Friday, May 26, 2006

Screw The Troops

No, really. Screw anyone who puts on our country's uniform and then commits atrocities:

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.

A killing rampage that lasted THREE TO FIVE HOURS. And a predictable coverup. Forget the stern talking-to. These men have sustained the lawlessness and anger that emboldens terrorists. They've put us all at risk. They and the people who covered up their crimes should be hung high and publicly.

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Blogger Management said...

May 26, 2006
Military to Report Marines Killed Iraqi Civilians

WASHINGTON, May 25 — 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.

The killings were first reported by Time magazine in March, based on accounts from survivors and human rights groups, and members of Congress have spoken publicly about the episode in recent days. But the new accounts from Congressional, military and Pentagon officials added significant new details to the picture. All of those who discussed the case had to be granted anonymity before they would talk about the findings emerging from the investigation.

A second, parallel inquiry was ordered by the second-ranking general in Iraq to examine whether any marines on the ground at Haditha, or any of their superior officers, tried to cover up the killings by filing false reports up the chain of command. That inquiry, conducted by an Army officer assigned to the Multinational Corps headquarters in Iraq, is expected to report its findings in coming days.

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.

One 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."

While Haditha was rife with violence and gunfire that day, the marines, who were assigned to the Third Battalion, First Marines, and are now back at Camp Pendleton, Calif., "never took what would constitute hostile fire of a seriously threatening nature," one Pentagon official said.

Women and children were among those killed, as well as five men who had been traveling in a taxi near the bomb, which killed Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas of El Paso.

Although investigators are still piecing together the string of deaths, Congressional and Pentagon officials said the five men in the taxi either were pulled out or got out at a Marine checkpoint and were shot.

The deaths of those in the taxi, and inside two nearby houses, were not the result of a quick and violent firefight, according to officials who had been briefed on the inquiry.

"This was not a burst of fire, but a sustained operation over several hours, maybe five hours," one official said. Forensic evidence gathered from the houses where Iraqi civilians died is also said to contradict reports that the marines had to overcome hostile fire to storm the homes.

Members of the House and Senate briefed on the Haditha shootings by senior Marine officers, including General Hagee and Brig. Gen. John F. Kelly, the Marine legislative liaison, voiced concerns Thursday about the seriousness of the accusations.

Representative John Kline, a Minnesota Republican who is a retired Marine colonel, said that the allegations indicated that "this was not an accident. This was direct fire by marines at civilians." He added, "This was not an immediate response to an attack. This would be an atrocity."

The deaths, and the role of the marines in those deaths, is being viewed with such alarm that senior Marine Corps officers briefed members of Congress last week and again on Wednesday and Thursday.

The briefings were in part an effort to prevent the kind of angry explosion from Capitol Hill that followed news of detainee abuse by American military jailers at Abu Ghraib prison, which had been quietly under investigation for months before the details of the abuse were leaked to the news media. "If the accounts as they have been alleged are true, the Haditha incident is likely the most serious war crime that has been reported in Iraq since the beginning of the war," said John Sifton, of Human Rights Watch. "Here we have two dozen civilians being killed — apparently intentionally. This isn't a gray area. This is a massacre."

Three Marine officers — the battalion commander and two company commanders in Haditha at the time — have been relieved of duty, although official statements have declined to link that action to the investigation.

Senator John W. Warner, a Virginia Republican who heads the Armed Services Committee, said he expected senators would review investigators' evidence, including photographs by military photographers that Mr. Warner said were "taken as a matter of routine in Iraq on operations of this nature when there's loss of life."

Lawyers who have been in conversations with the marines under investigation stressed the chaotic situation in Haditha at the time of the killings. And they expect that the defense will stress that insurgents often hide among civilians, that Haditha on the day of the shootings was suffering a wave of fluid insurgent attacks and that the marines responded to high levels of hostile action aimed at them.

Much of the area around Haditha is controlled by Sunni Arab insurgents who have made the city one of the deadliest in Iraq for American troops. On Aug. 1, three months before the massacre, insurgents ambushed and killed six Marine snipers moving through Haditha on foot. Insurgents released a video after the ambush that appeared to show the attack, and the mangled and burned body of a dead serviceman. Then, two days later, 14 marines were killed when their armored vehicle was destroyed by a roadside bomb near the southern edge of the city.

