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Court-martial on Iraqi deaths under way

  |   Jan. 11, 2012 at 7:39 AM
CAMP PENDLETON, Calif., Jan. 11 (UPI) -- An ex-U.S. Marine testified he and other Marines were justified in storming a house in Iraq and killing all inside after being told the house was "hostile."

Cpl. Stephen Tatum, testifying Tuesday at Camp Pendleton, Calif., said there was no reason to ask about distinguishing combatants from non-combatants before firing on the house Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich labeled "hostile," the Los Angeles Times reported Wednesday.

Wuterich is accused of nine counts of voluntary manslaughter, as well as charges of aggravated assault, dereliction of duty, obstruction of justice and reckless endangerment in the killing of 24 Iraqi civilians in Haditha in 2005. Charges were dropped against six of the Marines and one was acquitted.

Testifying under immunity, Tatum said immediately after the explosion, he heard small-arms fire coming from the direction of a nearby home but wasn't sure about the origin.

"I never saw an individual firing," he told the court.

Tatum, 30, said after he, Wuterich and two other Marines stormed the home, there was no need to determine if people inside were noncombatants.

"I did not feel I had to [positively identify] individuals" as threats, he said.

Tatum testified he saw Wuterich fire in a room where the bodies of women and children were found, the Times said. The defense said it will disprove that claim.

In opening statements Monday, prosecutors told jurors Wuterich lost control and didn't determine whether people in three homes actually posed a threat before embarking on the mission.

A defense attorney said Wuterich acted within his Marine training on how to clear houses used by insurgent gunmen. The deaths of non-combatants, while tragic, didn't rise to the level of criminal charges, the attorney said.

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