Bargewell: Officers Covered Up Haditha Massacre

The preliminary report on the Haditha massacre concludes that Marine officers knowingly filed false reports to superiors who in turn failed to exercise due dilligence.

The U.S. military investigation of how Marine commanders handled the reporting of events last November in the Iraqi town of Haditha, where troops allegedly killed 24 Iraqi civilians, will conclude that some officers gave false information to their superiors, who then failed to adequately scrutinize reports that should have caught their attention, an Army official said yesterday. The three-month probe, led by Army Maj. Gen. Eldon Bargewell, is also expected to call for changes in how U.S. troops are trained for duty in Iraq, the official said.

Even before the final report is delivered, Army Gen. George W. Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, is expected to order today that all U.S. and allied troops in Iraq undergo new “core values” training in how to operate professionally and humanely. Not only will leaders discuss how to treat civilians under the rules of engagement, but small units also will be ordered to go through training scenarios to gauge their understanding of those rules. “It’s going to include everyone in the coalition,” the official said.


The Bargewell report, which is expected to be delivered to top commanders by the end of the week, is one of two major military investigations into what happened at Haditha on Nov. 19, 2005, and how commanders reacted to the incident. The other is a criminal inquiry by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. That sprawling investigation involves more than 45 agents and is expected to conclude this summer, Pentagon officials and defense lawyers said yesterday. No charges have been filed, but people familiar with the case say they expect charges of homicide, making a false statement and dereliction of duty, among others.


One of Bargewell’s conclusions is that the training of troops for Iraq has been flawed, the official said, with too much emphasis on traditional war-fighting skills and insufficient focus on how to wage a counterinsurgency campaign. Currently the director of operations for a top headquarters in Iraq, Bargewell is a career Special Operations officer and therefore more familiar than most regular Army officers with the precepts of counterinsurgency, such as using the minimum amount of force necessary to succeed. Also, as an Army staff sergeant in Vietnam in 1971, Bargewell received the Distinguished Service Cross, the Army’s second-highest honor, for actions in combat while a member of long-range reconnaissance team operating deep behind enemy lines.

In anticipation of the Bargewell report, the Marine Corps has placed on hold its plan to nominate Maj. Gen. Stephen T. Johnson, who was the top Marine in Iraq when the Haditha incident occurred, for promotion to lieutenant general, a senior Pentagon official said. That decision reflects concern that the report may conclude that leadership failures occurred at senior levels in Iraq. It also stands in sharp contrast to the Army’s handling of the Abu Ghraib scandal, when the Pentagon forged ahead with plans to nominate Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, who had been the top commander on the ground in Iraq, for a fourth star. Sanchez’s promotion has been in limbo for more than a year.


A second and more troubling failure occurred later in the day, this official said, when a Marine human exploitation team, which helped collect the dead, should have observed that the Iraqis were killed by gunshot, not by a bomb. The team’s reporting chain lay outside that of the other Marines — who were members of the 3rd Battalion of the 1st Marines — and went up through military intelligence channels directly to the 1st Marine Division’s intelligence director, he said. Had this second unit reported accurately what it witnessed, he indicated, that would have set off alarms and prodded commanders to investigate, he explained.

Presuming that these preliminary findings stand scrutiny, this is sad news indeed. Rather clearly, the junior officers who filed the initial reports should have been able to readily distinguish gunshot wounds from bomb damage. That they filed erroneous reports therefore certainly seems deliberate. The degree to which Maj. Gen. Johnson is culpable, though, is hardly clear; one does not expect general officers to directly supervise platoon operations.

Casey’s refresher course in military ethics is a good move, although one that should not be necessary. Unless Army training has changed radically since my departure from the service, officers and NCOs receive extensive instruction on the Law of Land Warfare, the UCMJ, rules of engagement, and reporting procedures. That anyone made it past boot camp, let alone The Basic School, without knowing that murdering civilians and then lying about it in official reports is illegal is unfathomable.



FILED UNDER: Guns and Gun Control, Iraq War, Military Affairs, , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. LJD says:

    The tragedy or murder happens every day in the United States, yet we do not attribute the behavior to ‘all citizens’. Any attempt to show this as a systemic problem is just plain wrong.

    I don’t know why we should be surprised that this horrific scene would occur in an environment such as Iraq. That doesn’t make it right, or anything less than reprehensible, but a simple fact: war is hell.

    It’s too bad the media will bend over backwards trying to shine this light on all soldiers in Iraq to get at the administration.

    The core values training is a stupid, ass-covering maneuver. Group punishment for the few bad apples. As if the troops didn’t have enough to worry about.

    This is just bad for every one.