The Marines also disclosed this week that a preliminary inquiry had found "sufficient information" to recommend a criminal probe into the killing of an Iraqi civilian on April 26 near Hamandiyah, a village west of Baghdad.

Thom Shanker and Eric Schmitt reported from Washington for this article, and Richard A. Oppel Jr. from Baghdad, Iraq.

3:54 PM  
Blogger Management said...

2nd Allegation of Killing Prompts US Marine Commander to Go to Iraq
By Al Pessin
25 May 2006

The top officer in the U.S. Marine Corps has announced that he is going to Iraq to talk to his troops about upholding their honor, in the wake of a second allegation that marines killed innocent civilians in the country. A senior U.S. senator, who was briefed on the allegations Thursday, calls them "very, very serious."

According to the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq, the new allegations involve an incident in late April in which Marines allegedly killed an Iraqi civilian near the town of Hamandiyah, west of Baghdad. A news release says local Iraqi officials complained about the incident at a meeting with coalition officers on May 1, and that a preliminary investigation found enough information to warrant a criminal probe. The release says "several" troops suspected of involvement in the incident have been removed from the operational unit and returned to the United States.

This latest investigation comes as the military appears to be close to finishing its investigation of an incident last November in the town of Haditha, in which at least 15 Iraqi civilians were killed. It has been alleged that marines killed the civilians to retaliate for the death of one of their comrades.

John Warner
John Warner
Members of the Senate's Armed Services Committee were briefed on that investigation Thursday. After the closed session, their chairman, Senator John Warner, declined to provide any further details of the incident, but indicated that he takes it very seriously.

"I have characterized them, based on my own experience, as very, very serious allegations," said John Warner. "And there have been facts substantiated to date to underpin those allegations."

Senator Warner said the decision by the Marine Corps Commandant, General Michael Hagee, to go to Iraq and talk with his troops on the front lines reflects the seriousness of the matter.

"He is deeply affected by this, and he is taking this matter extremely seriously," he said. "And he felt it was his duty to go over and personally look into this situation, and personally talk to those marines in country to assure them that the highest standards of the corps are to be kept by every Marine, from private to general. He expects no less, nor do the people of this country."

General Michael Hagee
General Michael Hagee
According to a news release by his office, General Hagee will talk to the Marines in Iraq about "ideals, values and standards." In prepared remarks, he tells them that being a Marine means "having uncompromising personal integrity and being accountable for all actions." He says Marines must have "the moral courage to do the 'right thing' in the face of danger or pressure from other Marines." And the commandant says Marines must "use lethal force only when justified, proportional and, most importantly, lawful." He urges them not to allow the deaths of their friends in combat to make them "indifferent to the loss of a human life."

In the prepared remarks, General Hagee also acknowledges the difficulties of performing up to those ideas in battle, particularly when fighting an insurgency. But he plans to tell the Marines in Iraq that they have to do so anyway.

Bryan Whitman
Bryan Whitman
That view was echoed Thursday by Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman.

"We hold our service members to a very high standard, and we also ask them to perform their duties in a very tough, challenging environment," said Bryan Whitman. "The military, as a body, when those standards aren't met, takes it very seriously, aggressively and thoroughly investigates incidents of alleged misconduct, and when it finds somebody has done something wrong, they take action."

All the officials who spoke Thursday stressed that the vast majority of the approximately one million U.S. troops who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years have lived up to the standards of honor and conduct the military demands. But they say if wrongdoing is proved, action will be taken to punish those responsible, and to try to ensure such conduct is not repeated by others.

3:55 PM  
Blogger Management said...

The Times May 29, 2006

Times Investigation

Marines and the 'massacre': a neighbour tells of aftermath
From Ali Hamdani in al-Haditha and Ned Parker in Baghdad

GRAPHIC accounts of the apparent slaughter of unarmed civilians have been obtained by The Times as Washington braces itself for the results of an investigation into what threatens to be the most damaging military scandal in Iraq.

On Saturday Iman Hassan, a 10-year-old Iraqi girl, told The Times how she had watched US marines kill her mother, father, grandmother, grandfather, four-year-old cousin and two uncles.

Residents in the insurgent stronghold of al-Haditha have now stepped forward to corroborate elements of Iman’s story and to describe to The Times the murder of a second family, which included five children, the youngest of whom were two and three years old.

The events threaten to land a major blow to the US military’s reputation in Iraq.

