US marine in Haditha case 'should serve no time'

image captionSgt Frank Wuterich pleaded guilty to dereliction of duty

A US marine who admitted charges linked to the killing of 24 unarmed Iraqi civilians in 2005 should face no time in detention, a judge has recommended.

The decision by the judge at Camp Pendleton, California, must be approved by the commander of the Marine Corps Forces Central Command.

Sgt Frank Wuterich faced a maximum of three months after admitting dereliction of duty in a plea deal.

He was one of eight marines charged over the killings at Haditha.

The charges against six were dropped or dismissed, and one was acquitted.

Military judge Lt Col David Jones said his hands had been tied by the terms of the plea agreement. However, he said he would recommend that Wuterich's rank be reduced to private.

The judge said he had decided not to dock the marine's pay because Wuterich is divorced with sole custody of his three young children.

Prosecutors had asked that Wuterich receive the maximum sentence of three months confinement, reduction in rank and forfeiture of two-thirds of his pay.

'Horrific result'

Wuterich's guilty plea ended the trial at Camp Pendleton nearly seven years after the killings.

Prosecutors had argued that on the day of the killings Wuterich lost control after seeing a friend blown apart by a bomb, before leading the soldiers under his command on a rampage.

They said his decision to send his squad to attack nearby homes went against his training.

"That is a horrific result from that derelict order of shooting first, ask questions later," Lt Col Sean Sullivan told the court.

Among the dead were women, children and elderly people, including a man in a wheelchair.

image captionRelatives of the victims have expressed outrage at the outcome of the trial

His former squad members testified during the hearings that they were not fired upon nor did they find any weapons at the scene of the killings.

Wuterich told the court that he ordered his men to "shoot first, ask questions later" so they would not hesitate in attacking the enemy, but he never intended to harm any civilians.

In his statement he addressed relatives of the Iraqi victims, saying there were no words to ease their pain.

"I wish to assure you that on that day, it was never my intention to harm you or your families. I know that you are the real victims of November 19, 2005," he said.

In Iraq, the plea deal that stopped Wuterich's trial on several charges of manslaughter sparked outrage.

Survivor Awis Fahmi Hussein, who had been shot in the back, said: "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."

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