Marine ordered Iraqi women and kids shot
International Herald Tribun
The Associated Pres
July 18, 2007

CAMP PENDLETON, California: A Marine charged with murdering two girls and killing several other Iraqis gave orders to shoot into a roomful of children and young women, a squad member testified.

Lance Cpl. Stephen Tatum then went into the room himself, followed by loud noise that could have been M-16 gunfire or a grenade, said Lance Cpl. Humberto Manuel Mendoza.

"I told him there's just womens and kids in the room," Mendoza said Tuesday. "He replied, 'Well, shoot them.'"

Mendoza was with Tatum and two other Marines when they went to clear houses in Haditha, Iraq, on Nov. 19, 2005, in the aftermath of a roadside bomb that killed one Marine and wounded two others. Marines killed 24 civilians, resulting in the biggest U.S. criminal case involving civilian deaths to come out of the Iraq war.

A military prosecutor, Lt. Col. Paul Atterbury, asked Mendoza whether he thought it was possible Tatum was joking about shooting the women and children.

"He was very serious, sir," said Mendoza, who testified with a grant of immunity.

Mendoza said he shot a man in the first house the squad entered and believed he was dead. Tatum went into the room where the body lay and fired more shots.

"He said it was to make sure he was dead," Mendoza said.

At the second house, Mendoza said he shot a man as the team went in. He then stayed in the kitchen while squad members threw a grenade and moments later found a woman in her 20s cowering in a back bedroom with four or five children.

Mendoza said he returned to the house later as part of a body retrieval team and saw that the woman and several children were dead from multiple wounds that could have been caused by M-16 fire.

Tatum's attorney, Jack Zimmerman, questioned Mendoza's account, noting that Mendoza initially gave a different version of events to government investigators.

Mendoza, who is among seven Marines given immunity in the case, told investigators in March 2006 he shot at least two men because they were in houses declared hostile.

"I was following my training that all individuals in a hostile house are to be shot," Mendoza told investigators.

Zimmerman brought up a polygraph test Mendoza failed after changing his account of events.

Mendoza replied he was telling the truth, and freely admitted lying initially to protect his fellow Marines.

"You'd lie to protect your fellow Marines, but not to help yourself?" Zimmerman asked.

"Yes," Mendoza said.

Mendoza, a Venezuelan citizen, has an application for U.S. citizenship pending. That application would be denied if he were charged with any crime, he acknowledged. But he said that he had not told any government lawyers about the content of his testimony before he was granted immunity in December 2006, shortly before charges were filed against Tatum and other Marines.

According to a report by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service dated May 17, 2006, Tatum told investigators that he shot women and children because "women and kids can hurt you too." He went on to say he later felt remorseful about the incident.

The report describes an interview with Tatum, but it was not signed by the Marine.

In March, Tatum passed a polygraph test, ordered by his lawyers last March and submitted as evidence, in which he said he thought both houses he entered in Haditha were hostile.

Mendoza was the second of Tatum's squad members to testify on the second day of preliminary hearings to determine whether he will be tried for murder.

Also Tuesday, Sgt. Sanick P. Dela Cruz testified that after the deaths Tatum disapproved how the United States was waging war and wished troops had more leeway to shoot.

Tatum poked fun at a squad member who asked permission before shooting and said he thought the war should be fought the way it was in Biblical scriptures, "where you just go in the city and kill every living thing," said Dela Cruz.

With Tatum, 26, leaning intently forward behind the defense table, Dela Cruz spoke quietly and was repeatedly told to speak up for the court reporter. He said Tatum made the comments to him while they were on patrol in January 2006.

Dela Cruz said that he recalled Tatum entering an Iraqi home near the bomb site where Marines had found more than $5,000 (€3,630) in U.S. currency and suggested that the money should be sent to the family of their fallen comrade to pay for a funeral.

"I think he was serious," Dela Cruz said. Tatum did not take the money in the end.

At the opening of Tatum's hearing Monday, his attorney said Tatum believed he was following procedure by confronting a threat with deadly force.

Besides unpremeditated murder of two girls in one house, Tatum is charged with negligent homicide in the deaths of two men, a woman and a young boy. He is also accused of assaulting another boy and a girl. If convicted of murder, he faces up to life in prison.

The squad leader, Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, is charged with murdering 18 Iraqis. His preliminary hearing is set for Aug. 22.

After the Article 32 investigation, the military equivalent of a grand jury proceeding, hearing officer Lt. Col. Paul Ware will recommend whether Tatum should face a court-martial. The final decision rests with Lt. Gen. James Mattis, the general overseeing the case.

Associated Press writer Thomas Watkins contributed to this report.

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