by Nathaniel R. Helms |
Wednesday, January 11, 2012 | Day Five
Camp Pendleton, Calif. – Sgt. Sanick P.
Dela Cruz, a battle-rattled combat Marine who made a deal with the
government to avoid court martial for murder, testified Wednesday
morning that he saw Staff Sergeant Frank D. Wuterich shoot five
unarmed Iraqi men after a roadside bomb exploded in Haditha in
It is either the fourth or fifth version of his
observations since he failed a polygraph, and then elected to accept
immunity from prosecution, counting the two versions he presented at
During a lengthy examination by prosecutor LtCol
Sean Sullivan, Dela Cruz told the eight-member panel that the Iraq men
didn’t appear threatening after inexplicably appearing in a white car
next to the Marine’s four-vehicle convoy seconds before the last
Humvee in the column disappeared in a huge explosion. The hidden
roadside bomb killed driver LCpl. Miguel “T.J.” Terrazas and wounded
two Marines riding with him.
were standing there looking around, some with their hands in the air
and some behind their heads,” Dela Cruz said while demonstrating the
decedent’s movements. “One of the Iraqis in the middle dropped, sir.
Then they were falling back behind the car. I looked over at Sgt.
Wuterich – Sergeant Wuterich was kneeling in a firing position, sir. I
looked back at the Iraqis and I didn’t see [any] more of them. “
The Chicago native was granted immunity from
prosecution for five counts of murder to testify against Wuterich and
three of his squad mates in 2007. He was accused of shooting the same
men he now claims were already killed by Wuterich when he ripped a
burst of fire across their prostrate torsos and then urinated on the
empty skull of one of the dead men.
“The emotion took over,” he explained.
Plagued with a terrible memory, the inability to
articulate his thoughts, and a deer-in-the headlights demeanor, Dela
Cruz didn’t seem to reinforce Sullivan’s case.
It was further damaged when Dela Cruz withered
under the blazing cross-examination of defense counsel Haytham Faraj,
who roasted him like the proverbial marshmallow, the same way he was
skewered during a pre-trial inquiry in 2007. (Read
about Dela Cruz's Article 32 testimony here.)
Yesterday’s testimony revealed the squad of
Marines from 3rd Plt. Kilo Co., 3/1 Marines had been briefed the night
before to expect coordinated attacks from the burgeoning insurgency in
the notoriously dangerous Haditha, Haqlaniyah and Barwana Triad where
al Qaeda financed insurgents had virtually taken over much of the
In October 2005, the Marine Corps launched
Operation Rivergate to break insurgents' strangle hold on the region.
Insurgents had killed 55 Marines from an Ohio-based Marine reserve
battalion before the Thundering Third was sent to quell the uprising
during the regimental sized operation.
ambush of Route Chestnut was part of the insurgency’s attempt to
batter the Marines into a more defensive posture. Yesterday,
intelligence specialist SSgt Justin Laughner told the court his Human
Exploitation Team was sent to Haditha to help 3/1 ferret out the
insurgents that the Marines say had planted 22 IEDs on Haditha’s roads
in the weeks preceding the ambush.
Dela Cruz also reintroduced his claim that
Wuterich had told him to claim the Iraqis were running away and had
been killed by the Iraqi soldiers that were being transported in the
“Sgt. Wuterich approached me and told me if
anyone asked that they were running away and the Iraqi Army shot them
– those five individuals near the white car,” Dela Cruz said. Wuterich
fiercely denies the allegation, saying the conversation never
The relative calm of the courtroom was once again
broken Wednesday when Faraj and Sullivan argued over whether the word
“polygraph” could be uttered before the panel after Dela Cruz
volunteered he had failed a polygraph examination administered by the
Naval Criminal Investigative Service while being examined for the
murders of the five men.
Polygraph examinations are notoriously inaccurate
and inadmissible as evidence of criminal behavior in all U.S. Courts.
“After he was confronted with the polygraph only then did he say he
had lied,” Faraj told the judge.
“The government objects to mentioning the
polygraph at all,” Sullivan retorted.
“You can get your point across that the witness
is the biggest liar in the world without mentioning the polygraph,"
Jones admonished Faraj.
As soon as the trial resumed Faraj was back on
“When you were urinating in the skull, didn’t Sgt
Wuterich say ‘knock that off’?” Faraj inquired.
“You made a deal to save yourself?” Faraj
demanded to know late in his cross-examination.
“No sir,” Dela Cruz replied. ”I didn’t want to
testify, I was ordered to.”
Nathaniel R. Helms
Defend Our Marines
11 January 2012
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).