STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

REBECCA ROBERTS, host:

And I'm Rebecca Roberts in for Renee Montagne.

On Capitol Hill, leaders from both parties are signaling impatience with the Iraq war and are looking for proof of improvement in the security situation by September. That's when the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, General David Petraeus, is to deliver his assessment of the current troop buildup.

Trent Lott, the number two Republican in the Senate, is calling for significant changes on the ground this fall, but declined to suggest possible consequences.

INSKEEP: And let's talk about one development on the ground in recent years. Nearly a year and a half after 24 Iraqi civilians were killed by U.S. Marines in the village of Haditha, legal proceedings are getting under way today at Camp Pendleton; that's in Southern California. Seven Marines face charges, and the first one up is Captain Randy Stone, who's accused of failing to investigate the killings.

As NPR's John McChesney reports, Stone faces the military equivalent of a grand jury investigation.

JOHN MCCHESNEY: Prosecutors say the Marines went on a rampage in November of 2005 after a fellow Marine was killed by a roadside bomb. They allegedly started by ordering five men out of a taxi and then systematically gunning them down. From there, the Marines allegedly burst into houses in the village of Haditha and killed 19 others, some of them women and children.

Four officers have been charged with failing to investigate and report the killings, while three enlisted men have been charged with unpremeditated murder in the case. One of them is 25-year-old Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich, who led a Marine squad during the incident. He's charged with 18 murders and with lying about what happened.

Wuterich is the only Marine who has spoken publicly. He told CBS's "60 Minutes" how they cleared a room in a house he believed was a source of hostile fire.

Staff Sergeant FRANK WUTERICH (U.S. Marine Corps): Kicked in the door, threw the grenade in, grenade goes off. The first man enters the room and engages the people in the room.

MCCHESNEY: Wuterich had no positive identification that the people in the room were enemies. He was asked what he saw when he entered the room.

Staff Sgt. WUTERICH: You know, I can't, initially. I remember there may have been women in there, may have been children in there.

MCCHESNEY: Today, prosecutors will not be focusing on those who did the shooting, but on one of the officers who failed to investigate the shooting. Captain Randy Stone was the battalion judge advocate. He told the New York Times that his superior told him, we don't do investigations for troops in contact situations. That's military jargon for combat with enemy fighters.

Two of Stone's superiors, his commander and the division commander, who also saw no reason to investigate the incident, will testify today. Stone's lawyer, Charles Gittins, says the Marines are scapegoating his client.

Mr. CHARLES GITTINS (Attorney for Captain Randy Stone): They've gone after Captain Stone because it's convenient to go after the lowest-level guy and make him be the guy holding the bag. But the truth of the matter is there were judge advocates at every level, all of whom had exactly the same information as Captain Stone and none of whom believed that there was a reason to investigate.

MCCHESNEY: Army Major General Eldon Bargewell conducted an investigation into the conduct of the Marines surrounding the Haditha incident. The report hasn't been made public, but according to The Washington Post, it contains scathing criticism of the Marines for valuing Iraqi lives less than American lives.

There will be testimony today about some of the circumstances of the killings. But attorney Charles Gittins says in today's hearing for Captain Stone, the details of the shootings are irrelevant.

Mr. GITTINS: I really, frankly, cannot concern myself with the shooting aspect of the case because my client is not charged with - he never visited that place. He never saw the photographs that were taken. All he knew was that a number of civilian casualties had been incurred.

MCCHESNEY: Captain Stone's Article 32 hearing is expected to last for the rest of this week.

John McChesney, NPR News.

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