By JULIE WATSON, Associated Press
CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. (AP) _ A squad mate of a Marine sergeant on trial for killing unarmed women and children in Iraq testified Thursday that if he had to do it again, he would have called in an air strike to level a house where the group gunned down six people, including a man in a wheelchair.
Former Sgt. Hector Salinas testified at the court-martial of Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich that he believed small arms fire had come from the direction of the home shortly after a roadside bomb hit a convoy, killing a Marine.
Salinas said he didn’t know at the time that there were women and children inside the dwelling.
The Marines stormed two homes for 45 minutes, killing unarmed men, women and children. They found no weapons or insurgents, squad members have testified.
Wuterich, the squad leader, faces nine counts of manslaughter and other charges stemming from attacks that killed 24 Iraqis in the town of Haditha in 2005.
Military prosecutors have implicated the Camp Pendleton Marine from Meriden, Conn., in 19 of the 24 Iraqi deaths. He is the last defendant in one of the biggest criminal cases against U.S. troops from the war. One squad member was acquitted. Six others had their cases dropped. Salinas was never formally charged.
Salinas testified that he was the first Marine to enter the house after the roadside bomb exploded. He said he shot a figure he saw near the stairs and later learned he had killed an elderly woman.
He said he saw the man in a wheelchair after he went back to the home later. Four other unarmed civilians were killed there.
When asked by a defense attorney if he would have done anything differently that day if he had the chance, Salinas said, “I would have just utilized my air to just level the house.”
Wuterich’s attorneys have said Wuterich believed insurgents were in the home after the explosion.
The issue at the court martial is whether Wuterich reacted appropriately as a Marine squad leader in protecting his troops in the midst of a chaotic war or went on a vengeful rampage, disregarding combat rules and leading his men to shoot and blast indiscriminately at Iraqi civilians.
Prosecutors in their opening statement painted a picture of a young Marine with no prior combat experience losing control after seeing his friend’s body blown apart.
Prosecutor Maj. Nicholas Gannon said the evidence will show Wuterich “made a series of fatal assumptions and he lost control of himself.”
Wuterich has said he regretted the loss of civilian lives but believed he was operating within military combat rules.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)