Michael Schmidt reported from Baghdad Wednesday for the Times on the conclusion of the trial (held in California) of the last Marine accused in the so-called Haditha massacre in Iraq: “Anger in Iraq After Plea Bargain Over 2005 Massacre.” Although Marine Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich pled guilty to a single misdemeanor that called for a maximum of 90 days in jail, Schdmit insisted on calling him a "ringleader" in the "massacre."
After the incident came to light in July 2006, Times reporter Paul von Zielbauer filed over 30 stories on the alleged killings of two dozen Iraqi civilians in the town of Haditha, which anti-war activists were quick to compare to the My Lai massacre of Vietnam. The Times has long presumed the guilt of the Marines involved, while barely covering the steady drip of acquittals of all but one of the eight Marines charged in the “massacre.”
Schmidt quoted three outraged Iraqis, two of whom were relatives of the dead Iraqis, while ignoring the Marines’ side in California completely.
Iraqis were outraged Tuesday to learn that the Marine considered the ringleader of a 2005 massacre that left 24 of their countrymen dead in 2005 was sentenced on Tuesday to a reduction in rank but avoided any jail time after pleading guilty the day before to a reduced charge.
“This is not new, and it’s not new for the American courts that already did little about Abu Ghraib and other crimes in Iraq,” said Khalid Salman, 45, whose cousin was killed by the Marines in the massacre, which occurred in the town of Haditha in November 2005.
For the past nine years, Iraqis have looked to the American legal system to provide justice for what they believe were war crimes committed by Americans, and most of the time, many say, they have been disappointed. This time was no exception.
The North County Times, a California paper near Camp Pendleton, where the trial was held, had a more balanced portrait of the case, including this detail absent from the Times: “Prosecutors appeared ready to strike a plea deal last week after their own witnesses gave testimony largely beneficial to Wuterich's position: that he believed he and his men were under attack and responded in keeping with their training.”