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Officer linked to Haditha coverup

The Baltimore Sun

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. -- A staff sergeant testified yesterday that he was ordered to destroy grisly pictures of women and children killed by U.S. Marines so that the images would not be part of a statement being prepared for an investigative officer and a magazine reporter.

The testimony by Staff Sgt. Justin Laughner, taken under a grant of immunity, is the first evidence suggesting that any Marine officer may have engaged in a coverup in the deaths of 24 Iraqi civilians in 2005.

Other testimony has suggested that officers made only a superficial review before deciding that the deaths were combat related, and so no war-crimes investigation was required.

Laughner testified at a preliminary hearing for a former battalion commander that he felt the order, which he said was given by Lt. Andrew Grayson, amounted to obstruction of justice but that he complied and later lied when asked whether any pictures had been taken.

"It's not right, but I didn't say anything," Laughner said.

Although Laughner deleted the pictures from his computer, the images remained on his digital camera and are now part of the criminal case against four officers and three enlisted Marines.

Grayson is charged with dereliction of duty and obstruction of justice in the aftermath of the 2005 killings in Haditha, Iraq. The three other officers - including the former commander of the Marine battalion involved, Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani - are charged with dereliction of duty for not calling for a war-crimes investigation.

Tony Perry writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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