Haditha massacre defendant: We did what we had to

United States Marine Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich arrives at a court room at Camp Pendleton with lead defense attorney Neal Puckett Thursday, Jan. 5, 2012 in Camp Pendeton, Calif. Jury selection is scheduled to begin in his trial regarding the biggest criminal case against U. S. troops in the Iraqi War. Wuterich led the squad that killed 24 Iraqis in Haditha in 2005 and faces involuntary manslaughter charges. He is the last defendant in the case that has had no convictions.
AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi

A U.S. Marine went on trial Friday at Camp Pendleton in California in the deaths of 24 unarmed civilians in Iraq. It happened in 2005 and it's been described as an atrocity by U.S. troops there. But the accused, Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, says the action he took that day was to protect his fellow Marines.

Wuterich was leading a squad through a neighborhood in the hostile town of Haditha. A bomb exploded, killing one of Wuterich's Marines, Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas, and wounding two others. While searching for the bomber, the Marines killed five unarmed men who drove up in a car. Then they went house to house.

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In his only interview on "60 Minutes" in 2007, Wuterich told CBS Evening News anchor Scott Pelley that the Marines rolled grenades into the rooms when they heard rustling behind doors.

Watch the "60 Minutes" interview below:

Pelley: Did you step in the room?

Wuterich: I did glance in that room.

Pelley: What did you see?

Wuterich: It was, you know, bodies.

Pelley: The bodies that you saw, can you describe them?

Wuterich: Initially, you know, I can't, initially. I remember there may have been women in there, may have -- may have been children in there.

Pelley: And you recognized that?

Wuterich: I did.

Pelley: As the squad leader, is it your responsibility at that point to say, "Cease fire. Let's not take another step. We just killed some women and children here"?

Wuterich: My responsibility as a squad leader is make sure that none of the rest of my guys died or got killed. And at that point, we were--we were still on the assault, so, no, I don't -- I don't believe so.

Eight Marines were charged in the case. One was found not guilty. Charges were dismissed against six others-- leaving Wuterich as the last defendant in the Haditha killings.

  • Scott Pelley

    Correspondent, "60 Minutes"