Military prosecutors say a U.S. Marine at the center of the biggest criminal case against U.S. troops in the Iraq war made a series of fatal assumptions when he and his squad killed 24 Iraqi civilians, including unarmed women and children.
Opening arguments in the military trial of Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich began Monday at Camp Pendleton in California. Wuterich has pleaded not guilty to nine counts of voluntary manslaughter and other charges in relation to the November 2005 killings.
The 31-year-old was the leader of a Marine squad that stormed Iraqi homes in the town of Haditha, leaving many Iraqi women and children dead.
Attorneys for the Marines say they were searching for those responsible for a roadside bombing that killed a Marine and wounded two others. Prosecutors say they were out to get revenge for the death of their fellow soldier.
Wuterich’s lawyer says the defendant is confident that he will be acquitted.
Wuterich is the last of eight Marines charged in the case. Six have had charges dropped or dismissed and one was acquitted.
Wuterich also faces charges of aggravated assault, reckless endangerment, dereliction of duty and obstruction of justice.
A full investigation began after Time magazine broke the story in early 2006. The case was pushed back for years due to a delay in evidence gathering and an attempt by Wuterich’s lawyers to dismiss the charges.
Cases like Wuterich’s have fueled anger across Iraq and are said to be one of the key reasons for the failure of Iraqi-U.S. negotiations to extend the December 31, 2011 withdrawal deadline.
The Iraqi government had demanded that U.S. forces be subjected to Iraqi law if they remained in the country.