WASHINGTON – The Marine who led an Iraq mission in which up to 24 civilians were killed is "an outstanding squad leader and undoubtedly" deserves a medal for his actions, his commander said in a memo weeks later.
Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich is among troops under investigation for allegations they deliberately killed Iraqis civilians — many of them women and children — after coming under attack Nov. 19 in Haditha.
Earlier this month, Pentagon officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told The Associated Press that evidence collected about the Haditha killings supported allegations that Marines deliberately fired on civilians.
His attorney released a document Wednesday to the AP in which Wuterich's platoon commander wrote that Wuterich had established security, then "led a counterattack on the buildings ... where his Marines were still receiving sporadic fire."
"That counterattack turned the tide of the ambush and killed a number of insurgents still attempting to fight or attempting to flee the area," said platoon leader Lt. William T. Kallop.
In a two-page memo, Kallop laid out several previous missions in which Wuterich had participated.
"He is an outstanding squad leader and undoubtedly a worthy recipient of the NAM 'V,"' Kallop wrote, referring to the Navy Achievement Medal with a combat distinguishing device.
"What it shows is that he was a good Marine, well respected, and he was put in for an award for heroic actions on that day," said Wuterich attorney Neal Puckett.
The document was first revealed in Wednesday editions of The Washington Post, which said the memo was written in January and reveals that Kallop believed Marines were under attack when they stormed civilian homes and opened fire.
The Marines initially reported after the killings at Haditha that 15 Iraqi civilians had been killed by a makeshift roadside bomb and in crossfire between Marines and insurgent attackers. Based on accounts from survivors and human rights groups, Time magazine reported in March that the killings were deliberate acts by the Marines.
The Marine Corps and Navy prosecutors are reviewing evidence to determine whether to recommend criminal charges.
Marine Corps spokesman Lt. Col. Scott Fazekas said officials have found no record that any medal was awarded.