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Haditha marine 'watched superior kill surrendering civilians'

London Guardian | May 10, 2007 
Mark Oliver

A US marine told a court yesterday that he had "pissed" on the head of one of 24 dead Iraqi civilians killed by his unit and watched a superior officer kill five Iraqis as they tried to surrender.

Sergeant Sanick Dela Cruz made the admission at a pre-trial hearing ahead of a series of military trials over the killings and alleged cover-up at Haditha, 120 miles west of Baghdad, in November 2005.

He said he knew urinating on the dead Iraqi was wrong but was enraged after one of his colleagues, Lance Corporal "TJ" Miguel Terrazas, had been torn apart by a roadside bomb.

"I know it was a bad thing what I've done, but I done it because I was angry TJ was dead and I pissed on one Iraqi's head," Sgt Dela Cruz said.

The Haditha killings have prompted the biggest US criminal case involving civilian deaths in the Iraq conflict. A total of seven US marines face charges, including three marines who have been charged with murder.

Sgt Dela Cruz was initially charged with murder but the prosecution dropped all charges against him last month and he agreed to give evidence with immunity.

Yesterday, at a pre-trial hearing ahead of the trial of one of the accused, Sgt Dela Cruz gave evidence at a courtroom in Camp Pendleton, north of San Diego, California.

He said he watched how his squad leader, Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich, shot five Iraqis who were trying to surrender and then told his men to lie about the killings.

"They were just standing, looking around, had hands up," Sgt Dela Cruz said. "Then I saw one of them drop in the middle. I didn't know what was going on, sir. Looked to my left, saw Staff Sergeant Wuterich shooting."

The Iraqi civilians had been standing by a white car with their hands interlocked behind their heads when they were shot, Sgt Dela Cruz says.

"He [St Sgt Wuterich] told me that if anybody asked, they were running away and the Iraqi army shot them," Sgt Dela Cruz said.

After the five men died, a team of marines led by St Sgt Wuterich allegedly attacked two houses with grenades and gunfire in an effort to find insurgents. The dead included women, children and the elderly.

The marines involved have said their response was a legitimate action because they were under attack.

St Sgt Wuterich is one of the three marines accused of murder. His lawyers contest Sgt Dela Cruz's evidence and claim he has given investigators five different accounts of what happened. Defence lawyers say Sgt Dela Cruz has been forced to give evidence against members of his unit in exchange for his freedom.

Yesterday Sgt Dela Cruz was giving evidence ahead of the trial of Captain Randy Stone, a Marine lawyer. Cpt Stone is accused along with three other officers of dereliction of duty for failing to investigate the deaths.

Capt Stone's civilian attorney, Charles Gittins, contends Capt Stone, 34, did nothing wrong because he thought the killings were a legitimate outcome of combat.

Mr Gittins said Capt Stone reported the incident up the chain of command and said he had been told not to investigate further.

Yesterday's hearing was part of what is known as an Article 32 investigation, the US military's equivalent to a grand jury proceeding.

Major Thomas McCann, the investigating officer, will hear further evidence and recommend whether the charges should go to trial.

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