An official investigation has already resulted in the removal of Lieutenant-Colonel Jeffrey Chessani, the commanding officer, and Captain Luke McConnell and Captain James Kimber, two company commanders, from their duties in the 3rd Battalion, 1st Regiment of the 1st Marine Division.

Three marines are to face criminal charges, including homicide, while nine other marines may also face court martial, according to Pentagon sources.

Fallout from the inquiry, which is expected to be made public next month, is already being felt in Washington and the military establishment in Iraq. One US officer speaking anonymously in Iraq said what happened in al-Haditha was “clearly pretty awful”.

In Washington, Congressman John Murtha, a former Marine and a harsh critic of the war, said that the episode might prove to be America’s darkest hour in Iraq.

“This is the kind of war you have to win the hearts and minds of the people. And we’re set back every time something like this happens. This is worse than Abu Ghraib,” he told ABC television.

The trouble started when Marine Corporal Miguel Terrazas, 20, was killed by a roadside bomb on the morning of November 19 last year in alHaditha, where the US military and rebels have clashed regularly since the 2003 invasion.

What ensued is the subject of controversy. At the time the Marines said that 15 civilians were killed in the bombing along with Terrazas.

They later amended their story to say that the civilians had died during a gunbattle between troops and insurgents.

The case was reopened after a video made by a trainee Iraqi journalist was handed to Time magazine in January. The footage showed bloodstains, bullet holes and shrapnel marks inside Iman’s home and triggered a US Marine inquiry.

“Who covered it up? Why did they cover it up? Why did they wait so long?” Mr Murtha said.

The latest accounts given to The Times paint a gruesome picture of events on November 19. About a quarter of an hour after the attack on Iman’s house, Mohammed Basit, 23, an engineering student, said that he watched as Marines entered the home of his neighbour, Salim Rasif, He peered from a window as the family, including Salim’s wife, sister-in-law and their five children, rushed into a bedroom.

“I saw them all gathering in their parents’ room, then we heard a bang which was most likely a hand grenade, then we heard shooting,” he said.

Fearing for his life, he moved away from the window.

Throughout the next day the Americans cordoned off Salim and Iman’s homes, which are located about 20 metres apart. The next night Basit and his father slipped inside Salim’s house.

“The blood was everywhere in Salim’s bedroom,” Basit said. “I saw organs and flesh on the ground and a liver on the bed. Blood splattered the ceiling. The bullet holes were in the walls and in different parts of the house.

“We found an unexploded grenade in the bathroom, which had been set on fire. There was shrapnel and a crater on the floor and the wall of the bathroom.”

Later Basit joined relatives and friends who went to al-Haditha mortuary to pick up the bodies of those whom the Marines had killed. The corpses were zipped in plastic bags. “They were all shot, even the kids. They were shot more than one time, mostly in the chest and the head,” he claimed.

Salim’s daughters — A’isha, 3, Zainab, 2, Noora, 15, and Saba’a, 11 — and his eight-year-old son, Mohammed, were among the dead.

In a separate development, a resident of al-Haditha came forward with an account corroborating the story told by 10-year-old Iman about the murder of her family.

Abdul Basit, 45, Iman’s neighbour and cousin, gave details that matched the girl’s description of watching her uncle being shot dead.

About 15 minutes after hearing an explosion in Iman’s home just 30 metres away, Abdul Basit said that the girl’s aunt, Hiba, raced outside crying “they slaughtered them, they slaughtered them” and rushed into Abdul’s home.

Congressmen who have been briefed on the investigation expect it to conclude that up to 24 civilians were killed. While the claims are contentious, the US military has not disputed the seriousness of the allegations.

“The bottom line is there was enough evidence presented to warrant a criminal investigation . . . There was enough credibility there to warrant a criminal investigation,” said Lieutenant Colonel Barry Johnson, the US military spokesman in Iraq.

10:17 PM  
Blogger Management said...

Lawmaker: Marines killed Iraqis ‘in cold blood’
Navy conducting war crimes probe into November violence in Haditha
By Jim Miklaszewski
and Mike Viqueira
NBC News
Updated: 6:27 p.m. MT May 17, 2006

WASHINGTON - A Pentagon probe into the death of Iraqi civilians last November in the Iraqi city of Haditha will show that U.S. Marines "killed innocent civilians in cold blood," a U.S. lawmaker said Wednesday.

From the beginning, Iraqis in the town of Haditha said U.S. Marines deliberately killed 15 unarmed Iraqi civilians, including seven women and three children.

