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US officers 'lax' on Iraqi deaths

Blood spattered walls of a bedroom at the reported scene of the Haditha shooting

A US marine general and two officers have been disciplined for a "lack of due diligence" in investigating the killings of 24 Iraqi civilians in 2005.

However, the inquiry found no evidence of a cover-up over the deaths in the town of Haditha, the Marine Corps said.

"Letters of censure" have been sent to Maj Gen Richard Huck, Col Stephen Davis and Col Robert Sokoloski, it added.

The action comes as proceedings to decide whether a lower-ranking marine should be tried for murder continue.

Staff Sgt Frank Wuterich is one of four marines initially charged. The case against a second is under review and charges against two others have been dropped.

Attorneys for the marines say the troops were responding to an insurgent attack after a roadside bomb killed one of their squad members.

Iraqi witnesses say the marines shot unarmed civilians in retaliation for the death of their comrade.

The US military at first reported that the Iraqis had been killed by the roadside bomb that killed marine L/Cpl Miguel Terrazas, or in a subsequent gunfight with insurgents.

Lt Gen James Mattis, a senior marine general asked to investigate the response of senior officers to the Haditha incident, concluded they did not intend to break military laws or conceal what happened.

A statement from the Marine Corps said he "did not find any evidence that these senior officers intended to cover up the incident.

"He did determine that their actions, or inactions, demonstrated a lack of due diligence on the part of senior commanders and staff."

Former commanding general of II Marine Expeditionary Force, Maj Gen Stephen Johnson, was exonerated.

It is unclear what the exact effect of the letters of censure will be, but administrative sanctions can harm promotion prospects.

Twenty-four Iraqi civilians, including three women, seven children and several elderly men, died at Haditha, in Anbar province, on 19 November 2005.

Iraqi witnesses said the US troops shot dead five unarmed men in a car when they approached the scene of the roadside bomb.

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US marine in Iraq deaths hearing
 
A military hearing has begun to decide whether a US Marine, Sgt Frank Wuterich, should be tried for murder over an attack in which 24 Iraqis died.

He is alleged to be the ringleader of US troops who killed Iraqi civilians in November 2005 in the town of Haditha.

His lawyers are expected to argue that his actions were lawful because he followed rules of combat engagement.

Four marines were initially accused of unpremeditated murder, but charges against two of them have been dropped.

The two still charged, Sgt Wuterich and fellow marine L/Cpl Stephen Tatum, could face life imprisonment if found guilty. L/Cpl Tatum's case is currently under review.

Four senior officers were charged with failing adequately to investigate the circumstances surrounding the killings, but the case against one has been dismissed.

'Insurgent gunfight'

Twenty-four Iraqi civilians, including three women, seven children and several elderly men, died at Haditha, in Anbar province, on 19 November 2005.


Iraqi witnesses say the shootings were in retaliation for a roadside bomb that killed one of the marines, Lance Cpl Miguel Terrazas, as his convoy drove through the town.

The US military at first reported that the Iraqis had been killed by an improvised explosive device (IED) that killed L/Cpl Miguel Terrazas, or in a subsequent gunfight with insurgents.

But Iraqi witnesses said the US troops shot dead five unarmed men in a car when they approached the scene of the bombing in a taxi.

They were then accused of killing 19 other civilians in three houses nearby over the next few hours.

Despite the accusations, there was no full US investigation into what happened until January 2006, when video footage emerged of the aftermath, shot by a local human rights activist.

'False statement'

The officer in charge of the Camp Pendleton hearing, Lt Col Paul Ware, must decide whether or not Sgt Wuterich should face a court martial over the killings.

Among the most serious allegations against him is that he and another marine shot dead five unarmed Iraqis while they had their hands in the air.

Sgt Wuterich is also accused of making a false official statement and telling another marine to do likewise.

His defence lawyer, Lt Col Colby Vokey, told the Associated Press news agency earlier this week: "These marines were doing exactly as they were trained to do.

"They were responding to an attack and a threat."

U.S. Inquiry Hampered by Iraq Violence, Investigators Say
 

— Two naval investigators testified at a military hearing here on Tuesday that their inquiry into allegations that marines killed 24 Iraqi civilians in Haditha in 2005 was hampered by insurgent bombs and gunfire as well as the absence of basic equipment like tape recorders.

Nayda Mannle, a special agent with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, said she had conducted a hurried group interview of six relatives of the men killed three months earlier, rapidly jotting notes of the translation of their overlapping responses as American troops stood outside, ready to fend off any attack by enemy fighters.

Another N.C.I.S. agent, Mark Platt, said he could not complete one interview of Iraqi witnesses in Haditha because the conversation was “cut short by small-arms fire.”

The testimony came in a hearing to weigh evidence against Lance Cpl. Justin L. Sharratt, one of three enlisted men in Company K, Third Battalion, First Marines, who are charged with murder in the killings of Iraqi civilians in Haditha on Nov. 19, 2005.

Corporal Sharratt, 22, of Canonsburg, Pa., was charged with unpremeditated murder in the shooting of three of the four men that he and another marine encountered during a search of a home, two hours after a roadside bomb killed Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas.

The two agents were among government investigators assigned to collect forensic evidence — like shell casings and blood samples — and interview Iraqi relatives of the 24 people killed in Haditha.

Ms. Mannle, the special agent, said her team arrived at the Marine base near Haditha in March 2006. Marines who escorted the team members to the scene told them they would have only about an hour to conduct interviews and collect evidence.

When the convoy approached the home where four men had been killed, Ms. Mannle recalled, she heard women inside scream in fear. Because of time and security concerns, she said, she had interviewed six family members at once, gathering testimony that would form the case against Corporal Sharratt.

James D. Culp, a civilian lawyer defending Corporal Sharratt, suggested that group interviews had been “contradictory to everything you have been taught.” Ms. Mannle said she did not have time to conduct separate interviews or review her notes before the marines said it was time to leave.

She did not record the interview, she said, because she could not find a recorder, but when pressed by Mr. Culp, she said she never sought to buy one from the post exchange.

An N.C.I.S. spokesman, Ed Buice, said in an e-mail message that no federal law enforcement agency regularly taped interviews.

As the marines hustled investigators from the home, a roadside bomb blew up nearby, Ms. Mannle said.

Officer advises dropping Haditha charges

 

SAN DIEGO (AP) - A defense lawyer says today an investigating officer has recommended dismissing charges against a Marine lawyer accused of failing to probe the killings of 24 Iraqis in the town of Haditha.

Captain Randy W. Stone was charged with failing to report and investigate the deaths of the men, women and children in a deadly sweep on a chaotic day of battle in the village.

Stone is among four officers charged with dereliction of duty. Three enlisted Marines, including Lance Corporal Stephen B. Tatum of Edmond, Oklahoma, are charged with murder.

Stone's attorney, Charles Gittins, says investigating officer Major Thomas McCann concluded in a report to the commanding general overseeing the case that Stone should not face court-martial and the matter should be handled administratively.

The investigator's recommendation is nonbinding. A final decision will be made by Lieutenant General James Mattis, the commanding general overseeing the case.

Court hears Haditha death details

Lieutenant-Colonel Jeffrey Chessani (right) with his lawyers

Iraqi civilians in the village of Haditha were shot by US marines at close range, a military court in California has been told.

The commander of a battalion which is accused of killing 24 people in late 2005 is appearing at the military equivalent of a grand jury.

The hearing will decide whether Lieutenant-Colonel Jeffrey Chessani, 43, will stand trial.

He is accused of dereliction of duty for failing to hold an investigation.

Lt-Col Chessani is also accused of failure to follow an order, after he did not launch an investigation into the killings.

Twenty-four Iraqi civilians, including three women, seven children and several elderly men, died in the incident.

Three other officers are also charged with dereliction of duty and three marines face murder charges.

According to a prosecutor, some of the Iraqis were shot in the head, several at such close range, that their bodies had powder burns.

The victims were described in detail. One was a 66-year-old woman, another, a young woman shot while sitting with her back to a wall, and a teenage girl shot while on a bed.

Another woman is said to have been killed while trying to protect several small children.

Wrapped bodies of Haditha victims, 21 November 2005
Women and children died in the attack in Haditha

The prosecutor added that five young men killed near their car were apparently standing still, possibly with their hands in the air to surrender.

The court was told battalion commanders have a duty to report any possible alleged or suspected crime by their troops.

In this case, no such report was made.

Instead, the commander made only a superficial enquiry after the killings.

A defence lawyer disagreed with the prosecution's interpretation of how the Iraqis were killed, saying the account was based on photographs of the bodies taken by military personnel.

Haditha marine commander in court
 
The commander of a US marines battalion accused of killing 24 Iraqi civilians in the village of Haditha has appeared before a military court.

Lt Col Jeffrey R Chessani is the highest-ranking officer charged in the incident, which took place in November 2005 after a bomb killed a US soldier.

The military equivalent of a grand jury will decide whether he stands trial.

He could be charged with dereliction of duty and violating a lawful order for failing to investigate the deaths.

Three other officers are also charged with dereliction of duty, and three marines face murder charges.

Testimony exchange

Iraqi witnesses say the shootings were in retaliation for a roadside bomb that had killed Lance Cpl Miguel Terrazas as his convoy drove through Haditha, 240km (150 miles) north-west of Baghdad.

In April, the Marine Corps dropped all charges against one soldier, Sgt Dela Cruz, and granted him immunity in exchange for his testimony.

If found guilty, the three marines charged with second-degree murder could face life imprisonment.

The Haditha inquiry is just one of a number the US military has been conducting into incidents of alleged unlawful killings by US forces in Iraq.

U.S. officers rejected Haditha probe request: Marine


 

CAMP PENDLETON, California (Reuters) - 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.

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.

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.

 

US general warns against torture

Gen David Petraeus

The top US commander in Iraq has warned his troops not to sanction torture or abuse of Iraqi detainees and has urged them to fight by the rules.

In an open letter, Gen David Petraeus said the argument that torture could elicit information quickly was "wrong".

If the US wants to win in Iraq it must keep the "moral high ground", he said.

It comes a week after an army mental health advisory team released a survey of troops in Iraq, which found a wide tolerance for torture and abuse.

More than a third believed that torture was acceptable if it helped save the life of a fellow soldier or if it helped get information about the insurgents.

About 10% of those surveyed said they had actually mistreated Iraqi civilians by hitting or kicking them, or had damaged their property when it was not necessary to do so.

'Hasty actions'

In his one-page letter, published on a military website, Gen Petraeus said he was concerned by the results of the survey, conducted last autumn but not released until 4 May.

While we are warriors, we are also all human beings
Gen David Petraeus

He wrote: "Some may argue that we would be more effective if we sanctioned torture or other expedient methods to obtain information from the enemy. They would be wrong.

"Beyond the basic fact that such actions are illegal, history shows that they also are frequently neither useful nor necessary."

Gen Petraeus also highlighted the finding that fewer than half those surveyed would be willing to report a fellow soldier for "illegal actions", such as abusing or killing civilians.

He acknowledged the stress of battlefield situations but said troops must not hold back from reporting wrongdoing by fellow servicemen.

"Seeing a fellow trooper killed by a barbaric enemy can spark frustration, anger, and a desire for immediate revenge.

"As hard as it may be however, we must not let these emotions lead us - or our comrades in arms - to commit hasty, illegal actions."

US forces "must observe the standards and values that dictate that we treat non-combatants and detainees with dignity and respect", he added. "While we are warriors, we are also all human beings."

Mental health

High-profile allegations of mistreatment of Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib prison and elsewhere have damaged the US military's reputation in Iraq and the Middle East.

A hearing is currently under way in California for one of four US officers charged with dereliction of duty for not investigating the killings of 24 Iraqi civilians in Haditha in 2005.

That inquiry is just one of a number the US military has been conducting into incidents of alleged unlawful killings by US forces in Iraq.

The Pentagon report concluded that troops suffering from anxiety, depression or stress were more likely to engage in unethical behaviour.

It also found that those on extended or multiple tours were more likely to suffer mental health problems.

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates earlier this year announced that tours of duty in Iraq for active-duty troops would be extended from 12 to 15 months.

Propaganda Fear Cited in Account of Iraqi Killings

Recently unclassified documents suggest that senior officers viewed the killings of 24 Iraqi civilians in Haditha in late 2005 as a potential public relations problem that could fuel insurgent propaganda against the American military, leading investigators to question whether the officers’ immediate response had been intentionally misleading.

