SSgt. Frank D. Wuterich
Article 32 Summary

Key testimony and arguments

LCpl Humberto Manuel Mendoza

Uncharged member of Kilo Company, took part in action in Haditha. Mendoza is not a United States citizen and would have been deported if convicted of a crime. He took immunity on December 18, 2006 in exchange for helping the prosecution build a case.

  • Testified that he did not see SSgt. Wuterich shoot anyone in Haditha.

  • Did not see shots coming from the two houses the Marines were ordered to clear. Was told that Iraqis found inside the houses, including unarmed men, women and children, were to be shot because their homes were ‘hostile.’ Said he refused to shoot women and children he found in a room. They were killed later, he recalled, but he did not see how they died.

  • Testified, Wuterich told him to shoot the Iraqi who answered the door. “Just wait until he opens the door and shoot,” Mendoza recalls Wuterich saying. Mendoza said he killed the man with six to seven shots.

  • Mendoza said his own shootings were within combat rules because the occupants of the homes had been declared hostile.
  • “I think he’s a great Marine, sir,” Mendoza said after military defense attorney Maj. Haytham Faraj asked what he thought of Wuterich.

According to the Hartford Courant[story no longer at original url.]

When the scene of the bombing took some small-arms fire, some of the Marines believed it came from houses to the south, so they headed that way in a small group, leaving a smoking vehicle and the bloodstains of friends behind them. According to Mendoza, they didn’t talk about what they were going to do.
“There was just a big mob running to the first house,” he said.
Mendoza said he hadn’t seen gunfire from the house, but the Marines went in shooting, according to his description. Cpl. Hector Salinas fired the first shots, which Mendoza said dropped an old woman in the entry hallway of the home. The Marines rushed in to clear the rest of the house. In the room Mendoza rushed into, there was an adult male Iraqi. Mendoza said he went back out to higher-ranked Salinas, and this is how he describes the ensuing conversation:
Mendoza: “There is an Iraqi in the next room.”
Salinas: “Well, he’s the enemy.”
Mendoza: “Do I request permission to shoot?”
Salinas: “Yes.”
Mendoza went back to the room. Though Mendoza said he didn’t intend to shoot the unarmed man, he said the man seemed to move to get something from a closet. “I started shooting around six rounds until he went down.”
Mendoza would explain that his training taught that when a house is hostile – that is, somebody is shooting from there – everybody inside is considered an enemy.
In the first house, Mendoza didn’t describe any specific wrongdoing by Wuterich. It was at the door of the second house that Mendoza mentioned something that could cast a shadow on his former squad leader. Before they knocked on the door, Mendoza said, Wuterich told the Marines to shoot whoever answered.
He testified that Wuterich said: “Just wait until he opens the door and shoot.” So Mendoza killed his second Iraqi.

[Sources: San Diego Union Tribune, Associated Press

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Capt. Kathryn Navin

A Marine lawyer who testified that she instructed Wuterich’s company on rules of engagement in August 2005.

  • Taught Marines to have “knowledge to a reasonable certainty that the target you are engaging is a lawful military target,” though she conceded there were occasions when positive identification of every individual in a military strike is not needed.

[Source: Associated Press


Sgt. Sanick P. Dela Cruz

Uncharged member of Kilo Company, took part in action in Haditha.

  • Insisted that after giving at least two false statements to investigators — and contesting portions of others — he was finally telling the truth.

  • Said SSgt. Wuterich shot five Iraqi men who appeared to be unarmed bystanders at the scene just seconds after the roadside bomb exploded. He added that the squad leader later told him to falsely assert that the men were running away, behavior that would have justified firing on them under the Marines’ operative rules of engagement.

  • Recounted a conversation that he said occurred a week before the shootings, after word arrived that a comrade had been wounded in a similar bombing. “For whatever reason, Staff Sgt. Wuterich said, ‘If we ever get hit again, we should kill everybody in that vicinity . . . so to teach them a lesson,’ sir,” the witness said.

