A Filipino marine based in Camp Pendleton in San Diego, who was part of the worst civilian killings in Iraq is in the process of being discharged by the Navy.
The Associated Press (AP) reports the Navy has initiated dismissal proceedings against Filipino Sergeant Sanick Dela Cruz and Sgt. Humberto Mendoza, who were both members of a squad that killed 24 unarmed civilians — including women, elderly and children — in Haditha, Iraq in 2005 and lied about their role in the killings to military investigators.
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus made the decision, and Dela Cruz and Mendoza were notified of the move Thursday, said Lt. Cmdr. Tamara Lawrence, a Navy spokeswoman, to the AP.
The two men could not be reached for comment.
The pending dismissal of Dela Cruz and Mendoza come at a time when their squad leader, Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, pleaded guilty to negligent dereliction of duty in January for his role in the massacre.
Known as the Haditha massacre, military investigators found that eight members of a squad from 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines on November 19, 2005 led by Wuterich killed 24 Iraqi civilians Ð believed to be in retribution – after a roadside bomb exploded killing one Marine and wounding two others.
As part of a plea agreement for pleading guilty, Wuterich was given no jail time and was discharged under honorable conditions — one step below an honorable discharge, the AP reports. Six of the Marines involved (including Dela Cruz) saw their criminal charges dropped in exchange for testimony against Wuterich and one other Marine was found not guilty.
According to AP, Navy officials waited until the judicial proceedings ended before reviewing the case of Dela Cruz and Mendoza.
Mabus sent a letter 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,” the AP reports.
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.
“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.”
Dela Cruz’s role
Dela Cruz, who was born and raised in Cavite City, Philippines before moving to Chicago with relatives, was initially charged with homicide but prosecutors dropped the charge in exchange for full immunity to testify against Wuterich.
During Wuterich’s trial, Dela Cruz admitted to lying to investigators to protect the squad before deciding to tell the truth, the AP reports.
After a humvee carrying Marines exploded, chaos ensued and under Wuterich’s orders of “shoot first, ask questions later” several of the other marines led by Wuterich raided the nearby residents.
What exactly occurred depends on whose testimony you believe. Five college age men were nearby when the explosion occurred.
Wuterich in a hearing said Dela Cruz, in Arabic, shouted at the men to stop but they decided to flee. According to Wuterich, he shot at the men first before Dela Cruz joining in the shooting.
In his version, Dela Cruz said the men, who were unarmed, immediately put their hands up and posed no threat but Wuterich shot them anyway. That’s when Dela Cruz sprayed at the men and performed a “dead check” — military slang making sure the men were dead. Dela Cruz then admitted to urinating on the head of one of the men.
“My emotions got the best of me,” he said.