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Marines open testimony for inquiry into Afghanistan convoy shooting
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    CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. — A former Marine testified Tuesday that he thinks Afghans were killed needlessly by his special operations unit after its convoy was attacked by a car bomb.
    Nathanial Travers was the first witness in a rarely used Marine Corps proceeding convened to investigate the conduct of two officers in the March 4 shooting, which killed as many as 19 civilians.
    ‘‘I really felt there were a lot of people who died who didn’t need to,’’ said Travers, a former intelligence sergeant who left the Marines last year. ‘‘They were just driving their cars.’’
    The administrative Court of Inquiry, scheduled for two weeks, will focus on the actions of Maj. Fred C. Galvin, 38, commander of the 120-person special operations company, and a platoon leader, Capt. Vincent J. Noble, 29. Neither officer has been charged with a crime.
    Lt. Col. Scott Jack, one of Galvin’s attorneys, said testimony would show the incident ‘‘was a valid shoot, no question about it.’’
    ‘‘If you conclude that, then this court of inquiry is closed,’’ he said Monday.
    Marines in the six-vehicle convoy opened fire along a crowded roadway in Afghanistan’s Nangahar province after an explosives-rigged minivan crashed into their vehicles. One Marine was wounded.
    Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission concluded that the Marines fired indiscriminately at pedestrians and people in cars, buses and taxis at six different locations along a 10-mile stretch of road.
    The case has been marked by disagreement between the Marines and the Army.
    Army Lt. Gen. Francis H. Kearney III, who led special operations forces in the Middle East at the time, ordered eight Marines back to Camp Lejeune and removed the rest of the company from Afghanistan. Maj. Gen. Dennis J. Hejlik, the commander of the Marine Special Operations Command, later said that he disagreed with that decision and that the Marine unit responded correctly.
    Additionally, an Army brigade commander apologized for the killings last spring, a step a Marine official later said was premature.
    The Army has said 19 people died and 50 were injured in the shooting, but attorneys for the officers have said testimony will show the death toll was lower.
    Travers said that after the car bombing, he heard gunfire and saw bodies in at least two vehicles as the convoy sped from the area. Some, but not all, of the gunners in the convoy began to return fire, Travers said. After a few minutes, he said, Noble issued a convoy-wide command to stop firing.
    ‘‘It was a pretty quiet ride back,’’ he said.
    Travers, who now works for the Army Corps of Engineers, said what appeared to be impact marks from small-arms fire were found on the Humvees after the unit returned to the base. Travers later testified in a closed session, speaking about classified information.
    It was unclear whether any Afghans will testify; a witness list has not been released.
    It is the first time in more than 50 years that the Marine Corps has used the administrative fact-finding tribunal. The two officers named in the inquiry could eventually be charged with conspiracy to make a false official statement, making a false statement, failure to obey a lawful order and dereliction of duty.

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