The Killings In Haditha

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

In 2005, Wuterich's battalion, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, was to be next to occupy the hostile city.

As his battalion moved in, it discovered the dilemma that defines Iraq. In Haditha, the population is generally hostile to Americans, but only some are armed fighters. The fighters blend in. You can't pick them out unless they're shooting at you.

"When you got to Haditha with your Marines, who was in charge of the town?" Pelley asks.

"For the most part, I don't think anyone was in charge." Wuterich says there was no mayor, city government or police force that he knew of.

Wuterich commanded a squad of 12 men in Kilo Company. They moved into a school administration building they renamed Sparta. They couldn't see the enemy, but it was clear the enemy was watching them. A bomb was buried in the road, right in front of their building.

When he arrived in Haditha, Frank Wuterich had been a Marine more than seven years and was getting out. He didn't have to go to Iraq, but he wanted to see war, so he transferred from his California base to a unit headed into battle. The men in his squad were combat hardened, many on their second or third tours, men who had watched each other's backs through vicious fights.

"As you understood them, what were the rules for using deadly force?" Pelley asks.

Wuterich says the biggest thing was PID - positive identification.

"It means that you need to be able to positively identify your target before you shoot to kill," he says.

The kind of targets they were permitted to shoot to kill included, "…various things," Wuterich says. "Obviously, anyone with a weapon, especially pointed at you… Hostile act, hostile intent was the biggest thing that they had to have, so if they had used a hostile act against you, you could use deadly force. If there was hostile intent towards you, you could use deadly force."

The mission on Nov. 19, 2005, the day of the killings, began before 7 a.m. Wuterich led a convoy to a checkpoint, escorting fresh Iraqi troops and bringing breakfast to the Marines there. It was nothing more than an errand.

Wuterich recounts what happened next.

"Coming back to Sparta we came up going north on River Road… made a left on Chestnut… First two vehicles traveled without incident. My vehicle traveled without incident."

Then, Wuterich felt the blast wave from a "huge, huge" explosion. "It rocked the truck even that I was in. We see debris from our fourth vehicle hundreds of meters in the air above us coming down, you know, tires, all sorts of different parts. We knew the fourth vehicle had been hit."

The vehicle was devastated by a bomb buried under the road, detonated by remote control. Wuterich, in charge, called for backup and began planning his next move.

"Once we have security on the ground and the casualties are being attended to, you want to send somebody out to search for the triggerman," Wuterich says. He believes there was one.

Wuterich tells Pelley that until that minute, he had never been in combat before.