Col. R. Gary Sokoloski, a lawyer who was chief of staff to Maj. General Richard A. Huck, the division commander, approved a news release about the killings that investigators interviewing him in March 2006 suggested was “intentionally inaccurate” because it stated, contrary to the facts at hand, that the civilians had been killed by an insurgent’s bomb.

According to a transcript of the interview, Colonel Sokoloski told the investigators, “We knew the, you know, the strategic implications of being permanently present in Haditha and how badly the insurgents wanted us out of there.”

But Colonel Sokoloski told them he believed that the news release was accurate as written. “At the time,” he said, “given the information that was available to me and the objective to get that out for the press” before insurgents put out their own information, “that is what we went with.”

The documents also show that derailing enemy propaganda was important to senior Marine commanders, including Col. Stephen W. Davis, a highly regarded regimental commander under General Huck, who played down questions about the civilian killings from a Time magazine reporter last year, long after the attacks and the civilian toll were clear to the military.

“Frankly, what I am looking at is the advantage he’s giving the enemy,” Colonel Davis said of the reporter, Tim McGirk, whose article in March 2006 was the first to report that marines had killed civilians in Haditha, including women and children. In their sworn statements, General Huck and his subordinates say they dismissed Mr. McGirk’s inquiries because they saw him as a na´ve conduit for the mayor of Haditha, whom the Marines believed to be an insurgent.

Four officers were charged with failing to properly investigate the civilian killings. The first hearing against one of the officers, Capt. Randy W. Stone, is set for Tuesday morning, in a military courtroom at Camp Pendleton, Calif. Three enlisted marines are charged with the killings. Their hearings, to determine whether the charges warrant general courts-martial, are set to begin in the coming weeks. As Marine Corps prosecutors prepare their evidence against Captain Stone and his fellow officers, the unclassified documents suggest that senior Marine commanders dismissed, played down or publicly mischaracterized the civilian deaths in ways that a military investigation found deeply troubling. The documents suggest that General Huck ignored early reports that women and children were killed in the attack, and later told investigators that he was unaware of regulations that required his staff to investigate further.

The documents, including a report by Maj. Gen. Eldon A. Bargewell of the Army, copies of e-mail messages among Marine officers in Haditha and sworn statements from several ranking officers, focus only on how the Marine chain of command handled the killings and have not been made public. Portions of the report and commanders’ reactions to the killings were reported by The Washington Post in January and April. The documents were provided to The New York Times by people familiar with the investigation only on condition that they not be identified.

Captain Stone, 34, of Dunkirk, Md., is accused of failing to investigate reports of the civilian deaths. In an interview that repeated similar frustrations voiced by lawyers for other accused officers, Captain Stone said he did not investigate the killings because his superiors told him not to.

“The regimental judge advocate informed me that we don’t do investigations for ‘troops in contact’ situations,” said Captain Stone, referring to the regiment’s lawyer, Maj. Carroll Connelly. Troops in contact is military language for combat against enemy fighters.

“That’s my understanding of what higher wanted,” Captain Stone said, referring to his superior officers, “and that’s why there was no investigation.”

“I don’t think I did anything wrong,” he went on. But he added, “There is a certain level of disappointment that the Marine Corps decided that, in the entire chain of command, that I am the one who should be held accountable.”

Major Connelly, who was not charged with any crime, has been granted immunity to testify at the coming hearings, said Captain Stone’s civilian lawyer, Charles W. Gittins.

After weighing evidence and arguments from prosecutors and defense lawyers, an investigating officer presiding over the hearing will determine whether there is sufficient evidence to recommend a general court martial. The other three officers facing dereliction charges are: Capt. Lucas M. McConnell, the company commander; First Lt. Andrew A. Grayson, a Marine intelligence officer; and Lt. Col. Jeffrey R. Chessani, the battalion commander.

The Haditha investigators pored over thousands of e-mail messages, slide presentations, sworn statements and field reports, sifting through sometimes contradictory information and conflicting points of view to determine what officers at each level knew and when they knew it.

The documents and interviews produced in the Bargewell investigation indicate that investigators had suspected possible wrongdoing, at least initially, at even higher levels.

“As you go up the chain of command, the question always becomes, ‘Where do you stop?’ ” said John D. Hutson, a former Navy judge advocate general, now the dean of the Franklin Pierce Law Center in New Hampshire. “You have to be reasonably certain that you’ll get a conviction.”

Intangible considerations can also influence military lawyers in deciding whether to recommend charges when wrongdoing is more ambiguous. “If you know the guy and he’s done well and he’s never done anything dishonest before,” Mr. Hutson said, “you might give him the benefit of the doubt.”

Documents declassified by the military last week include an e-mail message within three hours of the Haditha attack from a battalion operations officer to the regiment, a superior command, saying that 15 civilians had been killed, “seven of which were women and kids.”

Senior commanders told investigators that such early field reports were passed on to General Huck’s staff.

In a statement he gave at Camp Lejeune, N.C., in April, nearly five months later, General Huck told investigators that he could not recall being informed of reports that 15 civilians had been killed. He said he was overseeing several combat operations at the time, and that he had no reason to believe that the civilians killed in Haditha were not enemy fighters.

“I didn’t know at the time whether they were bad guys, noncombatants, or whatever,” General Huck said, according to a transcript of the interview. Later in the interview, he added, “They may have been guys pulling the trigger, for all I know.”

General Huck, who is expected to testify at the accused officers’ hearings, told investigators he did not recall orders, called commanders critical information requirements that required him to alert his superiors and investigate the circumstances of any attack that killed at least three times as many civilians as American forces.

General Huck said that three days after the Haditha episode, in the midst of two combat operations, he visited Colonel Chessani, the battalion commander, who showed him an electronic slide show of the attacks that, according to investigators, did not mention the civilian deaths.

“I sat there and took the brief and no bells and whistles went off,” General Huck told investigators.

The bells, the general said, sounded two and a half months later, on Feb. 12, after he sent his boss, Lt. Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, the commander of ground operations in Iraq at the time, an e-mail message with Colonel Chessani’s slide presentation attached to it.

“I support our account and do not see a necessity for further investigation,” General Huck wrote in the message to General Chiarelli in Baghdad, adding: “Allegedly, McGirk received his info from the mayor of Haditha, who we strongly suspect to be an insurgent.”

Less than five hours later, records show, General Chiarelli forwarded the e-mail message to his chief of staff, Brig. Gen. Donald Campbell, with a note.

“Don: We need to get together at the first possible moment tomorrow morning,” he wrote. “We’re going to have to do an investigation.”

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Pentagon: Many in service would not report civilian killing

 

WASHINGTON (AP) — A new Pentagon survey of troops in Iraq found that only 40% of Marines and 55% of Army soldiers would report a member of their unit for killing or wounding an innocent civilian.

In the first internal military study of battlefield ethics in Iraq, officials said Friday they also found that only a third of Marines and roughly half of soldiers said they believed that non-combatants should be treated with dignity.

The study also found that long and repeated deployments were increasing troop mental health problems. And it showed that more than 40% of Marines and soldiers said torture should be allowed to save the lives of troops.

The study was the fourth since 2003. Previous studies were more generally aimed at assessing the mental health and well-being of forces deployed in the war.

In the latest study, a mental health team visited Iraq last fall and surveyed troops, health care providers and chaplains.

"The Marine Corps takes this issue of battlefield ethics very seriously," said Lt. Col. Scott Fazekas, a Corps spokesman. "We are examining the study and its recommendations and we'll find ways to improve our approach."

 

7 Marines get immunity in Haditha killings
 

SAN DIEGO - Military prosecutors have granted immunity to at least seven Marines connected to an attack that killed 24 Iraqi civilians in Haditha, the deadliest criminal case against U.S. troops in the Iraq war.

Orders granting the immunity ensure any testimony the Marines volunteer cannot be used against them, making it highly unlikely charges will be brought against the men. They also suggest their eyewitness accounts will feature prominently in military court hearings for seven other Marines charged in the case.

The orders were obtained by The Associated Press from someone involved in the case who declined to be identified because the documents are not public.

Among those provided with immunity to testify are an officer who told troops to raid a house and a sergeant who took photographs of the dead but later deleted them from his camera.

One of the servicemen, Lance Cpl. Humberto Manuel Mendoza, was a member of the squad that cleared several homes and killed the Iraqis in the aftermath of a Nov. 19, 2005 roadside bomb attack that killed one Marine.

‘I was following my training’
Mendoza, who was not charged in the case, told investigators that he shot at least two men, but did so because they were in houses declared hostile.

"I was following my training that all individuals in a hostile house are to be shot," Mendoza told investigators. He was given immunity Dec. 18, just days before the Marine Corps announced murder charges against four enlisted men and dereliction of duty charges against four officers.

The Marine Corps said Tuesday that it dropped all charges against one of the eight men, Sgt. Sanick P. Dela Cruz of Chicago. Dela Cruz also has been given immunity to testify.

1st Lt. William Kallop, the first officer to arrive at the scene of the explosion, was granted immunity to talk to prosecutors April 3 as part of an order to "cooperate and truthfully answer all questions posed by investigators." He has not been charged in the case.

Kallop was with a rapid-response force that arrived minutes after the bomb went off. According to investigative documents, he said squad leader Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich and Cpl. Hector Salinas heard gunfire coming from a nearby house. Kallop told investigators that he ordered the men to "take the house."

In the ensuing raids on several homes, 24 Iraqis died, including women and children. Wuterich is charged with 13 counts of unpremeditated murder; Salinas has not been charged.

Kallop's attorney did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Two other officers and several enlisted men were also given immunity to testify.

A legal expert said by giving so many people immunity, prosecutors are taking a "conservative" approach to the case, which is the biggest to have emerged against U.S. troops since the start of the war in Iraq.

"These are legitimate moves by the prosecutor, who is very cautious," said Gary Solis, a former Marine Corps prosecutor and judge who teaches law of war at Georgetown University Law Center.

A Marine spokesman did not immediately respond to a phone message Friday.

Preliminary hearings for the seven Marines still facing charges are expected in the coming weeks at Camp Pendleton.

Aside from Wuterich, the others facing unpremeditated murder charges are Lance Cpl. Justin Sharratt, 22, of Canonsburg, Pa. and Lance Cpl. Stephen B. Tatum, 25, of Edmund, Okla.

Lt. Col. Jeffrey R. Chessani, 42, of Rangely, Colo., 1st Lt. Andrew A. Grayson, 25, Capt. Lucas McConnell, 31, of Napa, Calif., and Capt. Randy W. Stone, 34, face charges in connection with how the incident was investigated or reported.

US marines 'devalued Iraqi lives'

Blood spattered walls of a bedroom at the reported scene of the Haditha shooting

The US Marine Corps fostered a climate that devalued Iraqi lives, a US general investigating the 2005 killing of Iraqi civilians in Haditha has said.

The report, submitted in 2006 but now declassified, said the US military had ignored signs of "serious misconduct", according to the Washington Post.

A total of 24 men, women and children were killed at Haditha by marines who said they were attacked by insurgents.

A criminal investigation into the incident is continuing.

The Haditha inquiry is just one of a number the US military has been conducting into incidents of alleged unlawful killings by US forces in Iraq.

Video footage

Maj Gen Eldon Bargewell's report is an indictment of actions throughout the whole chain of command, from the general in charge to the men who carried out the killings on 19 November, 2005.

"All levels of command tended to view civilian casualties, even in significant numbers, as routine and as the natural and intended result of insurgent tactics," the US newspaper quotes him as saying.

Gen Bargewell said statements taken from those involved suggested the marines thought "Iraqi civilian lives are not as important as US lives, their deaths are just the cost of doing business, and that the marines need to get 'the job done' no matter what it takes".

Map of Iraq

The US military's initial statement on Haditha said that a marine and 15 civilians had been killed in a roadside bomb. A subsequent firefight had left eight insurgents dead, it said.

However, a local journalist took video footage showing men, women and children shot in their homes. Locals said the marines had gone on a rampage.

The US military instigated investigations and confirmed that 24 Iraqi civilians had died, none of them killed by a roadside bomb.

Three marines have since been charged with unpremeditated murder and four with attempting to cover up the incident.

