Marine NCO: I killed Iraqi civilians as they tried to surrender

ANGERED that a beloved member of his squad had been killed by a bomb, a US marine urinated on the body of one of 24 Iraqi civilians killed by his unit in the town of Haditha, the soldier has testified.

Sergeant Sanick Dela Cruz, who has immunity from prosecution after murder charges against him were dismissed, also said he watched his squad leader shoot five Iraqi civilians who were trying to surrender.

In dramatic evidence in a pretrial hearing for one of the seven marines charged with the killings in 2005 and an alleged cover-up, Dela Cruz described his bitterness after a roadside bomb tore Lance-Corporal Miguel "TJ" Terrazas in half.

"I know it was a bad thing I've done, but I done it because I was angry TJ was dead and I p***ed on one Iraqi's head," an unemotional Dela Cruz said in a military courtroom in Camp Pendleton, California.

Dela Cruz also said he watched the squad leader, Sergeant Frank Wuterich, shoot five men whose hands were tied. Dela Cruz said he also shot the five men as they lay on the ground.

Wuterich "told me that if anybody asked, they were running away and the Iraqi army shot them", Dela Cruz testified.

Three marines have been charged with murder in the Haditha case, and four officers have been charged with dereliction of duty and obstructing the investigation. It is the biggest US criminal case involving civilian deaths in the Iraq war. Prosecutors say the killings were revenge for L-Cpl Terrazas' death, while the marines charged say it was a clearing operation, conducted under lawful orders, that had disastrous results.

Wuterich's lawyer later called Dela Cruz's evidence false. "It's about the fourth or fifth version of events we've heard from Sgt Dela Cruz. It's false, of course," Neal Puckett said. "It's just so sad that he is being required to testify against his fellow marine NCO in order to guarantee his freedom. He's a victim, too."

The US marine corps initially reported the deaths as a result of the bombing and a firefight with insurgents. Reporting by Time magazine in January 2006 later prompted the corps to investigate the killings again.

Dela Cruz, from Chicago, saw intense action in his first Iraq tour of duty in 2004. A Marine Corps News article once featured him as one of the unsung heroes of the Iraq war.

The hearing this week focused on Captain Randy Stone, who was legal adviser for Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment. Stone, 34, is charged with violating an order and two counts of dereliction of duty.

On 19 November , a convoy of marines from Kilo Company was moving through Haditha when a bomb detonated, killing L-Cpl Terrazas and injuring two others. Surviving marines stopped a car and shot its five occupants, then swept through two houses, killing the people inside.

According to evidence, the five men in the vehicle were the first of 24 victims.

Another marine, Sergeant Albert Espinosa, testified earlier that he had pressed for an investigation almost immediately after the killings.

He said he was frustrated by the apparent indifference of his commanding officers. "We deserve an answer to what happened and I wasn't happy with the answers I was getting," Sgt Espinosa said.

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