The lone Marine to face sentencing for the killing of two dozen unarmed Iraqis in one of the Iraq War's defining moments walked away with no jail time Tuesday after defending his squad's storming of the homes of Haditha as a necessary act "to keep the rest of my Marines alive."
Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich's sentence ends a six-year prosecution for the 2005 attack that failed to win any manslaughter convictions. Eight Marines were initially charged. One was acquitted, and the cases against six others were dropped.
Wuterich, who admitted ordering his squad to "shoot first, ask questions later" after a roadside bomb killed a fellow Marine, ended his manslaughter trial by pleading guilty Monday to a single count of negligent dereliction of duty.
The deal that dropped nine counts of manslaughter sparked outrage in the besieged Iraqi town and accusations that the United States didn't hold the military accountable.
"I was expecting that the American judiciary would sentence this person to life in prison and that he would appear and confess in front of the whole world that he committed this crime, so that America could show itself as democratic and fair," said survivor Awis Fahmi Hussein, showing his scars from a bullet wound to the back.
The military judge, Lt. Col. David Jones, initially recommended the maximum sentence of three months for Wuterich, saying: "It's difficult for the court to fathom negligent dereliction of duty worse than the facts in this case."
But after opening an envelope to look at the terms of the plea agreement, as is procedure in military court, Jones announced that the deal prevented any jail time for the Marine.
"That's very good for you, obviously," Jones said tersely to Wuterich.
Jones did recommend that the sergeant's rank be reduced to private but decided not to cut two-thirds of his pay because the divorced father has sole custody of his three daughters.
Wuterich read a statement apologizing to the victims' families and said he never fired on or intended to harm innocent women and children. But he said his plea shouldn't be seen as a statement that he believes his squad dishonored their country.