By Sonya Geis and Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, May 9, 2007
CAMP PENDLETON, Calif., May 8 -- The first officer to see the bodies of two dozen civilians killed in a 2005 Marine assault in Haditha, Iraq, testified Tuesday that he saw nothing at the scene that he believed required further investigation.
Lt. William T. Kallop said that after a roadside bomb killed one Marine and injured two others, he ordered Marines in the unit to clear two nearby houses. Later, Kallop entered one of the houses and saw two wounded children pretending to be dead, along with "a family that had been killed."
"The only thing I thought was 'Hey, where are the bad guys? Why aren't there any insurgents here?' " Kallop testified. "I thought that those Marines, after what they'd told me, I thought they'd been operating the best they could in an uncertain environment."
Kallop's testimony came during the first criminal hearing arising from the Haditha case, which has highlighted questions about the way U.S. troops operate in Iraq's urban battlefield. Kallop testified at an Article 32 hearing -- the military equivalent of a grand jury investigation -- for Capt. Randy W. Stone, a military lawyer in the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment.
Marines from the battalion are accused of killing 24 civilians in the western Iraqi town of Haditha on Nov. 19, 2005. The Marines have said that they went after suspected insurgents in a white taxi and three nearby houses after the bombing. Military documents depict Marines from Kilo Company moving from house to house, tossing grenades and firing into homes full of women and children.
Stone, 34, is one of four Marine officers charged with ignoring the civilian deaths, while three enlisted Marines are charged with murder. If found guilty, Stone could be sentenced to three years in prison for failing to investigate the incident and dereliction.
Though investigators found that Marines up the chain of command did not try to cover up the deaths, documents obtained by The Washington Post show that Marine officers believed an inquiry was not warranted. The military began investigating two months later, after a Time magazine reporter asked about the killings.
Stone's civilian attorney, Charles Gittins, said his client's superiors knew of the civilian deaths and told Stone not to investigate.
"He didn't see it," Gittins said of Stone. "His battalion commander didn't see it. The regiment commander didn't see it. The staff judge advocate division commander didn't see it. I don't know how you push that down the chain of command to the least experienced guy and say he should have been the one to say something was wrong."
Kallop has been granted immunity from prosecution. He described Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich, who is charged with murder, as "a good Marine."
Kallop, speaking publicly for the first time, said that when he arrived on the scene of the bomb blast he heard small-arms fire that he assumed was from insurgents. He told Wuterich to clear the houses south of the road. Wuterich later told him he had heard an AK-47 rifle being readied to fire, so he tossed grenades into the house and "cleared it." He also said Wuterich acknowledged shooting a group of unarmed men who exited a white taxi because they ran away.
"I thought at the time that my Marines understood the rules of engagement and they're not going to violate them," Kallop testified. "When they gave me a brief on what they did, I said, 'Roger that.' "
Stone was not at the scene of the attacks and was relatively new to the battalion. Kallop testified that Stone never asked him about how the civilians were killed.
A native of Dunkirk, Md., Stone graduated from Gonzaga College High School in the District and later went to Catholic University Law School. Just weeks before the Haditha attack, President Bush mentioned Stone in a San Diego speech commemorating V-J Day.
"Captain Stone proudly wears the uniform just as his grandfathers did at Iwo Jima," Bush said on Aug. 30, 2005. "He's guided by the same convictions they carried into battle."
White reported from Washington.