  2. James Joyner says:

    LDJ: I certainly agree that those who committed the massacre are “bad apples” rather than representative of our troops. That their leaders submitted false reports that were compounded by a series of command failures and then a decision not to correct the facts months ago when the lie was uncovered is worrisome.

    Sometimes, CYA moves are necessary. Casey needs to send a message to the troops and reassure the American and Iraqi publics that this conduct is unacceptable.

  3. M1EK says:

    Now would be a real good time for all you ‘wingers to sack up and admit Murtha was 100% right.

  4. LJD says:

    M1 try not to be a partisan dink.

    While Murtha MAY have been right in substance, his method of message delivery and motivation for issuing the message were downright wrong.

    The fact remains, that our troops in harms way deserve the benefit of the doubt until they receive their day in court. It is my belief that the UCMJ works, probably better than civilian courts. Give it time.

    Regardless of the outcome, it is shameful to use any such misconduct for political gain, or to form opinions about our troops as a whole, or of their actions overseas.

    Of course, it seems there are many who don’t give a damn about our troops, their safety overseas, our success in the GWOT. They’re only concerned with being ‘right’.

  5. James Joyner says:

    M1EK: I believe if you look at my past coverage of this (now appended as Related) you\’ll see that I\’ve been more than fair to Murtha on this one.

    Moreover, while I ridiculed his call for immediate pullout of Iraq, I\’ve never questioned his patriotism and even published a magazine piece debunking the \”destroying the morale of the troops\” meme.

  6. lily says:

    LJD, you can’t know what Murtha’s motives were. That’s inside his head. Also I don’t believe there is a single quote from him that would indicate that he generalized a criticism of all soldiers based on this behavior, or that he was using this incident for political gain. He did a painful duty and part of the pain is the tendency for people to blame the bearer of the bad news.

  7. Alan Kellogg says:

    Murtha is mistaken. Being wrong does not make someone a traitor. Persisting in an error in the face of overwhelming evidence is another matter entirely.

    Those in the Haditha cover up will pay for what they did. Those who erred more lightly than those for which it was a deliberate act, but they will pay. The U. S. Marines have a a reputation to uphold. Haditha tarnishes that reputation. Those who made matters worse will learn why you don’t do that sort of thing as a U. S. Marine.

  8. legion says:

    Your response might – might – be defensible if people on the right had actually criticised Murtha for his method of delivery or motivation. But a great many on the right – not James, as he points out, but many other bloggers and even commenters here – flatly called the man a traitor for even making the accusation at all.

    And the ‘refresher training’ that’s being pushed at these troops is not just CYA, but laughably transparent CYA. I’m in the Air Force, and I still have to get LOAC (Law Of Armed Conflict) training every year, and it’s pretty damned clear on what you can and cannot do. People actually going to combat zones get even more-specific training, and if the Army’s and Marines’ own training isn’t sufficient to keep things like this from happening, something is truly broken.

  9. LJD says:

    Lily: Murtha’s motives are no secret: The pullout of U.S. troops from Iraq. His use of language such as ‘murder’, ‘massacre’, and ‘in cold blood’ are a bit much in advance of a full investigation or a trial.

    Legion says:

    People actually going to combat zones get even more-specific training, and if the Armyâ??s and Marinesâ?? own training isnâ??t sufficient to keep things like this from happening, something is truly broken.

    So you DO think there is something systemic here? Please tell me how you go about ‘training’ murderers not to be murderers. There is NO amount of training, that’s why it’s dumb to put every one through it. This is not about ROE. This is about some guys who may have done the wrong thing. I just don’t know how you can guarantee it won;t happen again in a war zone.

  10. gringoman says:

    Since there appears to be no escape from “Murtha the Old Marine”, not even on Memorial Day, here’s an “editorial”…….

    Interesting on what’s become of Congressman Murtha, who spent less time in Vietnam than I did—although granted, he was military, unlike me, and knew how to play that old “war hero” card so very, very, very useful in U.S. politics. He’s become the Democrats’ go-to drama queen on questions of war and peace and how to attack Bush (who once snubbed him, according to reports.)

    It’s the media-enabled theatrics which are so suspect. If there is a criminal case against these young Marines—and let’s assume there is, without knowing all the facts—the Marines will court martial accordingly. Everyone knows that. Murtha the Old Marine has to know that. Yet now he seems increasingly like a deranged old grizzly,improperly medicated, as he keeps chewing on that chewed-up bone (but not too deranged to enjoy the media spotlight and adulation from the grateful who wouldn’t be caught dead in the uniform of the nation that fattens them.) Even on the solemn occasion of Memorial Day. To what purpose, aside from anti-Bush rage and Democrat lust to regain position and office (and avenge a perceived slight from the White House)?

