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Haditha Proceedings Begin with Marine Lawyer

Maliya Abdul Hamid Hassan Ali holds a picture of her brother, Waleed, who died in the Haditha raid.
Akram Saleh / Getty Images
Maliya Abdul Hamid Hassan Ali holds a picture of her brother, Waleed, who died in the Haditha raid.

Nearly a year and half after 24 Iraqi civilians were killed by U.S. Marines in the village of Haditha, legal proceedings are getting under way today at Camp Pendleton in Southern California.

Seven Marines face charges. First up is Capt. Randy Stone, who is accused of failing to investigate the killings. Stone faces the military equivalent of a grand jury investigation.

Prosecutors say the Marines went on a rampage in November 2005, after a fellow Marine was killed by a roadside bomb. The Marines allegedly started by ordering five men out of a taxi and then systematically gunning them down. From there, they allegedly burst into houses in the village of Haditha and killed 19 others, some of them women and children.

Four officers have been charged with failing to report the killings, while three enlisted men have been charged with unpremeditated murder in the case.

One of the enlisted men is 25-year-old Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, who led a Marine squad during the incident. He is charged with 18 murders and with lying about what happened.

Wuterich is the only Marine who has spoken publicly about Haditha. He told CBS's 60 Minutes how they cleared a room in a house he believed was a source of hostile fire:

"Kicked in the door, the grenade goes in, the grenade goes off and the first man enters the room, and engages the people in the room," Wuterich said for the CBS microphones.

Wuterich had no positive identification that the people in the room were enemies. He was asked what he saw when he entered the room.

"I remember there ... may have been women in there," he told CBS. "There may have been children in there."

Tuesday, prosecutors will not be focusing on those who did the shooting, but on one of the officers who failed to investigate.

Capt. Randy Stone was the battalion judge advocate. He told The New York Times that his superior told him "we don't do investigations for troops in contact situations." That's military jargon for combat with enemy fighters.

Two of Stone's superiors, his commander and the division commander, also saw no reason to investigate. They are expected to testify at the hearing.

Stone's lawyer, Charles Gittins, says the Marines are trying to make his client a scapegoat.

"They've gone after Captain Stone because it's convenient to go after the lowest-level guy and make him the guy holding the bag," Gittins said. "But the truth of the matter is there were judge advocates at every level, all of whom had exactly the same information as Captain Stone and none of whom believed there was a reason to investigate."

Army Maj. Gen. Eldon Bargewell conducted an investigation into the conduct of the Marines surrounding the Haditha incident. The report has not been made public, but according to The Washington Post, it contains scathing criticism of the Marines for valuing Iraqi lives less than American lives.

There will be testimony today about some of the circumstances of the killings. But attorney Charles Gittins says in the hearing for Stone, the details of the shootings are irrelevant.

"I really, frankly cannot concern myself with the shooting aspect of the case because my client's not charged with.... He never visited that place, he never saw the photographs that were taken. All he knew was that a number of civilian casualties had been incurred."

Stone's Article 32 hearing is expected to last for the rest of this week.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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