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Witness accounts of attack on civilians revealed

January 07, 2007|From Times Wire Services

WASHINGTON — A Marine squad just hit by a roadside bomb in Iraq ordered five unarmed Iraqi civilians out of a taxi, and the squad leader shot them, witnesses say in a report obtained by the Washington Post.

The report by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, which reveals previously undisclosed details about the Haditha incident, says a taxi happened upon the scene shortly after the explosion. Witnesses told investigators that the Marines' squad leader, Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich, ordered the passengers out of the car.

Naval investigators said that Wuterich shot the Iraqis one by one as they stood next to the vehicle, about 10 feet from him, the Post reported Saturday.

Another Marine allegedly fired shots into the victims' bodies as they lay on the ground.

"They didn't even try to run away," said one witness, a young Iraqi soldier working with the Marine squad. "We were afraid from Marines and we saw them behaving like crazy. They were yelling and screaming."

Four Marines have been charged in the Nov. 19, 2005, deaths of 24 civilians, including women and children, that occurred immediately after a roadside bomb killed one Marine and injured two. In addition, four officers, who were not there during the killings but were accused of failures in investigating and reporting the deaths, have been charged.

Marines took dozens of gruesome photographs of the civilians who were killed, the newspaper reported today in a subsequent article.

Much like the photographs that emerged in the Abu Ghraib prison abuse cases, the images -- which investigators tracked down on several laptop computers and digital media drives, some in the United States -- provide visual evidence of what happened. But unlike the detainee photographs, which were turned over to officials, who then investigated the case, the Haditha images were discovered months after the shootings as more than 60 Naval Criminal Investigative Service agents scoured the globe for them.

The killings have led to the biggest U.S. criminal case involving civilian deaths in Iraq.

After the taxi passengers were shot, the report says, the Marines raided nearby houses, firing indiscriminately in a bloody, door-to-door sweep, killing 14 unarmed inhabitants in 10 minutes.

The four Marines charged with murder in the killings are: Wuterich; Sgt. Sanick P. Dela Cruz; Lance Cpl. Justin L. Sharratt; and Lance Cpl. Stephen B. Tatum. They face a maximum penalty of life in prison if convicted.

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