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US Marine Faces Hearing in 2005 Iraqi Civilian Killings 

A military hearing will be held Thursday in California to determine if a U.S. Marine sergeant will be court-martialed in the massacre of 24 Iraqi civilians in 2005.

Sergeant Frank Wuterich was one of four enlisted Marines charged with murder in the November 19, 2005 incident in the town of Haditha. The killings occurred after a fellow Marine was killed by a roadside bomb.

Prosecutors say Wuterich shot to death five unarmed Iraqi men, then led his men on a house-to-house search that left 18 other people dead, including women and children. His defense attorneys will argue that the squad was engaged in hostile combat against insurgents in the town.

Murder charges have been dismissed against two of the Marines, while an investigating officer has recommended that charges be dismissed against a third suspect.

A Marine initially charged with murder in the case, Sergeant Sanick De La Cruz, will testify against Wuterich at Thursday's hearing at Camp Pendleton, located near San Diego.

Four Marine officers also have been charged with dereliction of duty for failing to investigate the deaths. But charges already have been dismissed against one of the officers.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.