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Haditha Marines could be forced out

April 20, 2012 at 3:10 PM

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif., April 20 (UPI) -- Two Marines granted immunity from prosecution in the killing of 24 Iraqi civilians could be kicked out of the service for false statements, officials said.

Lt. Cmdr. Tamara Lawrence, a spokeswoman for the Navy Department, said the department had directed the commandant of the Marine Corps to begin separation proceedings against the two Camp Pendleton sergeants over false statements they made to investigators after the 2005 killings in Haditha, Iraq, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.

Sgt. Sanick P. Dela Cruz and Sgt. Humberto M. Mendoza will have a chance to say why they shouldn't be kicked out of the Marines, Lawrence said.

"We hold our members to the highest standards of conduct. When they lie, they are held accountable. But there is still a process here. No final decision has been made," Lawrence said.

Eight members of Camp Pendleton's 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment had been implicated in the killings or a failure to properly investigate them, and all but one, former squad leader Frank Wuterich, were cleared of criminal wrongdoing.

After a Nov. 19, 2005, roadside bomb attack on his convoy killed one Marine and injured two others, Wuterich ordered his men to "shoot first, ask questions later" as they searched homes, the Times said.

Several women, toddlers and a 76-year-old man in a wheelchair were among those killed.

Wuterich received an honorable discharge in February. He did no jail time for his Jan. 23 guilty plea for one count of negligent dereliction of duty for his role in the 2005 killings.

Dela Cruz and Mendoza could not be reached for comment, the Times said.

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