A U.S. military judge sentenced a Marine squad leader charged with war crimes in Iraq with a maximum of 90 days in jail and a reduction in pay and rank, according to CNN.
But because of a plea deal with prosecutors, Staff Sgt. Frank G. Wuterich, 31, won't serve any time in the brig. The military judge was obligated to abide by the plea arrangement between prosecutors and the defense.
In the end, Wuterich's sentence amounts to a pay cut and a reduction in rank to private.
Iraqi officials condemned the plea deal for Wuterich -- who was facing several manslaughter and other charges. One U.S. military law expert said a public explanation by the U.S. military is needed, according to CNN.
As part of his guilty plea, Wuterich accepted responsibility for giving negligent verbal instructions to the Marines under his command, according to Reuters. He reportedly told them to "shoot first and ask questions later," which resulted in the deaths of innocent civilians.
In a pre-sentencing statement, Wuterich said when he gave that order, "the intent wasn't that they should shoot civilians. It was that they would not hesitate in the face of the enemy."
Wuterich was accused of being the ringleader in a series of November 19, 2005, shootings and grenade attacks that left two dozen civilians dead in Haditha, a city west of Baghdad.
The killings were portrayed by Iraqi witnesses and military prosecutors as a massacre of unarmed civilians -- men, women and children -- carried out by Marines in anger after a member of their unit was killed by a roadside bomb.
Defense lawyers argued the deaths resulted from a fast-moving combat situation and that the Marines believed they were under enemy fire.