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thedrifter
01-21-08, 09:20 PM
Jan 21, 2008
Hearing before special Marine panel in NC enters 3rd week

By ESTES THOMPSON
Associated Press Writer

CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. A special military panel investigating a shooting in Afghanistan that left as many as 19 civilians dead began its third week of testimony Monday, with much of the proceeding held in a closed hearing because of classified information.

Military officials initially thought the Court of Inquiry would take only two weeks. But after 22 witnesses, some with conflicting testimony, officials said they don't expect closing arguments until the end of this week.

Testimony on Monday didn't focus on the shootings but rather on activity shortly after the Marines arrived in Afghanistan. Testimony was expected to resume Tuesday.

The court is a rarely used administrative hearing being held at Camp Lejeune to investigate two officers who were leading a Marine Corps unit back to its base when it was targeted by a suicide bomber March 4.

An Army report found that up to 19 civilians died during the shootings, though lawyers representing the two officers being investigated - former company commander Maj. Fred C. Galvin, 38, of the Kansas City area, and platoon leader Capt. Vincent J. Noble, 29, of Philadelphia - said the death toll was lower.

The Marines have said a minivan packed with explosives detonated near their six-vehicle convoy, followed by a well-planned ambush. Some Marines who were in the convoy have testified that they heard small arms fire after the explosion.

But citing witness accounts, Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission concluded that the Marines reacted to the car bombing by firing indiscriminately at pedestrians and people in cars, buses and taxis in six different locations along a 10-mile stretch of roadway.

On Monday, Capt. Robert Olson, who was the Marine Special Operations company's executive officer and intelligence chief, said he felt as if commanders already in Afghanistan considered his company a distraction when it first arrived in Afghanistan.

Olson said he went to military headquarters in Bagram, Afghanistan, ahead of the special operations company to learn about its operations area and to line up supplies and vehicles.

"The area we were going to had very little U.S. presence," Olson testified. "I didn't get a real clean answer on a lot of things I considered fairly critical. I just had a sense that we were sort of a distraction near the end of their deployment."

Olson, who wasn't present during the suicide bombing, received immunity for his testimony.

Ellie