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thedrifter
12-02-08, 07:18 AM
Last modified Monday, December 1, 2008 4:33 PM PST

MILITARY: Wuterich ruling requires tape review

By MARK WALKER - Staff Writer

A military judge must review unaired portions of a CBS "60 Minutes" interview with Marine Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich in which he recounts the slaying of 24 Iraqi civilians following a roadside bombing, a military appeals court has ruled.

Prosecutors contend that Wuterich may make admissions on those tapes, known as outtakes, that could help them prove him guilty of manslaughter and related offenses in the 2005 slayings in the Iraqi city of Haditha.

The Nov. 17 ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces is the latest in an ongoing skirmish between CBS and the Marine Corps in the Wuterich case.

The network contends that the military judge was correct when he ruled last year that the prosecution effort was nothing more than a "fishing expedition" and that attempts to see its nonbroadcast material raised substantial First Amendment issues.

In its 3-2 ruling, the court's majority directs the military judge to review the outtakes and then decide whether a prosecution subpoena for that material should stand.

The court said that the judge, Lt. Col. Jeffrey Meeks, abused his discretionary powers by choosing to "quash the subpoena without first conducting an in-camera review of the requested materials."

Meeks is bound by the ruling to review the outtakes in private and then rule on the government subpoena.

Repeated efforts Monday to reach an attorney representing CBS were not successful. Marine Corps officials will not comment on ongoing court cases.

Wuterich was scheduled to go on trial at Camp Pendleton this year on nine counts of voluntary manslaughter and other charges in the Haditha deaths. He was one of eight base troops charged with wrongdoing in the Nov. 19, 2005, killings that included several women and small children as he and his troops searched for those responsible for a roadside bombing.

Charges against six of the defendants have since been withdrawn or dismissed, leaving Wuterich and the battalion commander at Haditha, Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani, as the remaining defendants.

Chessani's case is on hold after another military judge ordered dereliction of duty charges against him dismissed after finding "unlawful command influence" involving a general's legal adviser overseeing the Haditha prosecutions unfairly tainted the case. The Marine Corps challenged that ruling and an appellate court that heard arguments on the issue has yet to rule.

The Wuterich "60 Minutes" issue resulted in supporting court briefs from several media groups, who sided with the network in arguing that handing over nonbroadcast material was akin to forcing a reporter to hand over unpublished notes.

The Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press in Washington was among the groups that sided with CBS and its executive director said Monday she was disappointed with the ruling.

"But I can't say I was shocked," Lucy Dalglish said. She speculated that CBS used the best material in its March 2007 Wuterich broadcast and that the outtakes will do nothing to help the prosecution.

Wuterich's primary attorneys, meanwhile, say they will file a motion for dismissal when his case resumes at Camp Pendleton, citing the unlawful command influence ruling in the Chessani case. Because the legal adviser was involved in consulting on all the Haditha prosecutions, they argue the illegality found by Chessani's judge applies to their client as well.

Contact staff writer Mark Walker at (760) 740-3529 or mlwalker@nctimes.com.

Ellie