    Which raises the question yet again: Is today’s Libstream intelligent, or just desperate and tone deaf?
    Are polls and poll shakers and $500 an hour “consultants” convincing it that Americans will react “correctly” to this orgy of American Guilt and shame about the one sector of today’s post-FDR U.S. entitlement society that truly sacrifices and understands responsibility? There used to be a time, on the other extreme, when Americans focused on the war crimes of the enemy. That ended, of course, with the Vietnam War, when the World Left turned on the U.S. which was no longer pals with the “workers’ states.”

    Do the Democrats and their media really think this will play—despite Republican failings (and the DemoPub mutual surrender of the U.S. border to Mexico and the Business/Illegal Alien Lobby—presided over by George Bush, our “Texan,” i.e. our Connecticut Yankee in cowboy boots?

    Do they really think that an old Murtha and his media enablers, exploiting the noble ‘Duty, Honor and Country,’ will be excused from the duty and honor of focusing on the daily unspeakable atrocities of the enemy, instead of grandstanding exclusively on what is, by most accounts, the atypical and alleged, of his own country? They gorge on aberrations (if proven) of the more disciplined sector of U.S. society. Have they no sense of shame left for what the enemy is doing to Iraqis, the daily carnage, cold, calculated, deliberate? One more question: Have they no sense of shame left about themselves?


    Gringofoto. Mekong Delta, 1973. Face to face, at last, with the Vietcong, down in that Delta, somewhere below My Tho. (Black and white original.)

  11. legion says:

    So you DO think there is something systemic here? Please tell me how you go about â??trainingâ?? murderers not to be murderers. There is NO amount of training, thatâ??s why itâ??s dumb to put every one through it. This is not about ROE. This is about some guys who may have done the wrong thing. I just donâ??t know how you can guarantee it won;t happen again in a war zone.

    It’s a little thing called discipline. And conceptually, it’s quite simple. You tell people what the rules are. You train them over and over again until everyone is absolutely clear on what is expected. Then – and this is the part that’s hard in the real world – you actually hold them to those standards and punish those who violate them.

    If junior enlisteds are held to a higher standard of behavior, professionalism, and honesty than their chain of command, there will be no respect for the chain of command. If junior officers see their superiors lying, filing false reports, and whitewashing investigations, they will do likewise. When people see others getting away with murder (literally or figuratively), they will ignore the law as well.

    I don’t know if that’s what happened in Haditha. I don’t know if it’s systemic, or the fault of a few Marines who went nuts & weren’t held accountable by their officers. But if we, the public, don’t keep looking into this mess, there’s no hope of an honest investigation, punishment for the guilty, or vindication for the innocent.

  12. LJD says:

    On paragraph one: Been done. Been told. Been trained. Being punished following their day in court.

    Two: Whole lotta conspiracy theory there. The least ranking private will do their job and stand for what is right even against the wishes of their corrupt superiors. People don’t just accept muder because ‘every one else is doing it’.

    Three: Makes the most sense of what you said so far. You don’t know. So wait and find out, and leave the conspiracy theory to the tin-foil hats.

  13. lily says:

    The only motive that I think can be attributed to Murtha is that he clearly wanted the matter to be investigated. It’s a leap to assume he did it to discredit the war. One could support the war and still want this matter to be investigated. As a matter of fact it is really in the best interests of war supporters that this be investigated. We can’t succeed at anything in Iraq if the Iraqis feel abused by some soldiers and feel that the abuse was not dealt with effectively.
    “Massacre” is an accurate word to use to describe the deaths of 24 unarmed civilians. The whole statement which includes the word “massacre’also includes a remark about overstretched, undermanned army (sorry can’t quote exactly) that showed understanding of the stresses that might be behind this–Murtha simply can’t be painted as anti-military.

  14. LJD says:

    Not much of a leap considering Murtha’s motive is a matter of public record.

    I expect our politicians to be capable of carefully chosen words.

    Something like: We have uncovered the possiblity of foul play by our troops, which is being currently investigated. We expect that guilty parties will be severly punished. etc.

    Speaking of bloodbaths is political sensationalism, whether you acknowledge it or not.

    â??Massacreâ?? is an accurate word to use to describe the deaths of 24 unarmed civilians.

    Only if it has been proved to have occurred.

  15. htom says:

    Murtha’s being condemed — at least by me — because his words prejudged the potential legal case against those we are expecting to be the accused — and the executed. We do not want those who did this (assuming that they did as rumor has it) to be let go after three and a half years of house arrest because of “pretrial publicity” or “undue influence”.

    Investigate, charge, convict, execute if guilty. Doing things in the wrong order leads to problems.

  16. le sequoit says:

    You all keep referring to this as a war. As a war zone.

    This is chaos, foretold and unrelenting. The atrocities continue every day on all sides.

    This is part of the bargain the crusaders made.

    As news goes, this is a non-story.