One young Iraqi girl said the Marines killed six members of her family, including her parents. “The Americans came into the room where my father was praying,” she said, “and shot him.”

On Wednesday, Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., said the accounts are true.

Military officials told NBC News that the Marine Corps' own evidence appears to show Murtha is right.

A videotape taken by an Iraqi showed the aftermath of the alleged attack: a blood-smeared bedroom floor and bits of what appear to be human flesh and bullet holes on the walls.

The video, obtained by Time magazine, was broadcast a day after town residents told The Associated Press that American troops entered homes on Nov. 19 and shot dead 15 members of two families, including a 3-year-old girl, after a roadside bomb killed a U.S. Marine.

On Nov. 20, U.S. Marines spokesman Capt. Jeffrey Pool issued a statement saying that on the previous day a roadside bomb had killed 15 civilians and a Marine. In a later gunbattle, U.S. and Iraqi troops killed eight insurgents, he said.

U.S. military officials later confirmed that the version of events was wrong.

Murtha, a vocal opponent of the war in Iraq, said at a news conference Wednesday that sources within the military have told him that an internal investigation will show that "there was no firefight, there was no IED (improvised explosive device) that killed these innocent people. Our troops overreacted because of the pressure on them, and they killed innocent civilians in cold blood."

Military officials say Marine Corp photos taken immediately after the incident show many of the victims were shot at close range, in the head and chest, execution-style. One photo shows a mother and young child bent over on the floor as if in prayer, shot dead, said the officials, who spoke to NBC News on condition of anonymity because the investigation hasn't been completed.

One military official says it appears the civilians were deliberately killed by the Marines, who were outraged at the death of their fellow Marine.

“This one is ugly," one official told NBC News.

Three Marine officers — commanders in Haditha — have been relieved of duty, and at least 12 Marines in all are under investigation for what would be the worst single incident involving the deliberate killing of civilians by U.S. military in Iraq.

The Marine Corps issued a statement in response to Murtha's remarks:

"There is an ongoing investigation; therefore, any comment at this time would be inappropriate and could undermine the investigatory and possible legal process. As soon as the facts are known and decisions on future actions are made, we will make that information available to the public to the fullest extent allowable."

Murtha held the news conference to mark six months since his initial call for "redeployment" of U.S. forces from Iraq.

He said U.S. forces were under undue pressure in Iraq because of poor planning and allocation of resources by the Bush administration.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

© 2006


10:18 PM  
Blogger Management said...
From the Los Angeles Times
Photos Indicate Civilians Slain Execution-Style
An official involved in an investigation of Camp Pendleton Marines' actions in an Iraqi town cites `a total breakdown in morality.'
By Tony Perry and Julian E. Barnes
Times Staff Writers

May 27, 2006

WASHINGTON — Photographs taken by a Marine intelligence team have convinced investigators that a Marine unit killed as many as 24 unarmed Iraqis, some of them "execution-style," in the insurgent stronghold of Haditha after a roadside bomb killed an American in November, officials close to the investigation said Friday.

The pictures are said to show wounds to the upper bodies of the victims, who included several women and six children. Some were shot in the head and some in the back, congressional and defense officials said.

One government official said the pictures showed that infantry Marines from Camp Pendleton "suffered a total breakdown in morality and leadership, with tragic results."

The case may be the most serious incident of alleged war crimes in Iraq by U.S. troops. Marine officers have long been worried that Iraq's deadly insurgency could prompt such a reaction by combat teams.

An investigation by an Army general into the Nov. 19 incident is to be delivered soon to the top operational commander in Iraq. A separate criminal investigation is also underway and could lead to charges ranging from dereliction of duty to murder.

Both investigations are centered on a dozen Marines from the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division. The battalion was on its third deployment to Iraq when the killings occurred.

Most of the fatal shots appear to have been fired by only a few of the Marines, possibly a four-man "fire team" led by a sergeant, said officials with knowledge of the investigation, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The same sergeant is suspected of filing a false report downplaying the number of Iraqis killed, saying they were killed by an insurgent's bomb and that Marines entered the Iraqis' homes in search of gunmen firing at them. All aspects of his account are contradicted by pictures, statements by Marines to investigators and an inspection of the houses involved, officials said.

Other Marines may face criminal charges for failing to stop the killings or for failing to make accurate reports.

