CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. – A Marine sergeant testified Wednesday that he repeatedly told higher-ups that the November 2005 killings of 24 Iraqi civilians in Haditha warranted an investigation but he was told not to worry about it.
"Knowing what happened on Nov. 19, I knew something had to be done with an investigation," said 1st Sergeant Albert Espinosa, who maintained casualty reports for Kilo Company at the time of the killings.
Espinosa testified on the second day of a preliminary hearing for Capt. Randy W. Stone, a Marine lawyer from Dunkirk, Md. Stone is accused along with three officers of dereliction of duty for failing to investigate the deaths.
Espinosa said in the days after the killings, he told Stone and the company's commander, Capt. Lucas McConnell, that an investigation should be launched into the deaths.
"They said don't worry about it, battalion will handle it," he said. "It wasn't the answer I was looking for."
Espinosa also testified that log books from Nov. 19 were incomplete or missing.
The hearing is part of an Article 32 investigation, the military's equivalent to a grand jury proceeding. Maj. Thomas McCann, the investigating officer, will hear evidence and recommend whether the charges should go to trial in the biggest U.S. criminal case involving civilian deaths in the Iraq war.
A platoon commander testified Tuesday that he was shocked civilians had died but he defended the move as a legitimate combat operation.
"There's a difference between killing and murder," Marine 1st Lt. William Kallop told a military hearing Tuesday. "At the time, I think they had a good understanding of the rules of engagement."
Kallop was the first officer at the scene of the roadside bomb blast that killed one Marine and injured two others.
He was called to the stand by Stone's civilian attorney, Charles Gittins, who hoped the commander's testimony would show that Stone, 34, did nothing wrong because he thought the killings were a legitimate outcome of combat. Gittins noted that Stone reported the incident up the chain of command and said he had been told not to investigate further.
Recalling the aftermath of the killings, Kallop said he went to inspect one of several cleared houses. Instead of finding dead insurgents, he found body parts, an injured boy and a dead Iraqi man.
"The only thing I thought, sir, was what the crap?" Kallop said. "Where are the bad guys? Why aren't any insurgents here?"
Kallop said a Marine who had helped clear the house looked "just as shocked."
Three enlisted Marines are charged with unpremeditated murder in the case. They deny any wrongdoing, saying they responded properly to a perceived threat.
Under questioning from prosecutor Lt. Col. Sean Sullivan, Kallop said Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, a squad leader, reported to him after the houses were cleared but did not mention that many civilians were killed.
After Kallop saw the bodies himself, he did not question Wuterich about the deaths.
"You didn't even have one question that maybe the rules of engagement, it wasn't applied?" asked Sullivan.
"No, sir," Kallop replied.
Wuterich is charged with unpremeditated murder in 18 of the Iraqi deaths. Prosecutors have given several other Marines immunity in return for their testimony.
Gittins said he expects to call 25 witnesses, including a two-star general, over the next few days.