A Marine sergeant Wednesday admitted lying about the deaths of five Iraqi civilians who were killed while appearing to surrender during an alleged massacre by US troops two years ago.
Dela Cruz was giving evidence in a preliminary hearing into charges against Marine captain Randy Stone, who is accused of failing to properly investigate the deaths of 24 Iraqis in the town.
Stone is one of seven Marines facing charges relating to the killings, the most serious allegations of war crimes involving US troops since the invasion of Iraq began in 2003.
Three Marines face murder charges over the killings while four other soldiers stand accused of covering up the deaths.
Dela Cruz, 24, implicated the Marines' squad leader in Haditha, Sergeant Frank Wuterich, in the deaths of the five men.
The sergeant said he saw Wuterich, who faces multiple murder charges, shoot at the victims when they had their hands up to surrender.
Dela Cruz said he had also pumped bullets into the men after Wuterich had shot them. "I just held my weapon up and shot them. I know they're dead, but I wanted to make sure they were dead," he told the hearing.
Dela Cruz said Wuterich then approached each of the bodies and shot them again in the torso and the head.
Dela Cruz said Wuterich told him: "If anybody asks, they were running away and the Iraqi army shot them."
Dela Cruz said he agreed to go along with the story. "I was basically trying to cover up (for) the squad," he said.
While Dela Cruz described the shooting incident, he did not testify directly about Stone's actions after the killing.
This week's Article 32 hearing will determine whether Stone's case advances to a full court martial later this year.
Prosecutors allege the Marines went on a killing spree in Haditha, a town in the heart of the Sunni triangle, shooting unarmed men, women and children after a comrade was killed by a roadside bomb while on patrol.
Defense lawyers have said the Marines followed established war-time rules of engagement.
Initial reports of the incident by the Marines said 15 people had died in a roadside bombing. But an investigation published by Time magazine in March 2006 contradicted the official version of events.
The Haditha killings led to two separate military investigations.
The first focused on the events in Haditha itself while a second looked at whether military commanders attempted a cover-up.
Copyright © 2007 AFP.