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Last Updated: Friday, 5 October 2007, 00:27 GMT 01:27 UK
Marine may escape Haditha charge
Sgt Frank Wuterich (file photo)
Sgt Wuterich says he was operating within military combat rules
An investigating officer has said no murder charges should be brought against a US marine accused of leading a massacre of Iraqi civilians.

Sgt Frank Wuterich is alleged to have been the ringleader of US troops who killed 24 Iraqi civilians in November 2005 in the town of Haditha.

Lt Col Paul Ware recommended that Sgt Wuterich be tried for the lesser offence of negligent homicide.

The final decision rests with Gen James Mattis, who is overseeing the case.

Gen Mattis has already dismissed charges against four of the eight marines accused in the incident.

Regret

In his ruling, Lt Col Ware also recommended dropping charges of making a false official statement against Sgt Wuterich.

"We're both very pleased and also not surprised, given how the other cases have gone," said his attorney, Neal Puckett.

Map of Iraq

"There has never been any inkling that any of these marines lost control or went on a rampage," he added.

The marines need not accept the recommendation and could still pursue murder charges against Sgt Wuterich.

Last month Sgt Wuterich testified that he regretted the deaths but said he was following the rules of combat engagement.

The negligent homicide charge carries a maximum sentence of three years per count, whereas the murder charge carries a possible life sentence.

The BBC's Peter Bowes, in Los Angeles, says that if the recommendation is accepted for Sgt Wuterich, and a similar one for one of his corporals, it will mean no-one will face murder charges in the case.

'Insurgent gunfight'

Twenty-four Iraqi civilians, including three women, seven children and several elderly men, died at Haditha, in Anbar province, on 19 November 2005.

Iraqi witnesses say the shootings were in retaliation for a roadside bomb that killed one of the marines, Lance Cpl Miguel Terrazas, as his convoy drove through the town.

The US military at first reported that the Iraqis had been killed by an improvised explosive device (IED) that killed L/Cpl Miguel Terrazas, or in a subsequent gunfight with insurgents.

But Iraqi witnesses said the US troops shot dead five unarmed men in a car when they approached the scene of the bombing in a taxi.

They were then accused of killing 19 other civilians in three houses nearby over the next few hours.

Despite the accusations, there was no full US investigation into what happened until January 2006, when video footage emerged of the aftermath, shot by a local human rights activist.

Among the most serious allegations against Sgt Wuterich is that he and another marine shot dead five unarmed Iraqis while they had their hands in the air.

VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
The scene of the killings in Haditha



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