- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 9, 2007

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. (AP) — A Marine sergeant testified yesterday 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 November 19, I knew something had to be done with an investigation,” said 1st Sgt. Albert Espinosa, who maintained casualty reports for Kilo Company at the time of the killings.

Sgt. Espinosa testified on the second day of a preliminary hearing for Capt. Randy W. Stone, a Marine lawyer from Dunkirk, Md. Capt. Stone is accused along with three officers of dereliction of duty for failing to investigate the deaths, which followed the death of a Marine in a roadside bombing.

Sgt. Espinosa said that in the days after the killings, he told Capt. Stone and the company’s commander, Capt. Lucas McConnell, that an investigation should be started.

“They said don’t worry about it, battalion will handle it,” he said. “It wasn’t the answer I was looking for.”

Sgt. 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 of 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 that so many 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.”

Lt. Kallop was the first officer at the scene of the blast that killed the Marine and injured two others.

He was called to the stand by Capt. Stone’s civilian attorney, Charles Gittins, who hoped the commander’s testimony would show that Capt. Stone, 34, did nothing wrong because he thought the killings were a legitimate outcome of combat. Mr. Gittins noted that Capt. 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, Lt. 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?” he said. “Where are the bad guys? Why aren’t any insurgents here?”

Lt. 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 wrongdoing, saying they responded properly to a perceived threat.

Several other Marines have been given immunity for their testimony. Mr. Gittins said he expects to call 25 witnesses, including a two-star general, over the next few days.

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