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US Marine insists Haditha killing of Iraqi civilians justified

[JURIST] Lance Cpl. Stephen Tatum [advocacy website] admitted during a preliminary hearing Monday to killing Iraqis at Haditha [USMC timeline; JURIST news archive] in November 2005 but said he was acting pursuant to proper military protocol. Tatum is charged [news release] with unpremeditated murder, negligent homicide, and assault related to the deaths of 24 Iraqi civilians [JURIST report]. He asserts that his training directed him to respond to any potential threat with deadly force, but the prosecution says that Tatum and his unit were issued rules-of-engagement cards instructing them to only use deadly force after a target had been identified as having hostile intent. Lt. Gen. James Mattis [official profile], who is overseeing the Haditha killings probe, will determine whether Tatum should face court-martial. If convicted, Tatum faces life in prison.

Monday's Article 32 hearing [JAG backgrounder] took place as a part of the largest US military prosecution involving civilian deaths in Iraq. Four officers have been charged with dereliction of duty offenses and an additional three Marines have been charged with unpremeditated murder. US Marine Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich [advocacy website], commander of the platoon implicated in the deaths, told his lawyer last year [JURIST report] that his unit followed the rules of engagement and did not purposefully attack civilians. Iraqi witnesses say that the Marines led by Wuterich shot into the homes of civilians after a fellow Marine was killed by a roadside bomb. AP has more.

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