CAMP PENDLETON, Calif., Jan. 24 (UPI) -- A U.S. Marine staff sergeant who admitted responsibility for the killing of 24 Iraqi civilians in 2005 was spared a prison term Tuesday.
Sgt. Frank Wuterich apologized to the families of those killed at Haditha, the Los Angeles Times reported.
"Words cannot express my sorrow for the loss of your loved ones," Wuterich said. "I know there is nothing I can say to ease your pain."
Lt. Col. David Jones said he would have imposed a sentence of 90 days in the brig but he said the commander of Marine Forces Central Command, Lt. Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, signed off on a plea bargain that precludes time behind bars.
Wuterich admitted he told the Marines under his command to shoot first and then ask questions as they raided two houses in Haditha. One member of the unit had just been killed by a roadside bomb.
"When my Marines and I cleared those houses that day, I responded to what I perceived as a threat and my intention was to eliminate that threat in order to keep the rest of my Marines alive," Wuterich said. "So when I told my team to 'shoot first and ask questions later,' the intent wasn't that they would shoot civilians, it was that they would not hesitate in the face of the enemy."
Jones recommended that Waldhauser reduce Wuterich to a private's rank. Nothing was said during Monday's guilty plea or Tuesday's sentencing about his discharge conditions, the newspaper reported.