- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 10, 2008

CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. (AP) — A Marine riding in a Humvee during a shooting that left as many as 19 Afghan civilians dead testified yesterday that his convoy was fired upon at least three times after it was attacked by a car bomb.

Sgt. Brett Hayes said the gunner in his vehicle was knocked from the turret by the blast. The gunner returned to his position and began firing, shouting he was being shot at by small-arms fire from both sides of the road near a bridge over a dry riverbed.

“I started hearing fire come at us,” Sgt. Hayes said during a fact-finding hearing at Camp Lejeune, adding he heard small-arms fire from AK-47 rifles and cracks of the bullets passing overhead.

Sgt. Hayes recalled the March 4 attack during the second day of testimony at a rarely used fact-finding proceeding that is investigating the conduct of two officers involved in the shooting.

On Tuesday, defense lawyers presented photographs of men with rifles standing in the riverbed and said the bombing was a well-planned attack on the patrol.

Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission issued a report after the shooting that accused the Marines of firing indiscriminately at pedestrians and people in cars, buses and taxis at six locations along a 10-mile stretch of road. Defense lawyers maintain the shooting was justified and wasn’t indiscriminate.

The administrative Court of Inquiry, scheduled to last two weeks, will recommend whether the officers — Maj. Fred C. Galvin, 38, commander of the 120-person special operations company, and Capt. Vincent J. Noble, 29, a platoon leader — should be charged with a crime. That decision will be made by Lt. Gen. Samuel Helland, commander of U.S. Marine Forces Central Command.

Some Marines in the six-vehicle convoy opened fire along a crowded roadway in Afghanistan’s Nangahar province after an explosives-rigged minivan crashed into their vehicles. One Marine was wounded. Although an Army investigation concluded 19 Afghan civilians died and 50 were wounded, attorneys for the two officers argue the death toll was lower.

Sgt. Hayes said after his Humvee began to roll after the bombing, the vehicle was fired on again from the right side of the road. The gunner fired back, then fired once or twice at a 45-degree angle toward the road, Sgt. Hayes said, but he didn’t know the intended target.

At that point, the gunner realized he had been hit in the arm with shrapnel and Sgt. Hayes manned the turret for the trip back to base. Sgt. Hayes said he didn’t fire the weapon.

He said the explosion of the vehicle bomb was close enough that he could feel its heat.

The company was on its first deployment after the 2006 creation of the Marine Special Operations Command. After the shooting, eight Marines were sent back to Camp Lejeune and the rest of the company was removed from Afghanistan.

Maj. Gen. Dennis J. Hejlik, the commander of the Marine Special Operations Command, later said the unit responded appropriately.

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