Gen Bargewell is quoted as saying officers had tried to protect themselves and their troops by wilfully ignoring reports of civilian deaths.

There was no interest in investigating reports of a massacre, although there was also no specific cover-up, he is reported to have said.

The general's report, filed in June last year, does not address the specifics of the killings, which are the subject of the criminal case, rather it tackles the command structure and investigation procedure.

Gen Bargewell found that the marines had not identified targets properly, the Washington Post says.

The report also says the marines' story was passed up the chain of command and at all levels signs that the incident was significant were ignored.

A military judge has yet to decide if there is enough evidence against the seven accused marines to convene a court martial.

US drops marine's Haditha charges

The US Marine Corps has dropped all charges against one of the eight marines accused in the killings of 24 Iraqi civilians in Haditha in 2005.

Sgt Sanick Dela Cruz has been granted immunity in exchange for his testimony, the Marine Corps said in a statement.

Three other marines are charged with unpremeditated murder and four with attempting to cover up the incident.

Iraqi witnesses say the shootings were in retaliation for a roadside bomb that had killed a US marine earlier.

"Charges against [Sgt Dela Cruz] were dismissed on April 2 after the government balanced his low level of culpability in the alleged crime against the potential value of his testimony," the Marine Corps said on Tuesday.

Investigation delayed

Lance Cpl Miguel Terrazas was ripped in half by a bomb that exploded under the marine convoy as it drove through Haditha, 240km (150 miles) north-west of Baghdad, on 19 November 2005.

Defence lawyers for the accused marines have argued that the squad of marines then came under fire from the houses in which the Iraqis died and that they had shot back in self defence.

The US military at first reported that the Iraqis, among them seven women and three children, had died in the bomb blast and subsequent firefight, but later said that was incorrect.

There was no full US investigation into what happened until three months after the event when video footage taken by a local human rights activist of the aftermath reached Time Magazine.

Once their report showed flaws in the initial marine statement, an investigation began.

Sgt Dela Cruz was charged with unpremeditated murder and making a false report about the incident.

A military judge has yet to decide if there is enough evidence against the remaining seven accused marines to convene a court martial.

If found guilty, the three marines charged with second-degree murder could face life imprisonment.

The Haditha inquiry is just one of a number the US military has been conducting into incidents of alleged unlawful killings by US forces in Iraq.

The Killings In Haditha

(CBS)  United States Marines killed 24 apparently innocent civilians in an Iraqi town called Haditha. The dead included men, women and children as young as 2 years old. Iraqi witnesses said the Marines were on a rampage, slaughtering people in the street and in their homes. In December, four Marines were charged with murder.

Was it murder? Was Haditha a massacre? A military jury will decide. But, there’s no question that Haditha is symbolic of a war that leaves American troops with terrible choices. The Marine making those choices in Haditha was a 25-year-old sergeant named Frank Wuterich. He’s charged with 18 murders, the most by far, and he's accused of lying on the day it happened.

Wuterich faces life in prison. None of the Marines charged with murder has spoken publicly about this. Now, Staff Sgt. Wuterich tells 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley he wants to tell the truth about the day he decided who would live and who would die in Haditha.

"Everyone visualizes me as a monster – a baby killer, cold-blooded, that sort of thing. And, it's, you know, that’s not accurate, and neither is the story that most of them know of this incident. They need to know the truth," Wuterich tells Pelley.

Wuterich does not believe 24 dead civilians equates to a massacre.

"No, absolutely not… A massacre in my mind, by definition, is a large group of people being executed, being killed for absolutely no reason and that’s absolutely not what happened here," he says.

The day after the killings, bodies were wrapped to conceal the sight of 24 civilians: 15 men, three women and six children killed by shrapnel and gunshot. A year after they died, the Marine Corps announced the charges, which include murder, dereliction of duty, false official statement, and obstruction of justice.

Prosecutors charged Wuterich and three of his Marines with unpremeditated murder -- essentially killing without military justification. To understand how this happened, you need to know where it happened.

Haditha is a town of 70,000, in Anbar province, the heart of the Sunni resistance, where, among the residents, anti-American passions run high. In the months before Wuterich’s unit arrived, other Marines here were suffering some of the heaviest causalities in all of Iraq, including the bombing of an armored vehicle that killed 14 Marines. Days before that, six Marines in Haditha were ambushed, tortured and killed. The enemy put it on the Internet where Wuterich and his men saw the bodies and the dog tags of their dead comrades.

As his battalion moved in, it discovered the dilemma that defines Iraq. In Haditha, the population is generally hostile to Americans, but only some are armed fighters. The fighters blend in. You can’t pick them out unless they’re shooting at you.

"When you got to Haditha with your Marines, who was in charge of the town?" Pelley asks.

"For the most part, I don’t think anyone was in charge." Wuterich says there was no mayor, city government or police force that he knew of.

Wuterich commanded a squad of 12 men in Kilo Company. They moved into a school administration building they renamed Sparta. They couldn’t see the enemy, but it was clear the enemy was watching them.

When he arrived in Haditha, Frank Wuterich had been a Marine more than seven years and was getting out. He didn’t have to go to Iraq, but he wanted to see war, so he transferred from his California base to a unit headed into battle. The men in his squad were combat hardened, many on their second or third tours, men who had watched each other’s backs through vicious fights.

"As you understood them, what were the rules for using deadly force?" Pelley asks.

Wuterich says the biggest thing was PID -- positive identification.

"It means that you need to be able to positively identify your target before you shoot to kill," he says.

The kind of targets they were permitted to shoot to kill included, "…various things," Wuterich says. "Obviously, anyone with a weapon, especially pointed at you… Hostile act, hostile intent was the biggest thing that they had to have, so if they had used a hostile act against you, you could use deadly force. If there was hostile intent towards you, you could use deadly force."

The mission on Nov. 19, 2005 -- the day of the killings -- began before 7 a.m. Wuterich led a convoy to a checkpoint, escorting fresh Iraqi troops and bringing breakfast to the Marines there. It was nothing more than an errand.

Wuterich recounts what happened next.

"Coming back to Sparta we came up going north on River Road… made a left on Chestnut… First two vehicles traveled without incident. My vehicle traveled without incident.

Then, Wuterich felt the blast wave from "a huge, huge explosion. It rocked the truck even that I was in. We see debris from our fourth vehicle hundreds of meters in the air above us coming down, you know, tires, all sorts of different parts. We knew the fourth vehicle had been hit."

The vehicle was devastated by a bomb buried under the road, detonated by remote control. Wuterich, in charge, called for backup and began planning his next move.

"Once we have security on the ground and the casualties are being attended to, you want to send somebody out to search for the triggerman," and Wuterich says he believes there was one.
Wuterich tells Pelley that until that minute, he had never been in combat before.

Up ahead, a white car was stopped by the side of the road. Five Iraqi men ranging in age from 19 to 29 were ordered out.

"So my immediate thought is okay, maybe this was a car bomb. Okay, maybe these guys had something to do with this IED," Wuterich says.

He says Sgt. Sanick Dela Cruz, also charged with murder, yelled at the men to drop to the ground.

"Normally, the Iraqis know the drill when you’re over there. They know if something happens, they know exactly what they need to do. Get down, hands up, and completely cooperate. These individuals were doing none of that. They got out of the car [and] as they were going around they started to take off, so I shot at them," he tells Pelley.

As the men ran from Wuterich, he says he shot them in the back.

"How does these men running away from the scene, as you describe it, square with hostile action or hostile intent? Asks Pelley.

"Because hostile action, if they were the triggermen, would have blown up the IED. Which would also constitute hostile intent. But also at the same time, there were military-aged males that were inside that car. The only vehicle, the only thing that was out, that was Iraqi, was them. They were 100 meters away from that IED. Those are the things that went through my mind before I pulled the trigger. That was positive identification," Wuterich tells Pelley.

Other witnesses, including Marines, dispute that the men were running. Wuterich is charged with lying that day to a sergeant, saying the Iraqi men fired on the convoy.

When the vehicle was searched, what was found?

"I believe nothing. I don’t remember partaking in the search," he said. "But, as far as I know, there wasn’t anything found."

And the men were not armed.

"How much time has passed from the moment of the explosion to the time that you killed these five men?" Pelley asks.

"I would say within about two minutes," Wuterich says.

Next, Wuterich went to his fallen Marines in the bombed Humvee. Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas, 20, from El Paso, Texas, was the driver. He describes what he saw.

"…basically a pile of flesh, in essence. That may be a sight I’ll never forget. He was missing one of his arms. His legs were completely severed from his body, but they were still attached because for some reason his Cami’s didn’t rip completely."

In two minutes, one Marine and five Iraqis were dead, but the killing had just begun Next, Frank Wuterich would lead his men to kill 19 more Iraqi civilians.

Two other Marines were wounded and the medic was treating them. Wuterich was down to eight men and they came under rifle fire. He says he heard "Shots, sporadic shots, I think I heard two or three, two or three shots from the south and that was it."

He says he couldn’t see where the fire was coming from, but a house to the south caught his eye.

"This building was right in the line of sight of this explosion here," Wuterich says.

"You did not see fire coming from the house, correct?" asks Pelley.

"I did not see muzzle flashes coming from the house, correct," Wuterich replies.

If he didn’t hear rounds coming from the house, how did he identify the house as a threat?

"Because that was the only logical place that the fire could come through seeing the environment there."

When Wuterich’s superior, Lt. William Kallop arrived, Kallop gave his okay to assault the house.

At this point it’s important to know that even though Wuterich had never cleared houses in combat, two of his men had, and it had been a bitter experience. It was about a year before in Falluja. The residents had been ordered out of the city and the Marines were told anyone left behind was hostile. Lance Cpl. Justin Sharratt, one of Wuterich’s men, was in that fatal Falluja house clearing.

In the incident, Marines tossed a grenade past the door and rush in. But the enemy returns fire. One Marine is killed and eight are wounded. Another veteran of Falluja was Lance Corporal Steve Tatum.

Now a year later, Sharratt and Tatum would be charged with murder for what they were about to do in Haditha. Tatum, Wuterich and two others ran from the road at the top, down the ravine to assault the first house -- Wuterich telling the Marines shoot first, ask questions later.

After hearing noises behind a closed door, they kicked in the door and threw in the grenade.

"Frank, help me understand. You’re in a residence, how do you crack a door open and roll a grenade into a room?" Pelley asks.

"At that point, you can’t hesitate to make a decision. Hesitation equals being killed, either yourself or your men," he says.

"But when you roll a grenade in a room through the crack in the door, that’s not positive identification, that’s taking a chance on anything that could be behind that door," Pelley says.

"Well that’s what we do. That’s how our training goes," he says.

Next, Wuterich says he glanced into the room and he saw bodies.

"…I remember there may have been women in there, may have been children in there," he says. "My responsibility as a squad leader is to make sure that none of the rest of my guys died ... and at that point we were still on the assault, so no, I don't believe [I should have stopped the attack], he tells Pelley.

Wuterich says the back door of the house was open. He hadn’t seen the gunman, but he assumed the gunman fled next door. So the Marines hit the next house.

He says, "We went through that house much the same, prepping the room with grenades, going in there, and eliminating the threat and engaging the targets…There probably wasn’t [a threat], now that I look back on it. But there, in that time, yes, I believed there was a threat."

In the second house was the Younis family. A 41-year-old man, a 35-year-old woman, a 28-year-old woman, and the children -- Noor, 14; Sabah, 9; Zaineb, 3; and Aisha, 2. They were all killed by Wuterich's men.

How does he explain that?

"We reacted to how we were supposed to react to our training and I did that to the best of my ability. You know the rest of the Marines that were there, they did their job properly as well. Did we know that civilians were in there? No. Did we go in those rooms, you know, it would have been one thing, if we went in those rooms and looked at everyone and shot them. You know, we cleared these houses the way they were supposed to be cleared," he says.

Prosecutors have charged Wuterich with murdering 18 people. Among them the people at the car and those in the first house when he ordered his men to “shoot first, ask questions later.” Prosecutors say he shot six people in the second house. Wuterich told 60 Minutes that he never fired his weapon. The rules said Wuterich and his Marines were supposed to identify a threat before firing, but the rules also said they could use all necessary force to defend themselves.

