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Haditha defense lawyer says killings were legal

Published: Monday June 12, 2006

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On CNN's American Morning with Soledad O'Brien, defense lawyer Neal Puckett spoke for Staff Sergeant Wuterich who commanded the Marines who allegedly killed innocent civilians at Haditha. In the interview, Puckett holds that his client and the Marines under his command acted within the "rules of engagement" and that while unfortunate, the killing of civilians was legal. Excerpts follow:

PUCKETT: …They entered the house as a hostile environment. The rules of engagement permitted them to proceed their entry with hand grenades exploding and going in shooting and that’s exactly what happened. And again, unfortunately, there were innocent civilians that were killed and they did not find the insurgents they were looking for that day. They did escape.

O’BRIEN: So the rules of engagement allow the soldiers to throw hand grenades in to clear a room and then to walk in or run in opening fire indiscriminately? That contradicts what we’re told by CNN military advisers, who as you well know are retired generals.

PUCKETT: Right. Well the retired generals weren’t there that day and didn’t have rifle fire aimed at them and the Marines used their best judgment and their understanding of the rules of engagement and cleared the houses the way they were trained to do.

O’BRIEN: When you, um

PUCKETT: And to use the word indiscriminately is incorrect.

O’BRIEN: Okay. My understanding is that at least from their description you have to selectively shoot the threats. In other words, you can’t just open fire in a room that might have civilians inside, you have to determine where the threats are coming from and shoot at the threats. And if you listen to the description by CNN employees who viewed the photos, the aftermath. There’s a description of women, and a child shot in bed. Elderly woman shot. Other reports have said an old man in a wheelchair was shot nine times. A group of girls between the ages of one year old and fourteen years old all dead. I’m not sure how those would be perceived—a one year old baby shot would be perceived as a threat.

PUCKETT: No that wouldn’t be perceived as a threat if you had the time to give it some deliberate thought. But when you think that people who are behind a door who are going to kill you, and you don’t know who’s behind the door—perhaps the Marines were taking care of themselves first. And looking out for their own safety. And I think most of the American people understand and need to do that.