U.S. commanders rejected a local council’s request for an investigation days after Marines in Iraq killed 24 civilians in the town of Haditha in November 2005, according to testimony on Saturday at a military tribunal.
The councilors’ concerns were dismissed because commanders believed the civilians died in cross-fire when troops responded to an attack by insurgents that had killed one of their own, said Maj. Dana Hyatt, who was at what he said was a 45-minute-long meeting between local officials and Marine officers.
“It wasn’t the Marines who instigated this. Having (bombs) and attacks in the neighborhood was also their (the residents’) responsibility, they had some responsibility,” Hyatt said, in testimony at the hearing into the killings at Camp Pendleton, a Marine Corps base in Southern California.
Decision not to investigate deaths defended
Hyatt, who was in charge of condolence payments to families of the dead and acted as liaison between Marines and the community, characterized the deaths as “unfortunate.”
He said he saw no need for an investigation at the time as he had been told there had been suicide bombers found with weapons among eight dead insurgents counted by Marines in Haditha.
Hyatt recalled meeting three vehicles carrying the bodies of the 24 slain civilians, including a child’s body, at a local morgue in the early morning of November 20, 2005.
“I remember seeing a young child’s head sticking out of one of the black garbage bags,” Hyatt said. “I was trying not to stare too much.”
Seven Marines have been charged in connection with the 24 deaths. Prosecutors allege the killings were revenge for the death of a popular young Marine killed by a roadside bomb.
Probe prompted by magazine report
The defendants say the killings occurred as they cleared an area after the attack as they had been ordered to do.
Three Marines have been charged with murder. Four officers not present at the killings have been charged with not investigating or obstructing the probe.
First Lt. William Kallop earlier this week testified he ordered troops into two houses to search for insurgents believed to have triggered the roadside bombs that killed Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas and wounded two other Marines.
Kallop said the Marines told him they heard rounds being chambered in one of the houses and then attacked with grenades and gunfire. The attacks on the houses left 15 civilians, including women and children, dead.
At least six witnesses have testified they never saw a reason to investigate the deaths until Time magazine submitted questions four months after the killings. Time’s report on the killings prompted a Pentagon investigation.