Charges against Capt. Randy W. Stone, accused of failing to adequately
investigate and report on the deaths in Haditha, Iraq, and three
counts of unpremeditated murder against Lance Cpl. Justin Sharratt
were dropped, according to announcements from Camp Pendleton, Calif.,
where the military is conducting the legal proceedings.
"The bottom line is that
they are over there doing their jobs," said Martin Terrazas, father of
Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas, who was killed by a roadside bomb in
Haditha on Nov. 19, 2005. "I'm happy about the outcome right now. This
is great news."
The elder Terrazas said
he believes the Marines were doing their jobs that day in Haditha, in
particular defending the body of his son.
Lt. Gen. James Mattis,
responsible for the disposition of the cases, referred to "a shadowy
enemy who hides among innocent people does not comply with any aspect
of the law of war, and routinely targets and intentionally draws fire
toward civilians," in written statements on his reasons for dismissing
The ambush began when a
roadside bomb destroyed the Humvee driven by Miguel Terrazas who was
killed in the blast. Marines in the four-vehicle convoy then came
under sniper fire, according to official reports. Although there are
different accounts of exactly what happened as Marines returned fire
and cleared houses in the area, the ensuing fight resulted in the
deaths of 24 Iraqis -- many of them elderly, women and children.
The Marines have said
they believed they were pursuing and killing insurgents, but
prosecutors have alleged they were seeking revenge for their slain
comrade and didn't take proper precautions before engaging the enemy.
Mattis, in his comments,
praised Stone for volunteering to work "in his first assignment
serving as a Marine judge advocate (lawyer) under difficult
circumstances as a staff member of an infantry battalion engaged in
"I am aware of the line
that separates the merely remiss from the clearly criminal, and I do
not believe that any mistakes Capt. Stone made with respect to the
incident rise to the level of criminal behavior," Mattis said. "By
patrolling alongside the infantrymen in his Battalion, he helped them
embrace the imperative of ethical behavior in combat."
Mattis, however, also
included a warning for Stone and others operating in combat zones.
"Marines are expected to
withstand the extreme and fatiguing pressures inherent in
counterinsurgency operations, protecting the innocent, while
tirelessly fighting the enemy with relentless vigor," Mattis said. "I
have no doubt that he (Stone) now understands the absolute necessity
for objective inquiry into the combat actions of our Marines in such
an environment, especially when innocent lives are lost."
In regards to Sharratt,
Mattis said, "Where the enemy disregards any attempt to comply with
ethical norms of warfare, we exercise discipline and restraint to
protect the innocent caught on the battlefield. ... With the dismissal
of these charges (Lance Cpl.) Sharratt may fairly conclude that he did
his best to live up to the standards ... And as he has always remained
cloaked in the presumption of innocence, with this dismissal of
charges, he remains in the eyes of the law -- and in my eyes --
In April, Martin Terrazas
had a similar reaction when it was announced that five unpremeditated
murder charges filed against Sgt. Sanick P. Dela Cruz had been
dropped. He said he hopes similar charges against five other Marines
involved in the incident also will be dropped.
Although there was no
plea deal for Dela Cruz, a Camp Pendleton official said at the time
that the Marine was granted immunity and may be called to testify
against his comrades.
Dela Cruz made statements
against Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich, the squad's leader, to Naval
Criminal Investigative Service investigators.
According to a lengthy
NCIS report made public by the Washington Post, Dela Cruz told
investigators that Wuterich shot five Iraqis lined up outside the taxi
they were riding in, some with their hands above their heads. Other
reports said enemy fire was coming from the direction of the taxis and
that Wuterich, accused of murdering 18 people, told investigators he
considered the men a threat.
Dela Cruz also said,
according to the report, that Wuterich asked him to say the men were
trying to escape before they were shot, which Wuterich denies. Dela
Cruz allegedly told investigators that he fired rounds into the dead
bodies and later urinated on one of them.
Chris Roberts may be
reached at email@example.com; 546-6136.