NOTE: After this piece was written, SSgt Wuterich’s trial was delayed once again to June 27, 2011. 

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.

“More 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.” 

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Vokey 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 non combatants 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.