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Slain Marine's father agrees with
outcome of Haditha trial

El Paso Times, August 10, 2007

Slain Marine's father agrees with outcome of Haditha trial

El Paso Times, August 10, 2007.

News that charges have been dropped against two Marines accused in the deaths of 24 civilians in Iraq in 2005, was welcomed today by the father of the only Marine killed in the ambush that ignited the incident.

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 charges.

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 combat operations."

"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 -- innocent."

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 chrisr@elpasotimes.com; 546-6136.