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.