According to the Washington Post

A Marine testifying under immunity Friday said he saw Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich shoot five unarmed Iraqi men moments after a roadside bomb exploded in Haditha in November 2005, a week after Wuterich said that if such an attack occurred, “we should kill everybody in that vicinity.”
The damaging new testimony by Sgt. Sanick P. Dela Cruz was diluted by withering defense attacks on his credibility. At one point in a contentious four-hour review of his earlier, often contradictory accounts, the quest for truth grew so convoluted, the witness implored to be disbelieved: “I did lie about that, sir,” Dela Cruz said….
The damaging content of Dela Cruz’s testimony was tempered by his demeanor: He appeared wooden on the stand and often took long moments to produce answers to apparently simple questions.
At other times, he appeared contentious. Dela Cruz readily admitted to urinating onto the broken head of one Iraqi man lying dead in the road. But he disputed another Marine’s allegation that while removing bodies from one of the nearby houses where more than a dozen Iraqis were killed, he kicked a dead man’s head and said, “I killed that [expletive].”
“If I had the guts to tell I urinated and confessed about it, why would I deny this?” Dela Cruz said. “Pissing is worse than kicking.”
“Oh, is it?” Lt. Col. Colby Vokey, a defense attorney, asked loudly.
The witness drew back. “They’re both worse, sir.”
Dela Cruz also admitted to abusing prisoners in Iraq, saying he kicked detainees in a way that was unlikely to leave bruises. And at Haditha, he said, he fired perhaps eight rounds into the men he said Wuterich killed. In reasoning that clearly puzzled the investigating officer, Dela Cruz said he joined Wuterich in a cover story out of fear that those shots would get him jailed.
“Was it your understanding that if you shot a dead body you could be charged with murder?” asked Lt. Col. Paul Ware, who will recommend whether Wuterich should face court-martial.
“Yes, sir,” Dela Cruz said.
“Why?” Ware asked, then quickly shook his head. “Never mind.”
Wuterich’s attorney suggested that Dela Cruz was concerned because he had in fact fired on the men as they stood beside the road, several with their hands in the air. “Shooting dead bodies is not murder,” Vokey said. “Or maybe you were the first to shoot at them?”
“No, sir,” Dela Cruz said.

According to the San Diego Union Tribune

“They are not running, sir. They are just being nosy. . . . They just looked like ordinary Iraqis to me,” Dela Cruz told the prosecutor, Lt. Col. Sean Sullivan.
He next recalled hearing “pop, pop, pop.”
“The men stood there for a split second, then one of them dropped,” Dela Cruz testified. “I looked to my left and saw Staff Sgt. Wuterich on his knee shooting.”
He said Wuterich then checked on the bodies, shooting them again at close range to make sure none was still alive.
Dela Cruz also testified that after the shootings, Wuterich said that “if anybody asked about the five guys by the white car, (say) that they were running away and the Iraqi army shot them.”
During cross-examination by Lt. Col. Colby Vokey, Dela Cruz acknowledged that he lied repeatedly to investigators until the government granted him immunity in March in exchange for his testimony. He also admitted hitting and kicking detainees and urinating on the head of an Iraqi whom Wuterich is accused of killing.

[Sources: San Diego Union Tribune, Washington Post


SSgt. Justin Laughner

HET asset with 2nd CI HUMINT Co. The staff sergeant was one of two HET assets assigned to Kilo Co. on November 19, 2005. 

  • Testified that SSgt. Wuterich had told him the men had run from the car when they were shot. SSgt. Laughner also said squad members had been worried that the car could have been carrying a bomb.
[Source: New York Times


Naval Criminal Investigative Service Special Agent Tom Brady

Examined houses one and two in Haditha as part of a process team that arrived on March 26, 2006.

  • Testified he couldn’t tell if five Iraqi civilians killed nearly two years ago in the city of Haditha were running away when they were shot, as SSgt. Wuterich contends. Said his reconstruction of the scene outside a car where the five men were slain was inconclusive on that point.

