By Jim Garamone
Dec. 21, 2006 – Four Marines have been charged in connection with the deaths of Iraqi civilians in Haditha Nov. 19, 2005, and another four Marines have been charged with failure to properly report and/or investigate the deaths of the Iraqi civilians. Col. Stewart Navarre, chief of staff of Marine Corps Installations West, announced the charges and specifications during a news conference on Camp Pendleton, Calif., today. All of those charged were members of 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment.
"The Marine Corps takes allegations of wrong-doing by Marines very seriously and is committed to thoroughly investigating such allegations," Navarre said. "The Marine Corps also prides itself on holding its members accountable for their actions.
"We are absolutely committed to holding fair and impartial proceedings in full compliance with the Uniform Code of Military Justice," he said. Navarre said the charges stem from an incident that occurred after an attack on a four-vehicle Marine convoy from the battalion's Kilo Company. The convoy was moving through Haditha when it was ambushed by insurgents employing an improvised explosive device and small arms fire, Navarre said.
"One Marine was killed and two were wounded by the explosion," the colonel said. "Over the next several hours, 24 Iraqi men, women and children died in the vicinity of the IED explosion."
The next day, 2nd Marine Division issued a press release stating that 15 Iraqi civilians were killed in an IED explosion, and Marines and Iraqi Army soldiers killed eight insurgents in a follow-on firefight. "We now know with certainty the press release was incorrect, and that none of the civilians were killed by the IED explosion," Navarre said.
In February, Army Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, commander of Multinational Corps Iraq, initiated an investigation. "This investigation focused on the circumstances of the attack and whether the Marines involved followed the Rules of Engagement and Law of Armed Conflict," Navarre said.
In March, Marine Maj. Gen. Richard Zilmer, commander of coalition forces in Al Anbar province, initiated a Naval Criminal Investigative Service investigation, to determine if there was any criminal responsibility for the deaths of the Iraqi civilians.
Later that month Chiarelli ordered Army Maj. Gen. Eldon Bargewell to conduct another investigation to look at three aspects of the incident: official reporting of the events and follow-on actions by the chain of command; training of Marines in the Rules of Engagement and the Law of Armed Conflict; and whether the command climate in 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, encouraged the disciplined application of the Rules of Engagement and the Law of Armed Conflict.
"In May 2006, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service also began a criminal investigation into the follow-on actions of the chain of command," Navarre said.
Bargewell ended his inquiry June 15, 2006. He concluded that the Marines were adequately trained on the Rules of Engagement and Law of Armed Conflict but that reporting of the incident up the chain of command was inaccurate and untimely. The report went to Chiarelli, Army Gen. George Casey, the commander of Multinational Forces Iraq, and finally to U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Central Command for appropriate action, Navarre said.
Those charged are:
Marine Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich is charged with unpremeditated murder, soliciting another to commit an offense and making a false official statement.
Marine Sgt. Sanick P. Dela Cruz was charged with five counts of murder and one charge of a false official statement.
Marine Lance Cpl. Stephen B. Tatum is charged with murder, negligent homicide and assault.
Marine Lance Cpl. Justin L. Sharratt is charged with three counts of murder.
Marine Lt. Col. Jeffrey R. Chessani, the commander of the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines, was charged with three counts of violation of a lawful order and dereliction of duty.
Marine Capt. Lucas M. McConnell has been charged with dereliction of duty.
Marine Capt. Randy W. Stone was charged with failure to follow a lawful order and dereliction of duty.
Marine 1st Lt. Andrew A. Grayson is charged with dereliction of duty, making a false official statement and obstructing justice.
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