Of the dead Iraqis, 19 were in three to four houses that Marines stormed, officials said. Five others were killed near a vehicle.

The intelligence team took the pictures shortly after the shooting stopped. Such teams are typically assigned to collect information on insurgents after firefights or other military engagements.

Investigators and top officers of the Camp Pendleton-based 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, which oversees Marine infantry, aviation and support units in Iraq, have viewed the pictures.

The incident began when a roadside bomb attached to a large propane canister exploded as Marines passed through Haditha, a town on the Euphrates River. Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas, who was driving a Humvee, was killed and two other Marines were wounded.

Marines quickly determined that the bomb was a "line-of-sight" explosive that would have required someone to detonate it. Marines and Iraqi forces searched houses and other structures in the narrow, dusty streets. Jets dropped 500-pound bombs and a drone aircraft circled overhead.

Time magazine, in a report published in March, quoted witnesses, including a 9-year-old girl, Eman Waleed, who said that she saw Marines kill her grandparents and that other adults in the house died shielding her and her 8-year-old brother, Abdul Rahman.

An elder in Haditha later went to Marine officials at the battalion's headquarters to complain of wanton killings.

The Marines involved in the incident initially reported that they had become embroiled in a firefight with insurgents after the explosion. However, evidence that later emerged contradicted that version.

"There wasn't a gunfight, there were no pockmarked walls," a congressional aide said.

"The wounds indicated execution-style" shootings, said a Defense Department official who had been briefed on the contents of the photos.

The Marine Corps backed off its initial explanation, and the investigations were launched after Time published its account.

Some lawmakers are asking the Marine Corps why an investigation wasn't launched earlier if the intelligence team's pictures contradicted the squad's account. The pictures from the intelligence team would probably have been given to the battalion intelligence officer, and they should have raised questions immediately, one congressional aide said.

The intelligence teams typically comprise Marine Corps reservists, often police officers or other law enforcement officials in civilian life who travel with active-duty battalions or regiments.

Such questions were put to Marine Commandant Gen. Michael Hagee during a series of individual briefings over the last week. One focus of the administrative investigation by Army Maj. Gen. Eldon Bargewell is to find out how high up the Marine Corps chain of command the misreporting went.

Military officials say they believe the delay in beginning the investigation was a result of the squad's initial efforts to cover up what happened. Military and congressional sources said there was no indication that the members of the intelligence team did anything improper or delayed reporting their findings.

"They are the guys that probably provided the conclusive, demonstrative evidence that what happened wasn't as others had described," a congressional staffer said.

The Marine Corps apologized to the families of several of those killed and made payments to compensate them for their losses. The families have denied permission to have the bodies exhumed for investigation.

Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), a retired Marine colonel, said there was clearly an attempt to cover up the incident by those involved. But he said he did not think the Marine command was slow in investigating.

"There is no question that the Marines involved, those doing the shooting, they were busy in lying about it and covering it up — there is no question about it," Kline said. "But I am confident, as soon as the command learned there might be some truth to this, they started to pursue it vigorously. I don't have any reason now to think there was any foot dragging."

As Marines moved across the desert into Iraq on March 19, 2003, each Marine received a signed statement from then-Maj. Gen. James N. Mattis, commanding general of the 1st Marine Division, exhorting his troops to fight vigorously but to treat noncombatants with "decency … chivalry and soldierly compassion."

"Engage your brain before you engage your weapon," he said.

As detailed in Bing West's book "The March Up: Taking Baghdad With the 1st Marine Division," Brig. Gen. John Kelly, assistant division commander, was concerned about instances of seemingly random firing by Marines, most of them untested in combat. Kelly is now the Marine Corps' congressional liaison and has helped Hagee deliver briefings to legislators on the investigations into the Nov. 19 incident.

Hagee left for Iraq on Thursday to sternly remind Marines that harming noncombatants violates Marine policy and numerous laws governing warfare. He plans to give the same message to troops at Camp Pendleton and other Marine bases when he returns.

Haditha has been a particularly difficult area for the Marines. Officers have said they lack enough troops to do an adequate job of developing intelligence and then confronting insurgents.

A documentary shown this week on the A&E Network detailed the frustrations of a company of Marine reservists who had 23 members killed and 36 wounded during a deployment last year in Haditha.

One Marine sergeant, in an interview after his unit had returned to Columbus, Ohio, remembered a raid in which he burst into a home and came close to killing two women and a teenage boy out of rage for the deaths of fellow Marines.

