Thu Mar 15 2007 15:05:11 ET

He’s sorry that civilians — including women and children — died when he and his men reacted to an attack that killed a comrade in Haditha, but Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich says today he would make the same decision that caused their deaths. Wuterich is charged with killing 18 civilians. He led three other Marines also charged with murder. His interview with Scott Pelley, the first time any of them has spoken publicly about that day, is part of a report to be broadcast on 60 MINUTES Sunday, March 18 (7:00-8:00PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.

“There is nothing that I can possibly say to make up or make well the deaths of those women and children, and I am absolutely sorry it happened that day,” says Wuterich. Despite the outcome, Wuterich insists it was the right decision. “What I did that day, the decision that I made, I would make those decisions again today,” he tells Pelley. “Those are decisions that I made in a combat situation and I believe I had to make those decisions.”

One of those decisions, which Wuterich admits to in the interview, was shooting five unarmed Iraqi men in their backs. Wuterich says the men were running from a car that had appeared on the scene at about the same time their comrade was killed by a roadside bomb. Wuterich says their killing was justified; he says he identified them as having hostile intent toward the Marines. Wuterich also maintains that the Iraqi men disobeyed the orders of one of his squad members and that the Iraqis should have known what to do.

“Normally the Iraqis know the drill…if something happens…get down, hands up…

They started to take off, so I shot at them,” Wuterich says. Other Marines have told investigators that the Iraqis appeared to be following orders and were not fleeing. Pelley asks Wuterich how running away from the scene could have constituted hostile intent. He replies that he thought they may have detonated the roadside bomb. He adds, “But also at the same time, there were military-aged males that were inside that car. The only vehicle, the only thing that was out, that was Iraqi, was them. They were 100 meters away from that IED. Those are the things that went through my mind before I pulled the trigger. That was positive identification,” Wuterich tells Pelley.

Another decision Wuterich made that day was to lead an attack on two houses. That attack killed three women and six children. The Marines attacked the first house with the permission of a superior officer because they thought two or three shots were fired at them from it. Wuterich says the Marines tossed a grenade into a room in the dwelling before determining who was inside. They pressed the attack with a charge through the door and gunshots to kill any survivors. According to Wuterich, this was the best way to clear a house safely, and he has no compunction about doing it. “You can’t hesitate to make a decision. Hesitation equals being killed, either yourself or your men… That’s what we do. That’s how our training goes.”

Wuterich says he saw that the attack on the first house had killed women and children. But he did not stop the assault, because he says he saw a back door open in the house and assumed the sniper had gone through it to the next house. “My responsibility as a squad leader is to make sure that none of the rest of my guys died …and at that point we were still on the assault, so no, I don’t believe [I should have stopped the attack],” he tells Pelley.

“We went through that house much the same, prepping the rooms with grenades, going in there, and eliminating the threat and engaging the targets,” says Wuterich. In the second house, a man, two women and four children who ranged in age from 2 to 14, died. “Did we know that civilians were in there? No. It would have been one thing if we went in those rooms and looked at everyone and shot them,” Wuterich tells Pelley. “We cleared these houses the way they were supposed to be cleared.”