The Killings In Haditha

Marine Tells 60 Minutes He's Sorry Iraqi Civilians Were Killed, But Insists He Made Right Decision

This segment was originally broadcast on March 18, 2007. It was updated on Aug. 22, 2008.

On Nov. 19, 2005, a squad of United States Marines killed 24 apparently innocent civilians in an Iraqi town called Haditha. The dead included men, women, and children as young as two. Iraqi witnesses said the Marines were on a rampage, slaughtering people in the street and in their homes. A year after the attack, four Marines were charged with murder.

Were the killings in Haditha a massacre? A military jury will decide. But, there's no question that Haditha is symbolic of a war that leaves American troops with terrible choices.

As correspondent Scott Pelley first reported in March 2007, the Marine making those choices in Haditha that day was a 25-year-old sergeant named Frank Wuterich. He was charged with 18 murders. Wuterich sat down with 60 Minutes for his only interview. He said he wanted to tell the truth about the day he decided who would live and who would die in Haditha.

"Everyone visualizes me as a monster, a baby killer, cold-blooded, that sort of thing. And, it's, you know, that's not accurate, and neither is the story that most of them know of this incident. They need to know the truth," Wuterich tells Pelley.

Wuterich does not believe 24 dead civilians equates to a massacre. "No, absolutely not… A massacre in my mind, by definition, is a large group of people being executed, being killed for absolutely no reason and that's absolutely not what happened here," he says.

The day after the killings, bodies were wrapped to conceal the sight of 24 civilians: 15 men, three women and six children, killed by shrapnel and gunshot. A year after they died, the Marine Corps announced the charges, which included murder, dereliction of duty, false official statement, and obstruction of justice.

Prosecutors charged Wuterich and three of his Marines with unpremeditated murder - essentially killing without military justification. To understand how this happened, you need to know where it happened.

Haditha is a town of 70,000, in Anbar province, the heart of the Sunni resistance, where, among the residents, anti-American passions run high. In the months before Wuterich's unit arrived, other Marines there were suffering some of the heaviest causalities in all of Iraq, including the bombing of an armored vehicle that killed 14 Marines. Days before that, six Marines in Haditha were ambushed, tortured and killed. The enemy put it on the Internet where Wuterich and his men saw the bodies and the dog tags of their dead comrades.