CAMP PENDLETON, California (Reuters) - The U.S. Marine sergeant accused of leading a 2005 massacre of Iraqi civilians in Haditha gunned down five unarmed men who were standing next to a car after a roadside bombing, a Marine from his squad told a military court on Friday.
Sgt. Sanick Dela Cruz testified that Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich shot the Iraqi men to death immediately after the bomb detonated under a Humvee in their four-vehicle convoy, ripping apart a beloved comrade.
Dela Cruz, who was granted immunity from prosecution in the case after murder charges against him were dismissed in April, said he opened fire into the men’s lifeless bodies and that Wuterich later told him to lie about the incident.
“He told me, if anybody asks ... They were running away and Iraqi Army shot them,” Dela Cruz told the hearing, which was convened by a Marine investigating officer to determine if Wuterich, 27, should face court martial over the November 19, 2005, events at Haditha.
Iraqi witnesses say U.S. troops massacred two dozen unarmed men, women and children at Haditha in retaliation for the death of Lance Cpl. Miguel “T.J.” Terrazas in the roadside bomb. Defense lawyers say the civilians died during a chaotic house-to-house battle in the western Iraqi town.
Dela Cruz, whose right forearm is tattooed with the Grim Reaper and his left with the Marine eagle, globe and anchor emblem, told the court that immediately after the bomb went off he spotted the Iraqi men standing next to a white car across the street.
‘THEY WERE ALL IN A PILE’
Dela Cruz said one of the men then dropped to the ground, dead, and he turned to see Wuterich kneeling and firing on them. When Wuterich stopped shooting, Dela Cruz said, both men ran to where the Iraqis had been near the car.
“They were all in a pile, sir, laying dead, sir,” Dela Cruz said, under questioning from lead prosecutor Lt. Col. Sean Sullivan.
Dela Cruz said he fired at the bodies “to make sure” they were dead and Wuterich walked among the dead men, shooting each of them again.
He said Wuterich told him later that day to claim that the men were shot by Iraqi Army soldiers while running away and urged him to do so again when the squad learned that their actions would be investigated by military authorities.
Dela Cruz, 27, said he initially lied about the incident because he did not want to get himself or his squad in trouble.
“I was worried that we had committed a murder, sir,” he said.
Dela Cruz gave similar testimony during a hearing for another Haditha defendant, Capt. Randy Stone, saying then that he had urinated on one of the dead Iraqis because he was upset over the death of Terrazas.
At the time defense attorneys suggested that Dela Cruz was lying and that his version of events had changed four or five times.
Military authorities have dismissed charges against two Marines, Lance Cpl. Justin Sharratt and Capt. Randy Stone, citing battle conditions against a “shadowy” insurgent enemy.