"In an insurgency situation, Marines don't get a second chance If they aren't able to fire first, they die," says Neil Puckett, who, along with Mark Zaid, are Wuterich’s civilian attorneys.

How can they make the argument that these killings are within the law?

"They're within the law because they were not done without legal justification or excuse," Puckett says. "They were done in a combat environment, in a tactical situation, in order to protect the lives of the remaining Marines who survived the IED that day. And that makes them lawful."

Zaid adds: "And these three one Marines knew -- their buddies and colleagues who had tried to do similar take downs of houses where they tried, in fact, to knock first and shoot later. And the Marines who tried that were dead."

60 Minutes wanted to know more about how Marines face this choice – between killing civilians or risking their men. We spoke to a Marine who led a platoon through some of the most hostile territory in Iraq. Donovan Campbell, now a Reserve Captain, estimates he cleared at least 50 houses.

"We have a saying: 'Always know your target and what’s beyond it. And no matter what, whether you think you’re probably going kill everyone inside, you still need to know exactly what your target is. Who is it that I’m shooting when I go through the door,'" Campbell says.

Campbell was not in Haditha and he makes no judgment about what the Marines did there. But he told 60 Minutes, in general, identifying the enemy is critical and has everything to do with the amount of force used to clear a house

Are there circumstances under which you’d declare an entire house hostile and go in with the intention of just killing everyone inside?

Campbell says yes. "You have to have the context of heavy enemy involvement in the area and then I think you have to have a more specific operating context that deals specifically with that house. You know there are several insurgents inside and you need to go in and get them out because they are attacking you."

How do you know? Campbell tells Pelley almost always, you have to see them.

"In your opinion," asks Pelley," you have to lay eyes on someone with a weapon in that house in order to assault the house and kill everyone inside?”

Campbell says, "Yes, but you never go in with the intention of I’m going to kill every living soul inside."

There was a third house that morning. Wuterich and Sharratt found a man with a rifle inside. They killed him and others. Later, more armed Iraqis were spotted. They were killed by an air strike.

There were also survivors from the first two houses. Two of them were girls who told reporters that the Marines shouted at their families before they started firing.

Pelley tells Wuterich, "the accusation is made that your men went berserk that you got hit by an IED, one of the favorite guys in the squad was cut in half and lying in the road and your guys went nuts. You dropped the five guys next to the car because they happened to be there and then you went to the closest house and then you went down the hallway throwing grenades and shooting and you just killed everybody you could find."

"That’s absolutely untrue," Wuterich responds. "My emotion was pushed back. My training came to play… but going completely crazy and acting wild, I don’t know who came up with that, but it’s false."

There’s no evidence the Marines at Haditha tried to hide the high number of casualties. But for reasons we don’t know, a higher Marine headquarters issued a press release that said 15 civilians had been killed by the roadside bomb. Two months later, photos showing gunshot wounds were obtained by Time magazine’s Tim McGirk. Opponents of the war, notably congressman John Murtha, seized on them.

"Our troops overacted because of the pressure on them and they killed innocent civilians in cold blood," he said.

On June 1, 2006, President George W. Bush said "…the allegations are very troubling for me and equally troubling for our military, especially the Marine Corps."

Wuterich finished his Iraq tour and, before he was charged, he was promoted by the Marine Corps. He’s back home on a base in the U.S., and when 60 Minutes visited, he and his wife Marisol were planning a birthday party for one of their two daughters. Not long after, Marisol gave birth to a third little girl. Wuterich’s enlistment is up, but he’s being kept in the military, at a desk job, until his court martial.

"What I did that day, the decisions that I made, I would make those decisions today," he says.
"What I’m talking about is the tactical decisions. It doesn’t sit well with me that women and children died that day," Wuterich says.

"There is nothing that I can possibly say to make up or make well the deaths of those women and children and I am absolutely sorry that that happened that day."

What was Wuterich thinking when he went to bed that night?

"That I’m not sure I want to go to sleep tonight, because I don’t know what I’m going to dream.”

Prosecutors declined to talk to 60 Minutes. None of the other Marines charged with murder would be interviewed. Four Marine officers have been charged with failing to investigate the killings thoroughly.

The court martial of Frank Wuterich is expected later this year.


To visit Wuterich's Web site, click here.

To visit the Web site for Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, click here.

US marine 'justifies' Iraq deaths

Staff Sgt Frank Wuterich

A US marine, charged with murdering unarmed Iraqi civilians in Haditha in 2005, said he regrets the deaths but would make the same decisions again.

In a TV interview, Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich, 26, said he shot five unarmed Iraqi men because he believed they had hostile intent towards his men.

Iraqi witnesses say the shootings were in retaliation for a roadside bomb that killed a colleague hours earlier.

Eight US marines have been charged over the deaths of 24 Iraqi civilians.

Four are accused of unpremeditated murder and four others are charged with attempting to cover up the incident.

 

Wuterich is charged with the  unpremeditated murder of 12 Iraqis and ordering his troops to kill six people.

It is the biggest US criminal case to emerge from the war in Iraq in terms of Iraqis killed. If found guilty of second-degree murder, the marines could face life imprisonment.

'Absolutely sorry'

In an interview with the 60 Minutes programme on the US TV channel CBS, to be broadcast on Sunday, Sgt Wuterich apologised for the deaths.

"There is nothing that I can possibly say to make up or make well the deaths of those women and children, and I am absolutely sorry it happened that day."

However, he said firing at the men was justified because he had identified them as military-age males in a car close to where a roadside bomb had just exploded.

He said they tried to run instead of obeying an order not to.

"I would make those decisions again today. Those are decisions that I made in a combat situation and I believe I had to make those decisions," he said.

'No bullets fired

The defence team says the marines from Kilo Company in America's First Marine Division were engaged in a furious battle on 19 November 2005 in Haditha after the roadside explosion.

Blood spattered walls of a bedroom at the reported scene of the Haditha shooting
The official US version differs widely from that of locals and the media
It is known that five unarmed men were shot dead in a car when they approached the scene in a taxi and others, including women and children, died in three houses over the next few hours.

Those who died included a 76-year-old man and a three-year-old child. There were also several women among the dead.

An initial marine press statement said that some civilians were killed in the initial explosion and others in crossfire by insurgents.

But local people say that there were no bullets fired other than by the marines. The defence lawyers accept that innocent civilians may have died during the chaos but they deny premeditated killing.

There was no full US investigation into what happened until three months later when video footage taken by a local human rights activist of the aftermath reached Time Magazine.

Once their report showed flaws in the initial marine statement, an investigation began.

The Haditha inquiry is just one of a number the US military has been conducting into incidents of alleged unlawful killings by US forces in Iraq.

US soldier in Iraq murder trial
 
The last of four US soldiers has gone on trial for his part in the murder of three Iraqi detainees on 9 May 2006.

Sgt Raymond Girouard, 24, is the most senior soldier to face a court-martial for the killings during a raid on a suspected insurgent camp near Samarra.

He denies ordering his soldiers to shoot the Iraqi prisoners, but admits his role in covering up the deaths.

Two soldiers have pleaded guilty to murder and were jailed for 18 years. Another was sentenced to nine months.

Specialist William Hunsaker and Private First Class Corey Clagett - who admitted to releasing and then shooting the men - received 18-year sentences in a deal with military prosecutors.

Specialist Juston Graber - who said he killed an injured prisoner in what he called a mercy killing - admitted aggravated assault and was jailed for nine months.

'Cover-up'

Hunsaker testified on Tuesday that Sgt Girouard gave him orders to free the three Iraqi detainees, and then shoot them as they fled.

Hunsaker said that after the squad took the detainees into custody, Sgt Girouard told the soldiers the group's first sergeant was angry the three men were still alive.

Hunsaker said he and Corey Clagett took the detainees outside and told them to run.

"I shot him [the first detainee] where his heart should be. I moved from right to left. I took aim in the same manner and aimed for the heart and the head," Hunsaker told the court.

He said that after the detainees were shot, Sgt Girouard cut him with a pocket knife to make it appear there had been a struggle.

Sgt Girouard's lawyer, Anita Gorecki, said in her opening statement that Sgt Girouard did not order his soldiers to shoot the Iraqi detainees, but that he did help cover up the deaths.

"He saw what they did. He realised they killed the detainees, and in that moment, yes, he decided to help his squad members," Ms Gorecki told the military court.

The case is one of two incidents involving allegations of civilian killings involving the 101st Airborne Division.

In the other case, four soldiers and a former soldier are accused of raping and murdering a 14-year-old girl in March 2006, and killing her family.

US soldier admits murdering girl
 
A second US soldier's plea of guilty to the gang rape of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl and the killing of her and her family has been accepted by a judge.

Sgt Paul Cortez admitted four murders, rape and conspiracy to rape. His plea means he will avoid the death penalty.

In November, Spc James Barker, 24, admitted rape and murder over the same killings and was jailed for 90 years.

Cortez broke down as he confessed to raping the girl as her parents and sister were shot dead in another room.

The case is one of several in which US troops are accused of killing Iraqis.

According to the plea agreement, Cortez admitted conspiring with three other soldiers, Pfc Jesse Spielman, Spc Barker and Steven Green, a now discharged soldier, to rape Abeer Qassim al-Janabi.

Card game

Pfc Spielman and another man, Bryan Howard, are awaiting court martial on charges related to the attack.

Mr Green is being tried as a civilian because he was discharged from the Army before his superiors knew of his suspected involvement. He denies the charges against him.

All five belonged to the 101st Airborne Division based at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, which is also where the hearing took place.

In court, Cortez admitted the plan was hatched as they played cards and that the girl had been targeted because there was only one male in her house, making it an easy target.

Family murdered

He said: "During the time me and Barker were raping Abeer, I heard five or six gunshots that came from the bedroom.

"After Barker was done, Green came out of the bedroom and said that he had killed them all, that all of them were dead."

Cortez added: "Green then placed himself between Abeer's legs to rape her. When Green was finished, he stood up and shot Abeer in the head two or three times."

The entire crime took about five minutes and the girl knew her parents and sister had been shot while she was being raped, the hearing heard.

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US soldier jailed for Iraq deaths

Map of Iraq

A US soldier has been jailed for 18 years for his part in the murder of three Iraqi detainees in May of 2006.

Pfc Corey Clagett, 22, who is the third soldier to plead guilty in connection with the case, made the plea in a deal with military prosecutors.

The soldiers originally claimed they had killed three men trying to escape.

A fourth soldier from the 101st Airborne Division, squad leader Staff Sgt Raymond Girouard, is due to face court-martial in the coming months.

Under the deal, Clagett admitted charges of murder, attempted murder, conspiracy to commit murder and conspiracy to obstruct justice.

He admitted to killing one of the victims and participating in the murder of the other two.

Earlier this month another member of the group, Spc William Hunsaker, was jailed for 18 years after pleading guilty to murder.

Another soldier has admitted aggravated assault with a dangerous weapon and was jailed for nine months.

During his trial, Hunsaker testified that Sgt Girouard gave an order to kill the victims and make it look as if they had been fleeing.

"He told us to cut the zip ties [restraining the men], tell them to run and shoot them. I went out and did just that," he told the court.

Haditha case a warning for Marines
Charges in civilian deaths show officers will be held accountable for actions
 

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. - With eight Marines charged in connection with the deaths of 24 Iraqi civilians, the Marine Corps sent a clear message to its officers: They will be held accountable for the actions of their subordinates.

In the biggest U.S. criminal case involving civilian deaths to come out of the Iraq war, four of the Marines — all enlisted men — were charged Thursday with unpremeditated murder.

But the remaining four Marines in the case are officers, the highest ranking among them a lieutenant colonel. They were charged with dereliction of duty for failing to report or properly investigate the killings in the Iraqi town of Haditha last year.

The case marks the largest number of U.S. officers to be charged in an alleged crime since the start of the Iraq war, said John Hutson, a former Navy judge advocate general.

“The honorable thing is not to ‘protect’ your subordinates,” said Hutson, who is now president of New Hampshire’s Franklin Pierce Law Center. “The honorable thing is to look above that and realize they have a greater responsibility to the Marine Corps and military justice system.”

Lt. Col. Jeffrey R. Chessani, 42, of Rangely, Colo., was charged with failing to accurately report and thoroughly investigate a possible violation and dereliction of duty. He could face dismissal and up to two years in prison.

