SAN DIEGO – The Navy on Thursday initiated dismissal proceedings against two Marines from a squad that killed 24 unarmed Iraqi civilians in 2005, saying they lied to military investigators after the massacre.
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus made the decision, and Sgt. Sanick Dela Cruz and Sgt. Humberto Mendoza were notified of the move Thursday, said Lt. Cmdr. Tamara Lawrence, a Navy spokeswoman.
The two Marines could not be reached for comment.
The Marine Corps dropped criminal charges against both men in exchange for their testimony at the trial of former Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, the squad leader. Wuterich was the lone Marine convicted in the shooting of unarmed Iraqis in the town of Haditha after a roadside bomb exploded, killing one Marine and wounding two others.
Wuterich pleaded guilty to negligent dereliction of duty, halting his trial in January. He was given no jail time as part of a plea agreement. His service ended in February with a general discharge under honorable conditions — one step below an honorable discharge.
Lawrence told The Associated Press that Mabus waited until the judicial proceedings ended before reviewing the case of Dela Cruz and Mendoza.
Mabus sent a letter Thursday instructing the Marine Corps to move to dismiss the two for making false statements to and withholding information from Naval Criminal Investigative Service agents and commanding officers while under oath.
The Navy secretary said in the letter that his review of Dela Cruz and Mendoza's cases "revealed troubling information about their conduct."
He cited false statements Dela Cruz made about the circumstances surrounding the deaths of five men found next to a white car at the scene.
Mabus said Mendoza also lied and withheld information, without citing specifics.
"Such conduct is wholly inconsistent with the core values of the Department of the Navy," Mabus said in the letter to Commandant Gen. Jim Amos. "You are directed to immediately initiate administrative processing for Sgt. Dela Cruz and Sgt. Mendoza for administrative separation in the best interest of the service."
Both Marines were assigned to the Camp Pendleton-based 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, at the time of the incident.
Wuterich's case ended a six-year prosecution that failed to win any manslaughter convictions in one of the worst attacks on Iraqi civilians by U.S. troops during nine years of war. Dela Cruz and Mendoza were among seven other Marines initially charged in the case. One was acquitted and the six others had their cases dropped.
During Wuterich's trial, Mendoza and Dela Cruz acknowledged on the witness stand that they had lied to investigators to protect the squad. They told jurors that later they decided it was time to tell the truth.
After reaching his plea deal, Wuterich apologized for the loss of life but has said his squad did not behave badly or dishonorably. He also has defended his order to raid homes in Haditha because he believed his squad was under attack. He acknowledged he instructed his men to "shoot first, ask questions later."
The outcome of the case sparked outrage in Iraq, and the government there has said it will take legal action to ensure justice for the families of the victims. But officials did not give specifics, and it was unclear what action could be taken.