CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. – The top general in charge of Marines in Iraq's Al Anbar province when 24 Iraqis were killed testified by video link from the Pentagon Thursday in the biggest U.S. criminal case involving civilian deaths during the war.
Nearly 18 months after the killings in the town of Haditha, Maj. Gen. Richard A. Huck is a witness in the case.
His testimony came in a preliminary hearing for Capt. Randy W. Stone, one of four officers charged with dereliction of duty for failing to investigate the killings. Three enlisted Marines are also charged with murder.
Huck, who works in the Pentagon as assistant deputy commander of plans, policies and operations, was commander of the 2nd Marine Division at the time of the Nov. 19, 2005, killings. Stone's attorney, Charles Gittins, has called him to testify.
Gittins wants to show Stone did nothing wrong because Marines throughout the command chain knew about the killings but agreed not to order an investigation because the deaths were deemed to have been lawful.
Court documents show that Huck was briefed about the killings soon after they occurred and they did not seem suspicious to him. Huck told investigators that "no bells and whistles went off."
On Wednesday, a Marine sergeant testified that his squad leader shot five of the Iraqi men in Haditha as they stood with their hands behind their heads and then told comrades to lie about it.
Sgt. Sanick P. Dela Cruz said that in the moments after a roadside bomb hit a Humvee in his convoy on Nov. 19, 2005, he saw five men standing by a white car with their hands interlocked behind their heads. The squad leader, Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, then fired about six to eight rounds at the men, Dela Cruz testified.
"They were just standing, looking around, had hands up," Dela Cruz said. "Then I saw one of them drop in the middle. I didn't know what was going on, sir. Looked to my left, saw Staff Sergeant Wuterich shooting."
After the five men died, a Marine team led by Wuterich cleared two houses with grenades and gunfire in an effort to find insurgents. The dead included women, children and elderly Iraqis.
Wuterich's attorney Neal Puckett said in a phone interview that Dela Cruz's account was false and that the Marine had given investigators up to five different versions of events.
Dela Cruz initially was charged with murder, but prosecutors dismissed charges against him last month. He was given immunity to testify.
Stone, 34, of Dunkirk, Md., had only been in the Marine Corps about year and was sent to Iraq a few weeks before the killings.