View Full Version : Marines failed to investigate, report says

07-08-06, 06:51 AM
Marines failed to investigate, report says
Saturday, July 08, 2006
Eric Schmitt and David S . Cloud

WASHINGTON - The second-ranking U.S. commander in Iraq has concluded that some senior Marine officers were negligent in failing to investigate more aggressively the killings of 24 Iraqi civilians by Marines in Haditha in November, two Defense Department officials said yesterday.

The officer, Lt. Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, concluded that in the deaths, including those of 10 women and children and an elderly man in a wheelchair, senior officers failed to follow up on inaccuracies and inconsistencies in the initial reporting of the incident that should have raised questions.

Chiarelli faulted the senior staff of the 2 nd Marine Division, commanded at the time by Maj. Gen. Richard A. Huck, and the 2 nd Regimental Combat Team, then headed by Col. Stephen W. Davis, and recommended unspecified disciplinary action for some officers, said the two defense officials, who have been briefed on Chiarelli's findings.

They said they would discuss the report, after being promised anonymity, because it showed that the military takes these incidents seriously and fully investigates them.

"He concludes that some officers were derelict in their duties," said one of the officials, who declined to identify which or how many officers were singled out.

If Marine commanders are found to have been negligent in pursuing the matter, the punishments could range from a relatively mild admonishment to a court martial that could end their military careers.

It was not clear yesterday whether Huck or Davis, or Maj. Gen. Stephen T. Johnson, the senior Marine officer in Iraq at the time, would be personally implicated. But if they were to be disciplined, they would be among the most senior U.S. officers punished since the Iraq war started in early 2003.

"We're all waiting anxiously to see how this one gets taken on," said an officer who served in Iraq with the 2 nd Marine Division at the time of the killings in Haditha, referring to the possibility of disciplinary action against officers in the division. "Major General Huck is about as thorough and detailed a guy as you are ever going to see."

The officer, who is not authorized to talk about the unit or any part of the investigation, noted that a spate of recent cases in which U.S. troops are being investigated for allegedly killing unarmed Iraqi civilians - including the rape and murder of a young Iraqi woman and the killing of her family in Mahmoudiya - has raised concerns that commanders may be under pressure to make an example of Marine officers in the Haditha incident.

In a brief statement issued from Iraq yesterday, Chiarelli's headquarters said he had finished reviewing a lengthy investigation by Maj. Gen. Eldon A. Bargewell of the Army into the actions or absence of actions by Marine leaders in Haditha, as well as the training that Marines received and the command climate their superiors fostered.

But the statement gave no details of Chiarelli's findings or recommendations, which will now be sent to his boss, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the top commander in Iraq. A senior Pentagon official said it could be several days before Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld receives a complete briefing on the matter, and before a redacted version of Chiarelli's findings are made public.

In addition to Chiarelli's review, a separate inquiry by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service is examining whether crimes were committed when a squad of Marines killed the 24 Iraqi civilians after a roadside bomb killed a member of 3 rd Platoon of Company K, 3 rd Battalion, 1 st Marine Regiment, in the early morning of Nov. 19.

According to one of the defense officials, Chiarelli embraced all of Bargewell's findings and expanded upon some of them.

Since the military inquiries into the Haditha killings began, the accounts given by some Marines involved and their attorneys have conflicted in important details with descriptions of what investigators found, officials familiar with their findings have said.

After the roadside bomb went off, Marines who survived the explosion said they thought they were under sustained attack and that they were entitled under their rules of engagement to use lethal force as they searched surrounding houses for those who they thought were responsible for the bombing.

But investigators and townspeople have told reporters that the Marines overreacted to the bombing and shot the civilians, only one of whom was armed, in cold blood. The 24 Iraqis killed included five men in a taxi and 19 other civilians in several houses.