A military judge at Camp Pendleton, Calif., sentenced Staff Sgt. Frank G. Wuterich to a maximum of 90 days in prison and a reduction in pay and rank after he pleaded guilty to negligent dereliction of duty, ending the final court-martial resulting from a five-year investigation into the deaths of 24 Iraqi civilians at Haditha in 2005. But because of a plea deal with prosecutors, Wuterich won’t serve any time in the brig, so his sentence amounts to a reduction in rank—to private—and a pay cut. Wuterich was charged with voluntary manslaughter, aggravated assault, reckless endangerment, obstruction of justice and dereliction of duty in court-martial proceedings that began less than two weeks ago. All of the charges except dereliction of duty were dropped in return for his guilty plea. Wuterich was accused of overreacting to the death of another marine in a roadside bombing, sending his men into nearby houses to search for insurgents—resulting in the deaths of the civilians, including 10 women and children. In the sentencing, the military judge, Lt. Col. David Jones, cited how Wuterich ordered his troops to “shoot first, ask questions later.” Seven other marines were charged in the incident, but in six cases charges were dismissed, and one was acquitted. (CNN, Jurist, Jan. 24)
The plea deal comes just after the last lawsuit was settled in the 2007 Nisour Square massacre by Blackwater personnel.