Report faults Marine brass in Iraq slayings

/ Source: The Associated Press

High-ranking Marines, including a two-star general, failed to adequately scrutinize the killings of 24 Iraqi civilians in Haditha, despite an obvious need for further investigation, according to an Army probe.

The report by Army Maj. Gen. Eldon A. Bargewell found that Marines did not deliberately try to cover up the deaths but said their overall mind-set played down the importance of civilian casualties.

“There was evidence of an attitude that portrayed noncombatants as not necessarily innocents, which may have fostered a willingness to accept reported circumstances that might otherwise appear dubious,” Bargewell wrote. “A duty to inquire further was so obvious in this case that a reasonable person with knowledge of these events would certainly have made further inquiries.”

Three Marines are accused of killing civilian Iraqis, including women and children, after their convoy was rocked by a roadside bomb blast, killing one squad member on Nov. 19, 2005.

They are charged with unpremeditated murder, while four officers are charged with failing to adequately report the deaths. The troops have maintained their innocence, saying they believed they were under attack and followed proper procedures to defend themselves.

Recommends more generals be probed
Bargewell’s criticism extends from enlisted Marines up to Maj. Gen. Richard A. Huck, the two-star general in charge of the 2nd Marine Division at the time. After learning of allegations that troops had targeted civilians, Marine commanders had “sufficient knowledge and a duty” to report and investigate a possible law-of-war violation, but did not, Bargewell said.

Bargewell, himself a two-star general, was unable to question anyone who outranked him but recommended that “higher echelon commanders” be interviewed, too.

A Marine spokesman, Lt. Col. Sean Gibson, declined to comment on Bargewell’s findings, which were first reported by The Washington Post, saying they were part of an ongoing investigation.

A call to the public affairs office at Camp Lejeune, N.C., the 2nd Marine Division’s home base, went unanswered late Tuesday.

Bargewell completed his 104-page report in June 2006 after interviewing dozens of Marines in Iraq and in the United States. A copy was provided to The Associated Press by someone close to the investigation who declined to be identified because the document is not public.