Hutson said officers play an integral role in the way crimes are reported and how military justice is handled. He said if the officers did fail to properly investigate the deaths, their failures were more enduring “than these guys who allegedly murdered people.”

Besides Chessani, officers charged in connection with how the incident was investigated or reported included 1st Lt. Andrew A. Grayson, 25; Capt. Lucas McConnell, 31, of Napa, Calif., and Capt. Randy W. Stone, 34, a military attorney.

Murder and other charges issued
The charges followed an investigation into Iraqi allegations that Marines went on a rampage after one of their own was killed by a bomb.

Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich, 26, was charged with the unpremeditated murder of 12 people, and the murder of six others by ordering Marines about to enter a house to “shoot first and ask questions later,” according to court papers released by his attorney, Neal Puckett. He faces the possibility of life in prison if convicted.

Puckett said his client carried out the killings in accordance with his training.

“There’s no question that innocent people died that day, but Staff Sergeant Wuterich believes, and I believe, they did everything they were trained to do,” he said.

Wuterich was also charged with making a false official statement and soliciting another sergeant to make false official statements.

Sgt. Sanick P. Dela Cruz, 24, of Chicago, was accused of the unpremeditated murders of five people and making a false official statement with intent to deceive.

Investigation began in March
Lance Cpl. Justin Sharratt, 22, of Canonsburg, Pa., was accused of the unpremeditated murder of three Iraqis. Lance Cpl. Stephen B. Tatum, 25, of Edmund, Okla., was charged with the unpremeditated murders of two Iraqis, negligent homicide of four Iraqi civilians and a charge of assault upon two Iraqis.

The Marines, who are based at Camp Pendleton, have been under investigation since March. None will be placed in pretrial confinement, because they are not deemed a flight risk or a danger to themselves or others, said Col. Stewart Navarre, chief of staff for Marine Corps Installations West.

The Iraqis were killed in the hours following a roadside bomb that rocked a Marine patrol on the morning of Nov. 19, 2005. The blast killed Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas of El Paso, Texas, and injured two others. The Marine Corps said again Thursday that insurgents fired guns after the blast.

In the aftermath, five men were shot as they approached the scene in a taxi and others — including women and children — died as Marines went house to house in the area, clearing homes with grenades and gunfire.

Terrazas’ father denounced the charges.

“What they are doing to our troops ... it’s just wrong,” he told The Associated Press in Texas. “I feel for their families. They are in my prayers.”

Marines acted as trained, defense argues
Defense attorneys have said their clients were doing what they had been trained to do: respond to a perceived threat with legitimate force. The Marines remained in combat for months after the killings.

A criminal probe was launched after Time magazine reported in March, citing survivor accounts and human rights groups, that innocent people were killed.

The Marine Corps initially reported that 15 Iraqis died in a roadside bomb blast, and Marines killed eight insurgents in an ensuing fire fight. That account was widely discredited and later reports put the number of dead Iraqis at 24.

Lt. Gen. James Mattis, commanding general of the Marine Corps Central Command, said Thursday that the Corps’ initial news release, which said the civilians in Haditha had been killed by an improvised explosive device, was incorrect.

“We now know with certainty that the press release was incorrect, and that none of the civilians were killed by the IED explosion,” Mattis said in another release.

8 Marines face charges in Haditha killings

story.haditha.ap.jpg

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Four Marines have been charged with murder in the 2005 killings of 24 Iraqi civilians, and four officers are accused of failing to investigate and report the deaths properly, the Marine Corps announced Thursday.

A Marine investigation into the killings found initial reports -- including a press release that blamed the civilian deaths on a roadside bomb -- were "inaccurate and untimely," Marine Col. Stewart Navarre told reporters.

"We now know with certainty the press release was incorrect, and that none of the civilians were killed by the IED," Navarre said.

Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, Sgt. Sanick Dela Cruz and Lance Cpls. Justin Sharratt and Stephen Tatum have been charged with unpremeditated murder in the civilian deaths. Wuterich also is charged with making a false official statement and trying to get another Marine to make a false statement.

Haditha, located along the Euphrates River, was the target of previous Marine campaigns aimed at rooting out insurgents. Wuterich was leading a patrol through the city on November 19, 2005, when the unit was hit by a roadside bomb that killed one of its members.

The service launched its investigation in March, after an Iraqi human rights group raised allegations that the Marines had gone on a house-to-house rampage after the bombing.

None of the men charged Thursday will be held in the brig before trial, Navarre said.

Neal Puckett, one of Wuterich's attorneys, told reporters Wuterich was on two weeks' leave with his family at Camp Pendleton. His wife, Marisol, is expecting a baby any day. He has previously denied wrongdoing, and specifically denies allegations that he asked Dela Cruz to lie, Puckett said.

According to a Time magazine report, the Marines said they faced threats from the houses where the Iraqi civilians were killed and responded with appropriate force. (Read the Time magazine report on Hadithaexternal link)

"There's no question that people died that day, innocent civilians died that day," Puckett said. "But Staff Sgt. Wuterich maintains, and quite frankly I believe, that they did everything they were supposed to do that day in protecting themselves."

Sharratt's attorney, Gary Myers, told CNN, "Our view has been and continues to be that these were combat-related deaths."

Wuterich's detachment was part of Kilo Company, from the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, based at Camp Pendleton. Their battalion commander, Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani, "wrongfully failed to accurately report and thoroughly investigate a possible, suspected, or alleged violation of the law of war by Marines under his command," the Marines announced.

Chessani has been charged with one count of violating a lawful order and two counts of dereliction of duty. Three other officers -- Capt. Randy Stone, Capt. Lucas McConnell and 1st Lt. Andrew Grayson -- also face charges in the case: Grayson is charged with obstruction of justice, dereliction of duty and making a false statement; McConnell and Stone are charged with dereliction of duty; and Stone faces an additional count of violating a lawful order.

In addition to the murder charges, which carry a possible life sentence, Dela Cruz is charged with making a false statement and Tatum is charged with negligent homicide and assault.

If convicted, the accused officers face sentences ranging from administrative punishment, such as loss of rank and pay, to prison terms of up to five years for obstruction of justice.

Although more than a year has passed since the raid, Navarre defended the pace of the investigation.

"The investigations and the referral of charges have been done as quickly as possible, but no quicker -- no slower, no faster," he said. "The intent is to move through the process as quickly as we can, making sure that we take the necessary time to ensure a complete, full, impartial execution of the process."

Wuterich has sued anti-war congressman John Murtha for libel, accusing the Pennsylvania Democrat and former Marine colonel of falsely accusing the Marines of killing civilians in "cold blood." Puckett said Thursday that if that were true, the men would have been charged with premeditated murder.


Report: Military to charge Marines in Haditha killings

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- The U.S. military is expected to charge at least five U.S. Marines in the killing of 24 civilians in Haditha, Iraq, and the charges could include murder, defense officials said Wednesday.

It was not known when the charges would come down but a Marine Corps official said it would not happen Wednesday.

A Marine Corps general will brief members of the House Armed Services Committee behind closed doors Wednesday morning about the military's months-long investigation of the case.

U.S. Marines have been accused of killing unarmed Iraqis in Haditha in November 2005. It is one of a series of cases in which U.S. troops have been suspected, and some convicted, of being involved in the murder of Iraqi civilians.

Two investigations were initiated into the Haditha case -- a murder inquiry and a probe into the Marines' procedures after the killings.

Under the murder inquiry, military criminal investigators have reviewed evidence indicating Marines deliberately shot to death the Iraqi civilians, according to a Pentagon official. The investigation into the military's response found Marine officers failed to respond properly to the conflicting reports of the killings, another official said.

Defense attorneys for some of the accused Marines have said their clients followed military rules of engagement and believed they were under attack when they fired.

 

21-Month Term For Marine in Death of Iraqi


 

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif., Nov. 21 -- A Marine was sentenced to 21 months in prison Tuesday after pleading guilty to lesser charges in the killing of an unarmed Iraqi civilian.

In return for Lance Cpl. Jerry E. Shumate Jr.'s guilty pleas to charges of aggravated assault and conspiracy to obstruct justice, the government dropped other charges, including murder, kidnapping, assault and conspiracy.

Shumate is one of seven Marines and a sailor charged with kidnapping Hashim Ibrahim Awad, 52, in the rural town of Hamdaniyah, dragging him to a roadside hole and shooting him, and then trying to cover it up.

Two Marines and a Navy corpsman earlier pleaded guilty to lesser charges. Shumate's sentence matches the longest any of the three has been ordered to serve in custody.

Four senior squad members still face kidnapping and murder charges.

Iraq rape soldier jailed for life

Room where alleged rape and
                           killing took place

A US soldier who raped a 14-year-old Iraqi girl and helped to kill her family has been sentenced to life in prison with possible parole.

Specialist James Barker was one of four serving soldiers charged over the killings in the Iraqi town of Mahmudiya in March 2006.

He pleaded guilty and agreed to help prosecutors in an effort to avoid the death penalty.

He could serve up to 90 years in prison, the presiding judge said.

"This court sentences you to be confined for the length of your natural life, with the eligibility of parole," Lt Col Richard Anderson said.

He is expected to be eligible for parole in 20 years.

Specialist Barker was among four soldiers accused of the rape of the girl and the murder of her family.

The three others - Sgt Paul Cortez, Private Jesse Spielman and Private Bryan Howard - are facing court-martial proceedings.

A fifth man, former soldier Stephen Green, has been charged in a civilian court in Kentucky with murder and sexual assault. He has denied the charges.

'I hated Iraqis'

Before the judgement was handed down on Thursday, James Barker told the court that Mr Green had come up with the plan for the rape and killings.

"He brought it up to me and asked me what I thought about it," Barker said.

"By the time we started changing clothes, it was more or less a non-verbal agreement that we were going to go along with what we were discussing."

He also confessed that he "hated Iraqis", telling the judge: "They can smile at you, then shoot you in your face without even thinking about it."

But he added that Iraq had made him "angry and mean" yet that he regretted his actions, telling the court he did not set out to kill or deliberately harm people in Iraq.

"I want the people of Iraq to know that I did not go there to do the terrible things that I did. I do not ask anyone to forgive me today."

Military prosecutors did not comment after the judgement was passed because the three other soldiers still face courts-martial.

Marine pleads not guilty in Iraqi death

 

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. (AP) — A Marine charged with kidnapping and murdering an Iraqi civilian pleaded not guilty Tuesday in his first court appearance.

Cpl. Trent Thomas belonged to a squad of seven Marines and a Navy corpsman who were accused of abducting the 52-year-old man, shooting him at a roadside hole and trying to cover up the killing.

Thomas is charged with kidnap, murder, conspiracy, making a false official statement, larceny and housebreaking in the April 26 death of Hashim Ibrahim Awad in Hamdania, west of Baghdad.

Thomas, 24, from the St. Louis area, was on his second combat tour in Iraq. He could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted at his trial, which was set for March 12.

Two Marines and the corpsman pleaded guilty to reduced charges and agreed to testify about the killing in return for the dropping of other charges. The two Marines are to be sentenced later this week.

A fourth member of the squad has made a similar deal and is due in court next week.

Some of the testimony has singled out Thomas' actions the night of April 26. The Navy medic, Petty Officer 3rd Class Melson Bacos, testified Thomas fired several rounds into Awad's chest. Bacos pleaded guilty to kidnapping and conspiracy and was ordered jailed for a year.

Victor Kelley, Thomas' civilian attorney, said his client would be acquitted but acknowledged the testimony makes it harder to defend him.

Thomas also is charged with assault in a separate incident involving a different individual that was uncovered during the investigation of Awad's death.

 

Marine Enters Pleas in Iraqi Case

Marine Pleads Guilty to Assault, Conspiracy in Case of Iraqi Civilian Who Was Killed

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. - A Marine pleaded guilty Monday to aggravated assault and conspiracy to obstruct justice before testifying that his squad executed a civilian he thought was an insurgent.

Lance Cpl. Tyler A. Jackson, 23, entered the pleas through his attorney, Thomas Watt, at a military court hearing.

He was the third serviceman to plead guilty to reduced charges in return for his testimony in the case, in which seven Camp Pendleton-based Marines and a Navy corpsman were charged with killing 52-year-old Hashim Ibrahim Awad.