Sgt. Guy Zierk, interviewed in the documentary, "Combat Diary: The Marines of Lima Company," said he knew at that point that he had been in Iraq too long.

10:19 PM  
Blogger Management said...

Probe Into Iraq Deaths Finds False Reports
Pentagon to Review Training After Alleged Massacre in Haditha

By Thomas E. Ricks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 1, 2006; A01

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 promotion of a top Marine general also has been put on hold.

Bargewell has pursued two lines of investigation: not only whether falsehoods were passed up the chain of command, but also whether senior Marine commanders were derelict in their duty to monitor the actions of subordinates. The inquiry is expected to conclude by the end of this week, the official added. He said there were multiple failures but declined to say whether he would characterize it as a "coverup," as alleged recently by Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), a former Marine.

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.

President Bush, in his first public comment on the Haditha incident, said yesterday that if an investigation finds evidence of wrongdoing, those involved will be punished. "I am troubled by the initial news stories," Bush said after a meeting with Rwandan President Paul Kagame. "I am mindful there is a thorough investigation going on. If in fact laws were broken, there will be punishment."

The Bargewell investigation is likely to be explosive on Capitol Hill, because it focuses on questions that have haunted the Bush administration and the U.S. military since the scandal over abuse at Abu Ghraib prison emerged two years ago: How do U.S. military leaders in Iraq react to allegations of wrongdoing by their troops? And is the military prepared to carry out the long and arduous process of putting down an insurgency as part of the first U.S. occupation of an Arab nation?

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.

"I don't think the decision's been made" to scuttle the nomination, a Marine officer said. "I think we're going to wait and see."

In another reflection of top-level concern, Gen. Michael W. Hagee, the Marine commandant, has been traveling around Iraq this week and has visited nearly every Marine post in the country, an officer in Iraq said. Also, the Marine Corps issued a directive to its generals telling them not to discuss details of the Haditha case because such comments could compromise "the integrity of the investigative and legal processes" and because "it is not in the interests of the Marine Corps to 'further this story' by providing details or confirming information gathered from other -- mostly unnamed -- sources."

One of Bargewell's findings is that two failures occurred in reporting the Haditha incident up the Marine chain of command. The first is that Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich, a squad leader alleged to have been centrally involved in the shootings, made a false statement to his superiors when he reported that 15 Iraqi civilians had been killed in the roadside bombing that killed a Marine and touched off the incident. (The other nine dead initially were reported by the Marines to have been insurgent fighters but are now believed to have been civilians.) That report was entered into an official database of "significant acts" maintained by the U.S. military in Iraq, the Pentagon official said.

A civilian attorney for Wuterich said he only recently had been retained by the Marine and has yet to interview his client, so could not comment on the case.

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.

Bargewell's report also is expected to address why the Marine Corps let stand statements issued by official spokesmen that were known to be false at least two months ago. On Nov. 20, the day after the shootings, Marine Capt. Jeffrey S. Pool told reporters that the Iraqis died in a crossfire, stating that, "Iraqi army soldiers and Marines returned fire, killing eight insurgents." Time magazine, which first began making inquiries about the incident in January, reported that when one of its staff members asked Pool about the allegations, he accused the journalist of being duped by terrorists. "I cannot believe you're buying any of this," the magazine said the officer wrote in an e-mail. "This falls into the same category of any aqi [al-Qaeda in Iraq] propaganda." Another military representative, Lt. Col. Michelle Martin-Hing, told the magazine that insurgents caused the civilian deaths by placing the Iraqis in the line of Marine fire.

In March the magazine broke the news that Marines had killed Iraqi civilians at Haditha.

The Bargewell investigation evolved from a preliminary inquiry conducted in January by Army Col. Gregory Watt, the New York Times reported yesterday. Watt was asked by senior commanders to look into why there had been no formal Marine Corps review of the Haditha incident. After reviewing death certificates that showed the 24 Iraqis had been killed by gunshot rather than a bomb, as the Marine report had stated, Watt recommended a broader inquiry.

When the Marine leadership in Washington reviewed his report, a senior Marine said yesterday, it asked that an Army general step in to conduct the investigation, another indication that the actions of Johnson and other top officers have been a subject of Bargewell's review.

Bargewell did not respond to e-mails seeking comment.

Staff writer Josh White and researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.

12:27 PM  

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