SAN DIEGO (AP) _ Military prosecutors have granted immunity to at least seven Marines and they may be called to testify at the trial of fellow troops accused in the slayings of 24 Iraqi civilians in Haditha, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.
The orders were obtained from someone involved in the case who declined to be identified because the documents are not public.
The Marines who were granted immunity include an officer who told troops to raid a house and a sergeant who took photographs of the dead but later deleted them from his camera. The immunity orders ensure that any testimony the Marines volunteer cannot be used against them, making it highly unlikely charges will be brought against the men.
The documents also suggest the troops' eyewitness accounts will feature prominently in military court hearings for the seven other Marines charged in the deadliest case to arise from the Iraq war.
The Marine squad had suffered a fatality on Nov. 19, 2005, when its convoy was rocked by a roadside bomb blast. In the aftermath of the explosion, the troops are accused of killing 24 Iraqis, including women and children, in Haditha.
Four enlisted Marines were charged with unpremeditated murder, and four officers were charged with failing to adequately report the deaths. The troops have maintained their innocence, saying they believed they were under attack and followed proper procedures to defend themselves.
The Marine Corps Tuesday said it dropped all charges against one man, Sgt. Sanick P. Dela Cruz. Dela Cruz also has been given immunity to testify.
A legal expert said by giving so many people immunity, prosecutors are taking a ``conservative'' approach to the case.
``These are legitimate moves by the prosecutor, who is very cautious,'' said Gary Solis, a former Marine Corps prosecutor and judge who teaches law of war at Georgetown University Law Center.
Marine spokesman Lt. Col. Sean Gibson declined to comment Friday. He said, ``As this is an ongoing investigation, the government will not confirm the identity of potential witnesses or discuss the conditions under which they may appear.''
Preliminary hearings for the seven Marines still facing charges are expected in the coming weeks at Camp Pendleton.