Jackson said the shooting occurred after the squad hatched a plan to kidnap an insurgent who was suspected of being responsible for several explosions, including one that killed four Marines.

Three members of Jackson's unit went into the village of Hamdania on April 26 and returned with a prisoner who was then shot by the side of a road on the orders of squad leader Sgt. Lawrence G. Hutchins, Jackson said.

"Sgt. Hutchins ordered us to get on line," Jackson testified. "Everyone fired rounds, including myself, but I fired my rounds above him. I knew he was going to be shot, but I didn't want to be the one to do it."

Jackson said that to his knowledge the man was a known insurgent. He learned later that it was Awad, he said. He said another serviceman told him that if anyone asked about the incident, he should "stick to the story," Jackson testified.

Previously, two other servicemen testified that a shovel and AK-47 were placed near the body to make it appear Awad was an insurgent planting a roadside bomb.

"If we were ever asked about the incident or how it came about, we would tell the story of the man who was digging a hole on the side of the road," Jackson said.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Melson J. Bacos, a Navy corpsman on patrol with the Marines, was the first to make a deal in the case. He pleaded guilty to kidnapping and conspiracy and was sentenced to a year in prison. Last month, Pfc. John Jodka III pleaded guilty to assault and conspiracy to obstruct justice in the incident.

In their testimony, both Jodka and Bacos also singled out Hutchins as hatching the plan to kidnap the insurgent. Hutchins' attorney, Rich Brannon, has said he did not believe Hutchins did anything wrong.

Jackson had pleaded not guilty to murder, kidnapping, larceny, housebreaking and another charge of conspiracy earlier in the hearing. Those charges were later dropped as part of his plea deal after he gave his account of the attack.

Jackson, who has been in military prison since May, faces a maximum of 15 years in prison when he is sentenced on Nov. 16. The term will likely be reduced by the plea agreement.

His father declined to comment. A Web site set up by Jackson's family to raise money for his defense said Jackson was innocent.

"To send these men to war to do a job and then imprison them for doing it is absurd," the Web site states.

The Haditha Massacre, One Year Later

Debate Over Whether Marines Engaged in Rules of Conduct or Committed Murder Continues One Year After Iraqi Family's Killing

 

- Almost a year ago, 12-year-old Sofa Younis lost her entire family.

Her home in Haditha, Iraq, was raided by American Marines on Nov. 19, 2005.

"They broke into the bathroom. They detonated a hand grenade into the bathroom. We were all sitting in a room. Then comes the American soldier, and [he] shot us all," Sofa said. "I pretended to be dead, and he did not know about me."

Sofa survived, but 24 Iraqi civilians died that day, including six children and four women. All 24 were killed by U.S. Marines from the Kilo Company.

American military authorities have investigated the events of that day and have compiled a 3,500-page report that has yet to be released.

The Kilo Company has been sent home to Camp Pendleton in California. Two officers from the company have been relieved from duty, but no charges have yet been brought against any members of the company.

'That Happens Every Day in Iraq'

After arriving in Haditha just 48 hours after the killings, embedded photojournalist Lucien Read did not think he was looking at a crime scene.

"What I was told when I got back and what I saw that day in the house where the bodies were, everything sort of fit together and not in a way that said to me, 'An awful crime has taken place here.' It said to me, 'That happens every day in Iraq,'" Read said. "This is just one more awful day in a long string of them."

According to an article written by William Langewiesche in the current issue of Vanity Fair, the morning of Nov. 19, 2005, began normally for the Kilo Company.

"This patrol was delivering a hot breakfast to an outpost, and on the way back the fourth Humvee was hit by a very powerful improvised land mine known as an IED," Langewiesche said.

Two Marines in the Humvee were injured, and a third, 20-year-old Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas, was killed.

Langewiesche argues that the subsequent deaths of the Iraqi civilians happened under the rules of military engagement.

"The accusation is criminal conduct, murder and war crimes as opposed to legitimate killing and unfortunately collateral casualties," Langewiesche said. "It seems quite clear to me, though, having spent quite a bit of time on this, for the most part the killing was not a question of murder."

Retired Four Star Army Gen. Jack Keane disagrees, based on the alleged facts of the case.

"With no fire coming from the house, which is probably what happened here, to go in there and summarily shoot people who were in those rooms, it is a war crime in every sense of the word," Keane said.

Emotion Transformed Into Hate Transformed Into Revenge

However, Keane maintains that despite the indefensibility of the killings, it is easy to understand how the loss of a comrade could fuel these deaths.

"They took the emotion of that and turned that into hate and then into revenge. And I believe acted more like a gang than a military organization," Keane said.

According to Langewiesche, though, the Marines believed they were still under attack after the IED exploded.

"Into this very tense situation drove a white opal car coming down the road," he said. "And there were five men aboard, and we know that the Marines ordered them out of the car, stopped the car legitimately, and very quickly afterward killed them all."

All five of the Iraqis in the car were shot while running away from the Marines. The Marines headed toward a house from which they believed the fire was coming. They shot a man at the gate and an old woman in the hallway of the house.

But according to Langewiesche, the Marines likely got caught up in the scene and did not realize who they were shooting at.

"Did they see an old woman and they shot her? Or did they see a figure down the hallway and did they shoot in dust and confusion and dimness and racket and noise?" Langewiesche asked.

Keane takes issue with Langewiesche's assessment.

"You're pointing a weapon at a child. You are pointing the weapon at a woman who are not using weapons against you. You know that you have no reason pulling that trigger," he said.

"You have been trained not to do that. You have been trained to target people who are trying to hurt you or to deal with people who have weapons or people who you knew were just armed and you are not certain what their status is," he said.

Unknown Solution to a Known Problem

Keane and Langewiesche agree on one point -- that the house-to-house patrols by U.S. troops, often intruding into private homes and detaining individuals, alienate ordinary Iraqis and fuels the insurgency.

"What a terrifying experience it would be if people 6 feet tall with big burly arms came through the door with weapons and a sense of aggressiveness and took control of our families and escorted the males rather firmly out the door," Keane said. "That is something that would be a defining life experience and everybody that was there would never forget it for the rest of their life."

According to Langewiesche, the patrols are not a new problem to Iraqis.

"It's a cycle. It's well-known," he said. "This is not rocket science. The insurgents themselves know it and it's … the problem is very well-known. The solution is very well unknown."

2 GI's Face Death Penalty For Rape-Murder

(CBS/AP) Eight soldiers from the U.S. Army's 101st division will be court-martialed for murdering Iraqi civilians, including two who face the death penalty for allegedly raping an Iraqi girl and killing her and her family, the military ordered Wednesday.

Military authorities said they would seek the death penalty against Sgt. Paul E. Cortez and Pfc. Jesse V. Spielman in connection with the March rape and murder of 14-year-old Abeer Qassim al-Janabi in her family's home in Mahmoudiya, about 20 miles south of Baghdad. The four others face a separate court martial for the alleged murder of three men near Samarra, 60 miles north of the Iraqi capital.

The rape-slaying case sparked international outrage and led to a claim by an al Qaeda-linked group that it had killed three other 101st soldiers in retaliation. It also threatened to strain relations between the United States and Iraq's new government if Iraqis perceived soldiers receive lenient treatment.

The case also increased demands for changes in an agreement that exempts U.S. soldiers from prosecution in Iraqi courts.

Spielman's attorneys expressed shock that their client faces a death penalty, citing evidence discussed during a hearing in August that indicated he was not in the house when the rape and murders occurred.

"Even according to the government's evidence that they're putting forth, Jesse isn't even a principal in murder and rape," said Craig Carlson, Spielman's attorney. "It surprises me that they're treating him like they're treating Green."

Spc. James P. Barker and Pfc. Bryan L. Howard are also accused in the rape and murders but will not face the death penalty, the military said in a statement.

Former Pvt. Steven Green, who was discharged for a personality disorder and arrested in North Carolina, will be tried in federal court in Kentucky. In affidavits, Green was described as a central figure to the rape and murders.

Green has pleaded not guilty to one count of rape and four counts of murder.

Military prosecutors have said the five — all from the division's 502nd Infantry Regiment — planned the attack from a checkpoint near the family's home, changed their clothing to hide their identities and set the girl's body on fire to destroy evidence.

Mahmoudiya is part of the so-called "triangle of death" a region known for numerous attacks by insurgents, and the soldiers' unit suffered months of bombings and shootings that felled dozens of comrades.

Defense attorneys have argued that soldiers of every rank were emotionally ragged and strained.

In the other case, Pfc. Corey R. Clagett, Spc. William B. Hunsaker, Staff Sgt. Raymond L. Girouard and Spc. Juston R. Graber are accused of murdering three Iraqi men taken from a house May 9 on a marshy island outside Samarra, about 60 miles north of Baghdad.

Meanwhile, three Camp Pendleton Marines will face courts-martial on murder and kidnapping charges in the death of an Iraqi man in the town of Hamdania, but will not face the death penalty, the Marine Corps said Wednesday.

The three were among seven Marines and one Navy corpsman charged with kidnapping and killing 52-year-old Hashim Ibrahim Awad last April.

Lance Cpl. Tyler Jackson, Lance Cpl. Robert B. Pennington and Cpl. Trent D. Thomas will also face charges including conspiracy, housebreaking and larceny.

On. Oct. 6, Petty Officer 3rd Class Melson J. Bacos, a Navy corpsman on patrol with the Marines,
pleaded guilty to kidnapping and conspiracy under a deal with prosecutors. He agreed to testify at his court-martial and during upcoming proceedings about what he witnessed.

Since the start of the Iraq war in 2003, at least 14 members of the U.S. military have been convicted in connection with the deaths of Iraqis. Two received sentences of up to life in prison, while most others were given little or no jail time.


 

US medic jailed over Iraq murder

Petty Officer Melson J Bacos

A US Navy medic has been sentenced to 10 years in prison for his part in the killing of an Iraqi civilian in April.

But Petty Officer Melson J Bacos is expected to spend just one year in jail after agreeing to give evidence against seven marines charged with the murder.

Earlier Bacos told his US court-martial that the marines seized the man in the town of Hamdaniya, threw him into a hole and shot him in the head 10 times.

The case is one of several in which US troops are accused of killing Iraqis.

'I knew it was wrong'

Bacos admitted kidnapping, conspiracy to kidnap and conspiracy to file a false statement as part of the plea bargain at the court-martial in Camp Pendleton, southern California.

Military judge Col Steven Folsom sentenced Bacos to 10 years in prison, but reduced the period he will actually serve to one year because of the plea agreement.

Bacos said he was on patrol with the marine squad who were looking for an insurgent - Saleh Gowad - who had been captured three times but released.

Bacos said the marines were angry the insurgent had been freed and, frustrated at not finding him, instead seized neighbour Hashim Awad from his home.

The medic said Mr Awad, 52, was put in a hole.

He testified: "I knew that we were doing something wrong. I tried saying something, sir."

But he said a marine told him to "quit being a pussy".

Bacos said squad leader Sgt Lawrence Hutchins III then fired three shots into Mr Awad's head followed by at least seven more rounds to the head from Cpl Trent Thomas.

'Scene staged'

Bacos said Sgt Hutchins called command for permission to fire on a man he had seen digging a hole.

Prosecutors say an AK-47 assault rifle, bullets and a shovel were placed next to Mr Awad's body to make it appear as if he were trying to plant a roadside bomb.

The medic said the incident in the western Iraqi town of Hamdaniya in April made him "sick to my stomach".

Speaking of why he had not chosen to walk away from the incident, Bacos said "I wanted to be part of the team. I wanted to be loyal".

"Now I feel as though my honour is gone and I have let down others who have looked up to me. I apologise to our country," Bacos was quoted by Reuters news agency as saying. "I also ask forgiveness from the Iraqi family we have done this to."

Seven marines are at various stages of the military justice process over the kidnap and murder.

Two marines - John Jodka and Marshall Magincalda - have both already pleaded not guilty to murder.

The US military has said the death penalty will not be sought against any of the marines.

US troops could face execution

US marines in Iraq

A US army officer has recommended that four American troops face the death penalty if convicted of killing three detainees during a raid in Iraq.

Investigator Lt Col James Daniel made the recommendation in a report, after finding "aggravating circumstances".

