- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 12, 2007

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. (AP) — Civilian deaths that occur during combat do not need to be investigated, a Marine lawyer testified yesterday at a hearing for an officer charged in the killings of 24 Iraqis in the town of Haditha.

“There isn’t an automatic law-of-war violation if you have collateral damage,” said Lt. Col. Kent Keith, a judge advocate for the 2nd Marine Division.

Col. Keith spoke at the preliminary hearing for Capt. Randy W. Stone, one of four officers charged with dereliction of duty for failing to investigate the 2005 killings. Three enlisted Marines are charged with unpremeditated murder in the biggest U.S. criminal case involving civilian deaths in the Iraq war.

In the past week, Marines have testified in court that they saw no need to investigate the killings.

Capt. Jeffrey Dinsmore testified Friday that the Haditha town council had circulated a flier demanding an investigation into the deaths and outlining accusations that Marines deliberately targeted civilians, but he dismissed the flier as propaganda.

The attack occurred after a roadside bomb struck a Humvee convoy, killing one Marine and injuring two others. In the aftermath, Marines shot five Iraqis by a car and went house to house looking for insurgents, using grenades and machine guns to clear houses.

Capt. Dinsmore’s testimony echoed other witnesses who testified that the deaths of women and children were considered collateral damage in legitimate combat.

When asked how many people in his battalion knew about the civilian deaths, he said “it was common knowledge.” Capt. Dinsmore testified that regimental commanders had a “unique disinterest” in investigating the killings.

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 officers should go to trial.

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