In what the Iraqi ambassador to the U.S. called an "encouraging" sign, the sergeant who allegedly led a squad of Marines into what became known as the Haditha massacre that claimed the lives of 24 Iraqi civilians in 2005 must stand trial, a military judge ordered today.
Judge Lt. Col. David Jones dismissed a motion from the defense to drop charges against squad leader Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich. Lawyers for Wuterich, 30, argued that the general who leveled charges against Wuterich and seven other Marines was improperly influenced by a legal aide, Col. John Ewers, who had been involved in the shooting investigation.
But Jones ruled there was no "meaningful comment" between Gen. James Mattis, who brought charges, and Ewers, who had investigated the case as a military lawyer, The Associated Press reported.
"It is encouraging that this case has not been dropped," Iraqi ambassador to the U.S. Samir Sumaida'ie told ABC News. "I feel that the victims of that massacre deserve justice and that justice should be done."
Of the eight Marines originally implicated in the deadly shooting and the following alleged cover-up, six had their charges dropped and a seventh was acquitted.
Wuterich's attorney, Haytham Faraj, told ABC News Wuterich was "disappointed" about the ruling, but was "looking forward to the trial."
"Our guy is innocent of the thing he's accused of. When evidence comes out, it will become clear who shot whom and who should be on trial," Faraj said.
Sumaida'ie, whose family is from Haditha, said that Wuterich's trial could be a "vindication of the American system of justice."
"In terms of particular individuals and their cases, that is for the courts to decide," Sumaida'ie said. "But there are feelings obviously of sadness and bitterness that were left by this traumatic event, this tragedy. It is a stain on reputation of American forces that should be removed, that American military forces do not deserve."
Faraj said he understands the ambassador's frustration, but urged the public to view the trial with a discriminating eye.
"There were women and children that were killed," Faraj said. "Anytime people are killed, we should hold those responsible accountable, but we also have to take care not to lump everything together. That's where we go wrong... the person accountable should be held accountable, [but] not because he was in charge that day."
Wuterich's trial is set to begin in September.
On Nov. 20, 2005, the bodies of 24 Iraqi civilians were wrapped in colorful cloth and lain on the floor of a building in Haditha, Iraq. Some of the bundles were much smaller than others. Those were the children.
The day before, a squad of U.S. Marines had been attacked by a roadside bomb. One Marine was killed in the attack.
The Marines' squad leader, Wuterich, and another Marine then fired at a group of nearby Iraqis who were fleeing the scene. They killed five, according to the account Wuterich gave CBS' "60 Minutes" in August 2008.
Wuterich said his men came under fire, but didn't know from which direction the shots were coming. Wuterich ordered his men to clear a nearby house and, by his own account, to shoot first and ask questions later, according to the CBS report. His men cracked the door and rolled a grenade in.