Army Staff Sgt Raymond Girouard, Spc William Hunsaker, Pfc Corey Claggett and Spc Juston Graber have admitted the killings in Tikrit in May.

They said they acted in self-defence, after the detainees tried to escape.

Under military law, the maximum penalty for premeditated murder is a death sentence.

The last execution of a US soldier took place in 1961, at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas.

Criminal investigation

The detainees died during a US military operation near the Thar Thar Canal near Tikrit in northern Iraq on 9 May.

The division was at the time involved in operation "Iron Triangle", targeting insurgents active in Salahuddin province and detaining hundreds of people.

Their unit commander ordered an inquiry on the day the alleged murders took place, apparently after soldiers became suspicious about the circumstances in which the detainees had died.

A criminal investigation began on 17 May, the US military said.

According to the charge sheet, Army Staff Sgt Girouard, Spc Hunsaker and Pfc Claggett are also alleged to have separately told another soldier that they would kill him if he testified against them.

US troops in Iraq have faced several accusations of unlawfully killing civilians and abusing detainees, prompting inquiries into their conduct.

The US military has been investigating the deaths of 24 unarmed civilians in the town of Haditha last year in an attack blamed on US marines.

Hearings Delayed for Marines in Calif.

 

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. -- Pretrial hearings for two Marines accused of kidnapping and murder have been delayed, a military official said Saturday.

Cpls. Marshall L. Magincalda and Trent D. Thomas were originally due to appear in court Monday, but their attorneys asked for more time, said Camp Pendleton spokesman Lt. Col. Sean Gibson.

Magincalda is now set to appear Wednesday, and Thomas's hearing has been pushed back until October, Gibson said. Another Marine, Pfc. John J. Jodka III, is also set to appear at a hearing Wednesday.

The men are among seven Marines and one Navy corpsman accused of kidnapping and murdering an Iraqi civilian in the town of Hamdania last spring. All are in the brig at Camp Pendleton and could face the death penalty.

Thomas also is charged with assaulting an Iraqi civilian in an unrelated incident April 10.

The hearings form a key part of an Article 32 investigation, where an officer determines if there is probable cause to bring a defendant to trial.

The delay is the latest in a string of changes to the hearing dates, and further postponements are possible. Jane Siegel, an attorney for Jodka, said his defense team might request a continuance.

Investigators say the seven Marines and one sailor went into Hamdania, took a man from his home, tied him up, put him in a hole and shot him without provocation. Through their lawyers and families, the men have denied any wrongdoing.

Marine Didn't Suspect Haditha Wrongdoing

Report: Marine Officer in Charge Says He Didn't Consider Haditha Deaths Unusual

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - The Marine officer in charge of troops suspected of killing 24 Iraqi men, women and children told investigators he did not initiate an inquiry into the carnage because he did not consider the deaths unusual, The Washington Post reported Saturday.

In a sworn statement given to military investigators in March, Lt. Col. Jeffrey R. Chessani said: "I thought it was very sad, very unfortunate, but at the time, I did not suspect any wrongdoing from my Marines." Chessani was commander of the 3rd Battalion of the 1st Marines.

"I did not have any reason to believe that this was anything other than combat action," he added.

The Post said it obtained a copy of Chessani's statement.

Reached by telephone late Friday, Marine Lt. Col. Sean Gibson, a spokesman on the Haditha case, said he had not seen the report and could not comment.

The Marine Corps has been investigating whether its troops deliberately killed the Iraqis in Haditha. The Marines also are looking into whether efforts were made to cover up the incident. Initially, the Marine Corps reported that 15 Iraqis had died in a roadside bombing or were caught 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 New York Times reported Thursday that military investigators have concluded that the Marines destroyed or withheld evidence.

No charges have been brought in the Haditha killings, and the official results of the Marine investigation have not been released. Chessani, who has been relieved of his duties, has not spoken publicly about the incident.

According to the Post, Chessani's statement was provided by a source "sympathetic" to the Marines involved in the case. The incident occurred in a dangerous area where insurgent attacks were common.

Because attacks were so common, Chessani told investigators he saw the incident as part of a "complex attack" staged by the enemy, according to the newspaper. "I did not see any cause for alarm," he said.

The Haditha case is among recent cases of alleged atrocities against Iraqi civilians. Five soldiers and a former solider have been charged with raping and killing a 14-year-old Iraqi girl and killing 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.

Iraqi Medic Describes Carnage
Testimony Begins in Hearing for U.S. Soldiers Accused of Rape

An Iraqi medic who responded to a home where U.S. soldiers allegedly raped and killed a teenage Iraqi girl and murdered her sister and parents described on Sunday a display of carnage so horrific he said it made him sick for two weeks.

In the opening day of testimony in a military hearing in Baghdad to determine whether there is enough evidence to hold a court-martial for five U.S. soldiers, the medic, whose name was withheld for security reasons, testified that he saw smoke when he arrived at the family's home in Mahmudiyah on the afternoon of March 12. Inside, on the floor of the living room by the window, a teenage girl lay dead on her back, her legs spread, her clothes torn off, her body burned from her waist to her head, a single bullet hole under her left eye, he said.

Her mother also lay dead on the floor with bullet wounds in her chest and abdomen, he said.

In another room, the medic found what remained of the girl's father in a pool of blood. "The brain was on the floor and parts of the head were all over the place," the medic said. Next to him was his other daughter, who was about 6years old. It appeared to him as if a bullet had "entered the front of her face and out the back of her head," he said.

With the help of Iraqi soldiers, the medic said, he put the remains of the family in bags and stored them in an air-conditioned ambulance because there was no room at the Mahmudiyah hospital.

The case is one of the most brutal in a series of recent incidents in which U.S. soldiers allegedly killed Iraqis. The sexual nature of the crime has outraged Iraqis, and the killings caused Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to call for a review of rules that prevent U.S. troops from being tried in Iraqi courts.

The U.S. military has charged four soldiers from the B Company, 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment -- Sgt. Paul E. Cortez, Spec. James P. Barker, Pfc. Jesse V. Spielman and Pfc. Bryan L. Howard -- with rape and murder. A fifth soldier, Sgt. Anthony W. Yribe, was charged with dereliction of duty and making a false statement for allegedly failing to report the incident. And a sixth man, former Army private Steven D. Green, who was discharged for a "personality disorder," pleaded not guilty to rape and murder charges in a federal court in Kentucky.

At Sunday's hearing at Camp Liberty, near Baghdad International Airport, defense attorneys questioned the medic's medical training and posed the possibility that the family had already been dead before they were shot. During a cross-examination, the medic admitted he could only assume the family was shot to death, but said, "I believe that's how they were killed, which is what I've told you."

The soldiers' battalion commander, Lt. Col. Thomas Kunk, said he received a phone call on June 17 from the company commander, Capt. John Goodwin, informing him of the alleged murders and asking his guidance. At first incredulous, Kunk said, he went to the area south of Baghdad the next morning to begin his investigation.

"Absolutely not, I did not believe that report," he said. "I wanted to get on the ground."

Kunk recalled that Green, one of the alleged ringleaders in the incident, once said, "All Iraqis are bad people."

"I told him that that wasn't true, and that 90 to 95 percent of the Iraqi people are good people and they want the same thing that we have in the United States," Kunk said.

One of the defense attorneys, Capt. James D. Culp, who sucked on lollipops during his cross-examination, questioned Kunk about whether the unremitting violence in the area south of Baghdad patrolled by the soldiers caused combat stress. Kunk said most of the soldiers in the battalion were able to deal with the deaths of their fellow soldiers.

Two other Iraqi witnesses also testified at the hearing, but reporters were kept from hearing their statements out of concern that the witnesses might be later targeted.

The hearing took place on another violent day in Iraq. In Tikrit, a man detonated explosivesattached to himself inside a funeral service. The blast killed 15 people and wounded 30 others, according to Iraqi army officials.

A witness, Omar Ghalib, 23, said the suicide bomber parked his car near the funeral hall and walked in wearing a light blue dishdasha , the traditional Iraqi robe.

"He went inside as if he wanted to offer condolences, and then a few seconds later, the explosion occurred," Ghalib said.

Police found the man's car also rigged with bombs, said 1st Lt. Norras Hamid of the Tikrit police. Tikrit General Hospital had received seven corpses and 14 injured people, said physician Jassim Dulaimi, but "we believe there are more dead bodies which have not been evacuated or were evacuated by their families directly."

[Early Monday, heavy gunfire and explosions rattled the Sadr City district of Baghdad. Government television and aides to radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr said U.S. aircraft were attacking buildings in the area, the Associated Press reported. Southwest of the capital, three U.S. soldiers were killed late Sunday in a roadside bombing, the U.S. military said.]

US troops 'smiled before killing'

US troops in Samarra (October 2004 file picture)

Four US paratroopers charged with murdering three detainees in Iraq smiled before shooting them, a military court has heard from a fellow soldier.

Private First Class Bradley Mason told the hearing at a US base near the Iraqi city of Tikrit that one of the accused threatened to kill him if he talked.

He also said soldiers had been ordered to "kill all the male insurgents" in the operation on 9 May of this year.

The incident is among a string of murder allegations against US troops.

US investigators are currently looking at the deaths of 24 Iraqis in Haditha last November, and seven US marines and a navy sailor have been charged over the death of a disabled Iraqi man this April in Hamdaniya.

'It's murder'

Under US military law, a pre-trial hearing is being held at Contingency Operating Base Speicher to decide whether the charges against the four men warrant a court martial.

Sergeant Raymond Girouard, Private First Class Corey Clagett and Specialists William Hunsaker and Juston Graber - all of the 101st Airborne Division - have been charged with premeditated murder and other offences.

Some of them have also been accused of obstructing justice by allegedly threatening to kill Pfc Mason.

Pte Mason told the hearing he was present when three men were captured in a house during a search operation at a suspected militant base near the Thar Thar Canal.

Guns and ammunition were found in the house.

Sgt Girouard, Pte Mason said, told him that Pfc Clagett and Spc Hunsaker were going to kill the prisoners.

"They just smiled," said Pte Mason. "I told him [Sgt Girouard] that I am not down with it. It's murder."

Pte Mason said he then heard shots ringing out.

The accused say the detainees were killed trying to escape.

Weeks later, when Pte Mason was preparing to testify about the day's events, Sgt Girouard allegedly accosted him, saying: 'If you say anything, I'll kill you."

'Kill them all'

The 101st Airborne Division was at the time involved in Operation Iron Triangle, targeting insurgents active in Salahuddin Province and detaining hundreds of people.

Pte Mason testified that the rules of engagement for the search operation on 9 May had been to "kill all the male insurgents".

He said the rules had been set out by Col Michael Steele, commander of his unit, the 3rd Combat Brigade.

"He [Col Steele] just said that the rules of engagement were that 'we get to kill all the male insurgents'," he said.

Col Steele has reportedly signed a statement declaring his intention to refuse to testify in the case.

6 Marines charged in Iraq assault

Charges arise from incident discovered in probe of April death in Hamdania

SAN DIEGO - Assault charges were filed against six Marines on Thursday as the result of an incident that occurred in April in the Iraqi village of Hamdania and was uncovered during an unrelated investigation into the slaying of an Iraqi civilian later that month, military officials said.

Three of the Marines charged Thursday are currently in the brig at Camp Pendleton on murder and kidnapping charges in connection with the April 26 slaying of 52-year-old Hashim Ibrahim Awad in Hamdania. The other three had not been charged in that case.

Meanwhile, a seventh Marine, an officer, is expected to be charged next with in the assault, according to Lt. Col. Colby Vokey, the Marine Corps' defense coordinator for the Western United States. The nature of the assault was not described.

The six charged in the assault were identified as Lance Cpl. Saul H. Lopezromo, Pfc. Derek I. Lewis, Lance Cpl. Henry D. Lever, Sgt. Lawrence G. Hutchins III, Cpl. Trent D. Thomas and Lance Cpl. Jerry E. Shumate Jr. Hutchins, Thomas and Shumate are also charged in the Awad slaying.

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Army Commander Investigated in Iraq Killing Spree

Military Tribunal Begins for Four Soldiers Involved in Incident

 

Aug. 1, 2006 — - Col. Michael Steele, whose heroics were portrayed in the movie "Black Hawk Down," is under investigation for allegedly encouraging his men to go on a killing spree. The investigation begins just as the Army has started to make its case against four soldiers who are charged with murdering three Iraqi civilians while under Steele's command, ABC News has learned.

