Under Wuterich’s command, Marines killed five young men pulled from a car, followed by 19 of their family members. Wuterich is charged with dereliction of duty, manslaughter, and assault. At the time of the incident, Wuterich’s battalion had only been in Haditha for a few weeks and this was their first engagement.
The Marines had been repeatedly told to expect “complex attacks” involving snipers and roadside bombs. When a bomb exploded beneath a convoy, officers immediately concluded that they were being confronted with such an attack. In response, a lieutenant gave Wuterich an order to “clear” the houses near the site of the explosion.
The result was a complex and dangerous reminder of the need for well-defined “rules of engagement” and for “positive identification” prior to the use of deadly force. Court-martial proceedings will likely emphasize the fact that Haditha had a reputation as one of the most dangerous places in Iraq; Marines from previous battalions had been killed there and insurgents had beheaded residents who were friendly to the Marines. The ‘idea’ or ‘reputation’ of Haditha is sure to be cited as one of the factors that contributed to the Marines’ response.
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