  • Said his work clearly showed that two people shot the men.

[Source: North County Times


Staff Sgt. Travis Fields

Kilo Co. platoon sergeant

According to the North County Times

Wuterich was described as a respected squad leader whose dealings with Iraqi civilians prior to the Nov. 19 incident were seen as positive.
“He was the least aggressive,” said Staff Sgt. Travis Fields, a member of the Kilo Company platoon from Camp Pendleton’s 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment involved in the Haditha killings. “He was the calmest in the squad in interacting with Iraqis.”
Fields also testified that Wuterich had a good grasp on the rules of engagement, rules prosecutors contend he ignored in leading his squad in a series of “house clearing” operations following the bombing.


Capt. Alfonso Capers

According to the San Diego Union Tribune

In a Camp Pendleton courtroom yesterday, Marine Capt. Alfonso Capers provided a muddled picture of the military’s rules of engagement….
Capers testified that the Marine Corps lacks textbook rules on when to shoot at insurgents if civilians are present. Wuterich reported to him for about two years before the Haditha incident.
Capers said troops don’t have license to kill indiscriminately because it’s ‘a bad stain’ on the Marines.
“‘Shoot first, ask questions later’ means everyone’s expendable. You can’t do that,” he told Lt. Col. Paul Ware, the investigating officer overseeing the pretrial hearing.


SSgt. Frank Wuterich

The accused spoke during unsworn testimony.

According to the North County Times

On Thursday, a calm and clear-speaking Wuterich said in a military courtroom that he followed his training after his squad was attacked by a roadside bomb and that he will forever regret the loss of innocent life.
“As a sergeant and a squad leader, I am responsible for the decisions made to employ the tactics we used that day,” Wuterich told Lt. Col. Paul Ware, the Marine officer who presided over a four-day hearing for the accused Marine. Ware will recommend whether Wuterich should face trial in the deaths of 17 of the 24 Iraqi civilians.
“I will always mourn the unfortunate deaths of the innocent Iraqis who were killed during our response to that attack,”
Wuterich was leading a squad from Camp Pendleton on a resupply mission the morning of Nov. 19, 2005, when a Humvee was destroyed by a roadside bomb, killing a lance corporal and injuring two other Marines.
Moments later, five men who emerged from a car that drove up were killed by Wuterich and another Marine. Wuterich said those men were running away when he knelt and shot them in the belief they were insurgents responsible for the roadside bombing and possibly carrying a bomb in their car.
“The threat had to be neutralized,” he said.
Nineteen other Iraqis, including six children and two women, would die in the next few hours as Wuterich and his Marines stormed four homes. According to testimony, they were in search of the bomb’s triggerman and those they believed were shooting at them.
Most of the 27-year-old Marine’s comments came as he read from a prepared statement. He then answered several questions from his lead attorney, Neal Puckett, who asked how he felt about the incident, which would draw international attention to Wuterich and the Marines.
“I will never be OK with what happened that day,” Wuterich said. “One of my Marines got killed, two of them got seriously injured.
“Personally, I feel like there were certain decisions that I made then that I might have changed, such as taking a different route back.”
As his wife and parents watched him speak from the gallery of a base courtroom, the married father of three daughters also expressed remorse.
“Families got killed that day, and I know I can look at my family and I would not want that to happen to them,” he said. “I will never be OK with how the events turned out that day.”
Wuterich also denied saying a week prior to the incident that if his squad was ever attacked he would lead his men in killing everyone in the vicinity. A witness against Wuterich, squad member Sgt. Sanick Dela Cruz, testified last week that Wuterich made that statement.

According to the New York Times

In the statement, Sergeant Wuterich took responsibility for his decisions in the heat of battle to kill people in the two houses who he said were suspected of being armed insurgents, and for the order he gave to his men to “shoot first, ask questions later.”

“I wanted them to understand,” he said, repeating a central argument of his defense, “that hesitation to shoot would only result in the four of us being killed.”

[Source: North County TimesNew York Times


David Allender
Defend Our Marines