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Haditha killings photo evidence ordered destroyed: US Marine witness

[JURIST] US Marines Staff Sgt. Justin Laughner testified Thursday at the Article 32 hearing [JAG backgrounder] for Lt. Col. Jeffrey R. Chessani [JURIST report], the commander in charge of the Marine battalion implicated in the deaths of 24 Iraqi civilians at Haditha [USMC timeline; JURIST news archive], that a superior officer, Lt. Andrew Grayson, ordered him to delete photographic evidence taken hours after the killing of 24 Iraqi civilians at to keep it out of a report being prepared for top-ranking officers and a reporter. Laughner, who has been granted immunity for his testimony, said he complied with the order and later lied about whether the pictures ever existed, despite having misgivings that the order constituted obstruction of justice. Grayson's own Article 32 hearing is scheduled to begin on June 18.

The Haditha investigation has culminated in the largest US military prosecution involving civilian deaths during the war in Iraq. Four officers have been charged with dereliction of duty offenses and an additional three Marines have been charged with unpremeditated murder. Iraqi witnesses say that Marines led by Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich [advocacy website] shot into the homes of civilians after a fellow Marine was killed by a roadside bomb. Wuterich, who faces 13 charges of unpremeditated murder, has maintained that his unit followed the rules of engagement [JURIST report] and did not purposefully attack civilians. AP has more.

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