CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. - Eight Marines were charged Thursday in the killings
of 24 Iraqi civilians last year in a bloody, door-to-door sweep that came after
one of their comrades was killed by a roadside bomb.
In the biggest US criminal case
involving civilian deaths in the Iraq war, four of the Marines were charged with
unpremeditated murder in the killings in the town of Haditha.
A video provided to Reuters by Hamourabi Human rights group
shows bodies being loaded onto a truck in Haditha in November of 2005.
The other four charged were officers who were not there but were accused of
failures in investigating and reporting the deaths, the Marine Corps said.
Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, 26, a squad leader, was charged with the
unpremeditated murder of 18 civilians, including six people inside a house
members of his squad cleared with deadly force. Wuterich also was charged with
one count each of making a false official statement and soliciting another
sergeant to make false official statements.
Sgt. Sanick P. Dela Cruz, 24, was accused of the unpremeditated murders of
five people and making a false official statement with intent to deceive.
Lance Cpl. Justin Sharratt, 22, was charged with the unpremeditated murder of
Lance Cpl. Stephen Tatum, 25, was accused of the unpremeditated murders of
The highest ranking defendant, Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani, 42, was accused of
failing to obey an order or regulation, encompassing dereliction of duty.
The other officers charged were 1st Lt. Andrew Grayson, 25, Capt. Lucas
McConnell, 31, and Capt. Randy Stone, 34, a military attorney.
Defense attorneys have said their clients were doing what they had been
trained to do: responding to a perceived threat with legitimate force. The
Marines remained in combat for months after the killings.
The Marine Corps initially reported that 15 Iraqis died in a roadside bomb
blast, and Marines killed eight insurgents in an ensuing firefight. That account
was widely discredited and later reports put the number of dead Iraqis at 24.
A criminal probe was launched after Time magazine reported in March, citing
survivor accounts and human rights groups, that innocent people were