U.S. Marines being investigated in the killings last fall in Haditha of two dozen Iraqis, most if not all of them civilians, appear to have destroyed or withheld evidence, The New York Times reported.
Pages from an official company logbook of the unit involved in the deaths were missing, and an incriminating video taken by an aerial drone was not given to investigators until a top commander asked for it, two Defense Department officials told the newspaper. The Times posted the story on its Web site Thursday night.
The Pentagon officials said a report about the Haditha killings does not directly accuse Marines of attempting a cover-up, the newspaper said. The report, based on an investigation by Army Maj. Gen. Eldon A. Bargewell, has not been made public.
The Pentagon officials told the Times that the report faulted officers in the 2nd Marine Division for not aggressively investigating the Haditha killings and concluded that the commanders created a climate that minimized the importance of Iraqi lives.
No charges have been brought in the Haditha killings. They immediately followed a roadside bombing on Nov. 19 that killed a Marine lance corporal.
Initially, the Marine Corps reported that 15 Iraqis had died in the bombing or were killed in crossfire between Marines and insurgents. Survivors of the encounter and human rights groups, however, claimed that 24 Iraqi civilians had been deliberately shot to death by Marines.
The Haditha incident is among recent cases of alleged killings of Iraqi civilians. Five soldiers and a former soldier have been charged in the alleged March 12 rape-slaying of an Iraqi teenager and the killings of her relatives in Mahmoudiya. Seven Marines and one Navy corpsman have been charged with premeditated murder in connection with the killing of an Iraqi man in Hamdania on April 26.