CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. – 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.
He conceded, however, that he did not know at the time that there were women and children in the dwelling.
Wuterich, the squad leader, faces nine counts of manslaughter and other charges stemming from Marine actions that day that killed 24 Iraqis in the town of Haditha in 2005. The Marines stormed two homes for 45 minutes, killing unarmed men, women and children. They found no weapons or insurgents, squad members testified.
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.
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.
Military prosecutors have implicated him in 19 of the 24 Iraqi deaths. The Camp Pendleton Marine from Meriden, Conn., 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 was one of two squad members who testified Thursday. Both raised questions about testimony given Wednesday by another fellow Marine who said Wuterich had called for bloodshed of Iraqis if his squad ever was hit by a roadside bomb.
Salinas said he did not recall such a statement, and former Lance Cpl. Trent Graviss said he never heard it.
Salinas and Graviss also said they did not hear or recall hearing Wuterich ask them to lie about what happened that day, as Sgt. Sanick Dela Cruz testified Wednesday.
Salinas and Graviss told the all-Marine jury that they did not believe Dela Cruz to be a truthful person, and that they considered Wuterich to be a good Marine.
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.