Military recommends dropping charges in Haditha massacre
John Byrne
Published: Friday August 24, 2007

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The US military's investigating officer has recommended that the Marines drop all changes against a Marine accused of massacring civilians -- including women and children -- in a 2005 raid.

Twenty four civilians were killed in various attacks in Haditha, Iraq, including seven women and three children. Eighteen of the killings are still being examined for possible charges.

According to the San Diego Union Tribune, "only the squad leader, Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, still faces unpremeditated-murder charges in connection with the killings of 18 people."

This is the second case in which Lt. Col. Paul Ware recommended dropping charges because of a "complex combat environment." Ware wrote that the killings were "tragedies" but that the Marine, Lance Cpl. Stephen B. Tatum, followed the "laws of combat."

Ware said Tatum followed orders in the Nov. 19, 2005, where a Marine was already shooting at two residential homes.

"The shootings began after a bomb blast killed one Marine and injured two others as the unit drove a convoy through Haditha," wrote Josh White in Friday's Washington Post. "The Marines then killed a group of men who were in a car nearby before heading into two houses in the vicinity. Ware found that Tatum was following his rules of engagement when he fired his rifle in the two houses."

"What occurred in house 1 and house 2 are tragedies," Ware wrote. "The photographs of the victims are heart wrenching, and the desire to explain this tragedy as criminal act and not the result of training and fighting an enemy that hides among innocents is great. However, in the end, my opinion is that there is insufficient evidence for trial. LCpl Tatum shot and killed people in houses 1 and 2, but the reason he did so was because of his training and the circumstances he was placed in, not to exact revenge and commit murder."

"On 19 November 2005, in the mere seconds LCpl Tatum had to make a decision, he acted in accord with training, to engage targets that a fellow Marine was firing at, without time to fully assess the situation and reflect on what SSgt Wuterich was doing," Ware wrote. "It is only in hindsight that we can start to question why SSgt Wuterich was firing his weapon at children and conclude that LCpl Tatum should have deemed such actions were unwarranted."

Jack B. Zimmerman, Tatum's civilian attorney, said he was pleased but declined further comment.

White's article is here.