command charged with fighting the
war in Afghanistan.
Others have died.
Arguably the most famous is John Murtha, the powerful Pennsylvania
Congressman who accused Wuterich of cold blooded murder. He passed
away under a cloud for allegedly parlaying his office into a welfare
center for needy rich people. Most of the Marines who were involved
have been discharged, retired, promoted, or simply gratefully
disappeared into the fabric of life except for the legal officers who
have turned prosecuting Wuterich into a career. Taxpayers will be
paying their salaries forever.
Even the Iraqi victims
have lost their ardor for bloodlust. A few years ago the Iraqis who so
soundly condemned Wuterich in 2005 said it was all a big
misunderstanding. Sort of like the war. Haditha is now basking in the
glow of oil fueled recovery. It may not be like the good old days when
a vicious despot controlled their world, but most of the time nobody
is trying to kill them.
Meanwhile SSgt Wuterich
waits for justice. It is a long time coming.
Nathaniel R. Helms
Defend Our Marines
17 January 2011
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).