During the plea hearing Monday, Wuterich expressed regret for his decision to “shoot first, ask questions later.” Throughout the trial, the defense team emphasized the fog of war and Wuterich’s duty to protect his fellow Marines from harm.
Wuterich’s plea bargain, struck by military lawyers, stipulated that he receive no more than three months in prison. He remains on active duty.
The sentence handed down by the Marine Corps judge, Lt. Col. David Jones, is only a recommendation, however. The final decision about whether Wuterich will serve jail time or not is ultimately up to the commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, Lt. Gen. Thomas Waldhauser. According to a Marine Corps statement, that decision will come “once he has fully reviewed the case.”
But the very terms of the plea bargain in a case in which two dozen civilians were killed suggests that ultimately, history will likely conclude that in the case of Haditha, the military justice system didn’t work, argues David Glazier, a professor of law at Loyola Law School Los Angeles and a former career US Navy officer.
“The justification for having a separate system of military justice is primarily to be able to maintain good order and discipline,” he says. “That requires prompt investigation and punishment of wrongdoing.”
It took six years to bring Haditha to trial.
“The first problem was failure in the chain of command to recognize that there was a potential crime,” Mr. Glazier says. The commander in charge of Wuterich’s unit “when he first heard the problem, refused to believe it. He said, ‘Not my Marines.’ ”