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A US Marine sergeant testified Wednesday at the Article 32 hearing of Marine lawyer Capt. Randy W. Stone that Stone and other supervisors repeatedly ignored his requests to launch an investigation into the killings of 24 Iraqi civilians at Haditha. 1st Sergeant Albert Espinosa, who was responsible for the casualty reports of the Marine company said he pushed Stone and other superiors for a probinvolved in the incident, but was told not to worry about it. Stone stands accused of dereliction of duty and violating a lawful order to investigate the incident; three other officers are charged with similar offenses. A platoon commander, 1st Lt. William Kallop, testified Tuesday that he was surprised at the number of civilians killed at Haditha, but defended the soldiers' actions as part of a "legitimate combat operation."

The Haditha investigation has culminated in the largest US military prosecution involving civilian deaths during the war in Iraq. Iraqi witnesses claim that Marines led by Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich shot into the homes of civilians after a fellow Marine was killed by a roadside bomb. Wuterich, who faces thirteen charges of unpremeditated murder, has maintained that his unit followed the rules of engagement and did not purposefully attack civilians. Last month, charges against Sgt. Sanick Dela Cruz were dropped in exchange for his testimony against other marines involved. An official report on the incident by US Army Major General Eldon Bargewell found "serious misconduct" on all levels of the US Marine Corps chain of command.


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