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Marine general testifies in case of Iraqi deaths

Says he was late to hear allegations

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. -- A Marine general testified yesterday that he initially saw no reason to investigate the killing of women and children by troops in the Iraqi town of Haditha, and said he didn't learn about allegations that civilians were targeted until three months later.

Major General Richard A. Huck was the top general in charge of Marines in Iraq's Al Anbar province when 24 civilians were killed in Haditha on Nov. 19, 2005. He testified that he knew about the deaths that day but considered them simply a "truly unfortunate" consequence of war at the time.

"I had no information that a law of armed conflict violation had been committed," Huck said.

The two-star general spoke by video link from the Pentagon at a preliminary hearing for Captain Randy W. Stone, one of four officers charged with dereliction of duty for failing to investigate the killings. Three enlisted Marines are charged with murder.

Huck said he learned Feb. 12, 2006, that a Time magazine reporter questioned the official US version of the attacks. He said he was "highly irritated" to discover that senior military attorneys knew about allegations that civilians were targeted at least two weeks before he did.

Huck was commander of the Second Marine Division at the time of the killings. Stone's lawyer, Charles Gittins, called him to testify.

Gittins wants to show that Stone did nothing wrong because Marines throughout the command chain knew about the killings but agreed not to order an investigation because the deaths were deemed to have been lawful.

Court documents show that Huck was briefed about the killings soon after they occurred and they did not seem suspicious to him. Huck told investigators that "no bells and whistles went off."

"It was just here is something that happened, and it was onto the next thing," Huck told investigators.

Yesterday marked the third day of Stone's hearing. On Wednesday, a Marine sergeant testified that his squad leader shot five Iraqi men as they stood with their hands in the air and then told comrades to lie about it.