CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. - A Marine who took pictures of Iraqi men, women and children killed by U.S. forces testified Thursday that he deleted the photos under an officer's orders and later lied repeatedly to investigators about what happened to the images.
The testimony by Staff Sgt. Justin Laughner came during the court-martial of 1st Lt. Andrew Grayson, who is accused of helping cover up the Nov. 19, 2005, killings in Haditha, Iraq.
Laughner said he took the photos of the bodies hours after a roadside bomb hit a convoy, killing the driver of a Humvee and wounding two Marines.
After the bombing, investigators say, Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich and a squad member shot five men by a car at the scene. Wuterich then allegedly ordered his men into several houses, where they cleared rooms with grenades and gunfire, killing the Iraqis. In all, 24 men, women and children died.
Laughner testified that Grayson told him to delete the photos. He admitted during questioning by a defense attorney that he lied to five different investigators about what happened to the photographs.
"I wasn't truthful with them because I knew I had already deleted them," he said. "I felt that I had done something wrong."
Laughner also said during cross-examination that he did not know he had been violating military law when he stored photos of the dead Iraqis on his personal laptop computer.
Four enlisted Marines were initially charged with murder in the case and four officers were charged with failing to investigate the deaths. Charges were dropped against five of the Marines but remain against Grayson, Wuterich and Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani.
All three say they are innocent. Grayson, of Springboro, Ohio, is the first to go to trial.
Grayson was not present at the scene of the killings, but is accused of obstruction of justice among other charges for allegedly ordering Laughner to delete the photographs.
In opening statements earlier in the day, Lt. Col. Paul H. Atterbury, the prosecutor, told jurors that Grayson lied to investigators to help cover up the killings. But Grayson's defense attorney said the officer had no motive to lie about the killings because he wasn't there when they happened.
"Lieutenant Grayson is nothing more than a fall guy in a botched investigation under intense media pressure," Maj. William A. Santmyer told the jury of seven officers.
He said the only connection between Grayson and the Haditha case were pictures.
"What the evidence will not show and what the government will not be able to show is a motive for the misconduct Grayson is alleged to have committed," he said.
Grayson is charged with two counts of making false official statements, two counts of trying to fraudulently separate from service, and one count each of attempt to deceive by making false statements and obstruction of justice by trying to impede an investigation.
Grayson, who says he did nothing wrong, faces a maximum of 25 years in prison, forfeiture of all pay and dismissal from the Marine Corps, if found guilty of all charges.
Wuterich, of Meriden, Conn., faces voluntary manslaughter and other charges. Chessani, of Rangely, Colo., is charged with dereliction of duty and violation of a lawful order on allegations he mishandled the aftermath of the shooting deaths.
Chessani was a battalion commander.
© 2008 The Associated Press