By Ilya Kharlamov
Frank Wuterich, a U.S. marine sergeant who stood trial in a court martial at Camp Pendleton base on charges of killing 24 Iraqi civilians in 2005, has been demoted to the rank of private and had his pay reduced but will serve no prison sentence. The exceptionally lenient verdict was handed down because the 31-year-old marine had pleaded guilty to dereliction of duties, repented for his wrongdoing and expressed remorse for the victims. The American Themis has once again demonstrated that the principle of a just punishment for severe crimes does not apply to everyone in the United States.
The ruling came less than two weeks after a YouTube-posted video of U.S. marines urinating on the bodies of slain Taliban militants in Afghanistan sparked an international outcry.
Several years ago, militants attacked a marine squad commanded by Wuterich in El Haditha, killing one serviceman and wounding two others. The sergeant ordered to search the nearby houses, instructing his subordinates to “first shoot and then think”. As a result, 24 civilians were killed, including women and children. Wuterich personally shot dead a mother and a child in one of the houses. Curiously though, none of the civilians had put up armed resistance.
Lawyer Sergei Maksimov of the Institute of State and Law of the Russian Academy of Sciences thinks that the chances of a fair trial of this crime are bleak:
“Unfortunately, this is universal practice. Any state that has an army strives to protect its servicemen from criminal prosecution and to imbue soldiers with belief the that they must fulfill their military duty at any cost. The only true ‘guardian’ here is not criminal law, but conscience and faith. True, under the existing international convention crimes against peace and humanity carry a severe punishment. But one should hardly expect any fair investigation in this particular case unless it goes before an international tribunal, which is unlikely.”
Crimes against civilians during U.S. military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan have actually become routine practice. No military expediency can justify the shooting of a wedding procession, which happened in 2008, or the regular abuse and torture of detainees in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iran and the U.S. Guantanamo prison on Cuba. This is how Hakim al-Zamili, a member of the Iraqi parliament’s commission on defense and security, has reacted to what was virtually an acquittal of marine Wuterich:
“One can hardly call it a punishment. This is blatant disrespect for Iraqis and their spilt blood. It’s downright inhumane. The victims’ relatives will petition to the United Nations and other organizations for a tougher penalty.”
U.S. congressman John Murta has expressed concern over the verdict:
““The allegations are very troubling for me and equally troubling for our military, especially the Marine Corps.”
Konstantin Sivkov of the Academy of Geopolitical Problems, points out that it was not just individual crimes committed against civilians but also the military intervention itself in sovereign states that was illegal:
“That soldier committed military crimes and he must be punished. But this is the lowest level. The international law qualifies the unleashing of a war against a sovereign state as a military crime.”
Wuterich has not even been sentenced to a monetary fine. Little wonder that so few of American soldiers who have brought democracy to Afghanistan on their guns have ended up in jail.