CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. (AP) _ A Marine captain accused of failing to investigate the killings of 24 Iraqi civilians said Tuesday that he never pursued a probe because he believed the deaths resulted from lawful combat.
Capt. Randy W. Stone also said he never lied about his actions. ``I have never lied and have worked at all times to assist as best I could to shed light on what I knew and when I knew it,'' Stone said.
Stone, who was the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines lawyer at the time of the Nov. 19, 2005 killings in the town of Haditha, spoke from the lectern on the seventh day of his Article 32 hearing, the military equivalent of a grand jury proceeding.
It was the first time he addressed the court and his statement was unsworn, which prevented him from being cross-examined by prosecutors.
An investigating officer will ultimately recommend whether the charges should go to trial. Four officers, including Stone, are charged with dereliction of duty in the case. Three enlisted Marines are charged with murder.
The slayings occurred after a roadside bomb killed a Marine driving a Humvee and injured two others.
In the aftermath, five Iraqi men were shot as they approached the scene in a taxi and others _ including women and children _ died as Marines went house to house in the area, clearing homes with grenades and gunfire.
Among other allegations, Iraqi witnesses accused Marines of herding four men into a cupboard and spraying them with gunfire. The Marine Corps asserts the 24 slain were civilians, but several witnesses have testified eight were insurgents.
Stone, 34, emphasized a central argument of his defense that many Marines shared in the decision not to investigate.
``Those around me at all pay grades and in every niche of the battalion or beyond seemed satisfied,'' he said.
About 20 witnesses have testified at the hearing. Many said they saw no need for an investigation.
``There was nothing there that looked out of the ordinary,'' Maj. Kevin Gonzalez, the executive officer for the battalion, said Tuesday.
Gonzalez said Stone was told by the battalion's commander, Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani, that the deaths occurred in combat so he ``didn't need to take any other action.'' Chessani is one of the four officers charged with dereliction of duty.