Report Marines Killed Iraqi Civilians
Marines killed 15 Iraqi civilians, including women and children, in Haditha last November. Contrary to initial reports, they had taken no hostile fire. They then covered up the massacre with false reports of IEDs.
A military investigation into the deaths of two dozen Iraqis last November is expected to find that a small number of marines in western Iraq carried out extensive, unprovoked killings of civilians, Congressional, military and Pentagon officials said Thursday. Two lawyers involved in discussions about individual marines’ defenses said they thought the investigation could result in charges of murder, a capital offense. That possibility and the emerging details of the killings have raised fears that the incident could be the gravest case involving misconduct by American ground forces in Iraq.
Officials briefed on preliminary results of the inquiry said the civilians killed at Haditha, a lawless, insurgent-plagued city deep in Sunni-dominated Anbar Province, did not die from a makeshift bomb, as the military first reported, or in cross-fire between marines and attackers, as was later announced. A separate inquiry has begun to find whether the events were deliberately covered up. Evidence indicates that the civilians were killed during a sustained sweep by a small group of marines that lasted three to five hours and included shootings of five men standing near a taxi at a checkpoint, and killings inside at least two homes that included women and children, officials said. That evidence, described by Congressional, Pentagon and military officials briefed on the inquiry, suggested to one Congressional official that the killings were “methodical in nature.”
Congressional and military officials say the Naval Criminal Investigative Service inquiry is focusing on the actions of a Marine Corps staff sergeant serving as squad leader at the time, but that Marine officials have told members of Congress that up to a dozen other marines in the unit are also under investigation. Officials briefed on the inquiry said that most of the bullets that killed the civilians were now thought to have been “fired by a couple of rifles,” as one of them put it.
In an unusual sign of high-level concern, the commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Michael W. Hagee, flew from Washington to Iraq on Thursday to give a series of speeches to his forces re-emphasizing compliance with international laws of armed conflict, the Geneva Conventions and the American military’s own rules of engagement. “Recent serious allegations concerning actions of marines in combat have caused me concern,” General Hagee said in a statement issued upon his departure. The statement did not mention any specific incident.
The first official report from the military, issued on Nov. 20, said that “a U.S. marine and 15 Iraqi civilians were killed yesterday from the blast of a roadside bomb” and that “immediately following the bombing, gunmen attacked the convoy with small-arms fire.” Military investigators have since uncovered a far different set of facts from what was first reported, partly aided by marines who are cooperating with the inquiry and partly guided by reports filed by a separate unit that arrived to gather intelligence and document the attack; those reports contradicted the original version of the marines, Pentagon officials said. Tne senior Defense Department official who has been briefed on the initial findings, when asked how many of the 24 dead Iraqis were killed by the improvised bomb as initially reported, paused and said, “Zero.”
Shameful. As I noted when Rep. John Murtha foreshadowed this report, these things, sadly, happen in all wars of any significant scope. Fortunately, the vast number of our soldiers and Marines conduct themselves honorably. Unfortunately, the dirty few permanently damage the reputation of the others and hinder the accomplishment of their mission.