The soldiers' defense is that they were under orders to kill all military-age males.

ABC News has learned that Steele has already been reprimanded for the incident.

The hearing for the four soldiers that began today will determine if they should stand trial on murder charges. The killings took place as part of Operation Iron Triangle, which targeted a suspected al Qaeda training facility northwest of Baghdad, Iraq, in the city of Samarra.

Army prosecutors said the four American soldiers detained three Iraqi men and then killed them, unarmed, in cold blood.

The defendants claim that they acted in self-defense, claiming they were under orders to kill all military-age Iraqi men, whether or not they were armed.

Following Orders of Heroic Leader?

Military sources familiar with the case said it appears that the soldiers in this unit at least believed their commander had issued an order to shoot to kill all Iraqi men during this operation.

Steele has a storied military career and it was his unit that came under attack in 1993 in Somalia, as was portrayed in the movie "Black Hawk Down." During the current conflict, Steele has been heard boasting about his unit's record of killing insurgents. Last November he said, "We are absolutely giving the enemy the maximum opportunity to die for his country."

A source familiar with the investigation said Steele kept a "kill board" tallying the number of Iraqis killed by units under his command, and in some cases he gave out commemorative knives to soldiers who killed Iraqis believed to be insurgents.

Steele has not commented publicly about the allegations against him. But a source close to him said that he categorically rejects them.

Five soldiers charged in Iraq rape-murder case

Mahmoudiya mayor says alleged rape victim was 14

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(CNN) -- Four U.S. soldiers in Iraq are charged with participation in the "rape and murder of a young Iraqi woman and three members of her family," the U.S. military said Sunday.

A fifth soldier is accused of dereliction of duty for failing to report the offenses.

All five are charged with conspiring with former Pfc. Steven D. Green to commit the crimes, the military said, in connection with the incident in March in Mahmoudiya, Iraq.

There have been conflicting reports about the alleged rape victim's age. Sunday, Reuters news agency released documents indicating that she was 14.

Reuters said identification cards and death certificates give the victim's date of birth as August 19, 1991.

The mayor of Mahmoudiya confirmed that birth date to CNN.

However, a Justice Department affidavit in the case against Green says investigators estimated victim's age at about 25, while the U.S. military said she was 20.

The U.S. military statement Sunday made clear that officials are aware of the discrepancies and that her age is an important part of the investigation.

Green has been charged in a U.S. civilian court with rape and murder. Last week he pleaded not guilty in federal court in Kentucky.

Prosecutors have said Green shot and killed an Iraqi man, woman and child before raping a young female from the same family and killing her.

A Justice Department affidavit says Green and other soldiers planned to rape a young woman who lived near the checkpoint they manned in Mahmoudiya.

The affidavit says three soldiers allegedly accompanied Green into the house, and another soldier was told to monitor the radio while the assault took place.

The affidavit says Green shot the woman's relatives, including a girl of about 5; raped the young woman; then fatally shot her.

Soldiers are quoted in the affidavit as telling investigators that Green and his companions then set the family's house afire, threw an AK-47 rifle used in the killings into a canal and burned their bloodstained clothing.

Green was honorably discharged from the Army before the incident came to light after being diagnosed with an unspecified personality disorder, according to court papers.

The military charges against the five soldiers were issued Saturday. The military, in its news release, did not name them.

A U.S. defense official told CNN the five soldiers are still on their base in the Mahmoudiya area, have had their weapons taken away, and are being escorted everywhere they go on the base.

Green remains behind bars in Louisville, Kentucky.

The military, in its news release Sunday, wrote that the charges are "merely an accusation. Those accused are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt."

The statement said the soldiers still on active duty will face an Article 32 investigation, similar to a grand jury hearing in civilian law. The Article 32 proceeding will determine whether there is enough evidence to place them on trial.

US 'finds Iraq killing failings'

Blood spattered walls of a bedroom at the reported
                           scene of the Haditha shooting

US marine officers at all levels failed to investigate conflicting reports of killings in the Iraqi town of Haditha, a report quoted by US media says.

The report has been completed and reviewed by Lt-Gen Peter Chiarelli, the second-ranking US commander in Iraq.

Twenty-four civilians died in the incident in November. The US military initially said they were killed in a bomb blast and exchange of fire.

But reports subsequently emerged alleging that US soldiers killed them.

'Derelict'

Gen Chiarelli's investigation is separate from a second, criminal inquiry into whether a group of marines was guilty of murder.

A number of women and children were among those killed in an incident that has become the most serious allegation against US troops in Iraq since the invasion.

Gen Chiarelli's inquiry looked into how the military handled the killings on 19 November.

According to US media reports, Gen Chiarelli has found that senior officers failed to investigate inconsistencies in the initial reports, which suggested the civilians were victims of a roadside bombing.

The New York Times quoted defence department officials as saying Gen Chiarelli concluded "that some officers were derelict in their duties".

The Pentagon has not commented on the media reports.

The officers are said to have ignored contradictory evidence, such as death certificates listing the cause of death as gunshot wounds and compensation payments that were made to the victims' families.

One official has spoken of false and late reporting.

It is not clear which officers have been implicated or what punishment they might face.

Withheld

Gen Chiarelli has passed his findings and recommendations to the leading US commander in Iraq, Gen George W. Casey.

A US military official told the Associated Press news agency the Chiarelli investigation "essentially bolsters the ongoing criminal investigation and lays bare some of the administrative faults that existed during November 2005".

He added: "What some of these people did wrong is certainly not illegal or criminal, but administratively their actions are something that Gen Chiarelli wants to look at."

The findings may be made public over the next two weeks, he said, although material that could affect the criminal investigation would be withheld.

The Haditha inquiry is just one of a number the US military has been conducting into incidents of alleged unlawful killings by US forces in Iraq.

Haditha has drawn comparisons with the Vietnam War massacre at My Lai in 1968.

Veteran faces Iraq murder charges

US marines in Iraq

A former US soldier has been arrested and charged with killing four Iraqi civilians after raping one of them, the US Justice Department said.

Prosecutors say Steven Green, 21, and other troops raped a young woman before killing her and three relatives in Mahmoudiya, south of Baghdad, in March.

A military inquiry into the incident is the latest in a series into alleged abuses by US troops in Iraq.

Mr Green, a former army private, was arrested recently in North Carolina.

He faces a possible death penalty if convicted.

Shots heard

A statement from the US attorney in Kentucky says Mr Green is charged with going to a house near Mahmoudiya with three other people to rape a woman living in the house.

He allegedly shot and killed a man, a woman and a five-year-old girl and after raping another woman, he is alleged to have shot and killed her, the statement said.

According to an affidavit, Mr Green took the family into a bedroom, from where shots were heard.

"Green came to the bedroom door and told everyone, 'I just killed them. All are dead," the statement says.

Another affidavit said Mr Green, who belonged to the 502nd Infantry Regiment, had been discharged from the army "due to a personality disorder" before the rape and killings were known about, the Associated Press news agency reported.

The suspects belong to the same unit as two soldiers kidnapped, tortured and killed by insurgents south of Baghdad last month.

Some reports suggested that this event may have spurred soldiers to come forward with information about the killings.

Mr Green is due to appear in court at a detention hearing in Charlotte, North Carolina, on 10 July.

US investigates new Iraq killings

US soldier in Iraq

The US military has opened a criminal investigation into the alleged killing of an Iraqi family by US soldiers.

Little official detail has been given, but unnamed officials say the inquiry includes the alleged rape of one of the victims before she was killed.

The investigation began on Saturday and follows an initial military inquiry.

The probe is the latest in a series of inquiries into alleged abuse of Iraqis by US troops.

The US Army's Criminal Investigation Command was asked to look into the incident after a preliminary military inquiry found reason to open a criminal probe, the military said in a statement in Baghdad.

'No stone unturned'

The criminal investigation was ordered a day after two soldiers said they had heard about the incident in the area of Mahmudiya, south of Baghdad, on 12 March, the statement said.

Unnamed officials said that at least two soldiers from the 502nd Infantry Regiment were being investigated to find out if they had been involved in allegedly raping an Iraqi woman, killing her and three other family members - including a small child, and burning her body.

"The investigation just cracked open. We're just beginning to dig into the details," said US military spokesman Major Todd Breasseale.

"We're not going to leave any stone unturned," he said.

Two soldiers from the same regiment were captured, mutilated and killed earlier this month.

Some reports suggested that this event may have spurred the soldiers to come forward with information about the alleged killings.

Some reports said the military were aware of the killings, but had initially blamed them on sectarian violence.

Mahmudiya is a small town in a mixed Sunni and Shia area south of Baghdad, in an area where insurgents operate, sectarian attacks are common and many US soldiers have died in combat in the last two years.

Bad publicity

This is the fifth investigation in recent months into allegations of killings of civilians by American forces in Iraq, but the first to allege rape.

Last Thursday, seven marines and a sailor were charged with murder over the death of a disabled Iraqi man in Hamdaniya in April.

Earlier in the week murder charges were filed against four soldiers over the shooting of three male Iraqi prisoners near Tikrit in northern Iraq on 9 May.

Another Pentagon inquiry is looking into an alleged massacre at Haditha last November, in which 24 civilians are thought to have been killed.

Correspondents say the Hamdaniya and Haditha cases have generated a huge amount of unfavourable publicity for the marines and concern within the corps about the conduct of some in Iraq.

US braced for Haditha effect

What happened in Haditha may just possibly change the future of the war in Iraq.

Blood spattered walls of a bedroom at the reported scene
                           of the Haditha shooting

The lawyer for one of the marines accused of the massacre has told the BBC that criminal charges will probably be brought soon.

And we have found that the marines were operating under some very disturbing conditions.

The accusation is that after a US marine lance corporal died in a roadside bombing in Haditha last November, his fellow marines went on a killing spree.

Twenty-four people died in the attack, including seven women and three children.

A 12-year-old girl who survived says the Americans killed them indiscriminately.

The marines said they had came under fire from the houses where the people died.

The lawyer representing one marine told us he believed they would face charges, but said they were following their rules of engagement.

"I don't think the facts will show they intentionally killed those civilians," Paul Hackett said. "It was in the heat of battle, in the heat of clearing the houses.

"That is, like it or not, that is what those marines are required to do. They are required to close with the enemy, and kill the enemy."

'Feral' conditions

But Haditha is not the only massacre that has been alleged against the US forces.

A US inquiry has cleared them of blame for the deaths of civilians in Ishaqi in March - yet leading figures in the Iraqi government are unhappy, and want a wider investigation.

But what happened at Haditha seems more clear-cut.

It is an intensely dangerous place for the Americans, and the battle-weary men of Kilo Company - the unit which included the marines accused of the massacre - had lost a lot of men there.

And they were operating under disturbing circumstances.

Kilo Company's headquarters were three miles north of Haditha, at a vast dam across the Euphrates. It is a big target, because it supplies power to much of southern Iraq.

Four hundred men of the First Marine regiment were based in this decaying rabbit-warren. Conditions were so disgusting, many just moved out.

They set up these unofficial shacks alongside it. Conditions at the dam have been described as "feral".

Oliver Poole is one of the few reporters to have been there, shortly after the alleged massacre. He was shocked by these strange, primitive huts, which lacked even basic hygiene.

"You walked in and the first words were 'F off', and they were ripping pieces of wood apart to feed the fire," he said. "You could see the conditions in which they lived. And they were filthy. It was disgusting."

There seemed to him to be no real discipline.

"The fact that the officers had let conditions deteriorate to the level in which where people living in such basic environment, that says something," he said. "Where were the officers keeping the standards that the US military keeps in the field?"

Blame game

The marines of Kilo Company are now back at Camp Pendleton, in California. But that question of keeping the men under proper control is essential.

The main gate at the Camp Pendleton Marine Corps
                           base in California

"The hardest thing is not necessarily killing someone or shooting someone; it's not killing someone or shooting someone when you're angry," said Paul Rieckhoff of the Iraqi Veterans Campaign.

"When someone in your unit is killed or wounded it's like someone attacked your family. The responsibility then is on one of the squad leaders, platoon leaders, team leaders to hold those guys back."

Up to now in the US, those against the war have blamed the people at the very top for what is happening in Iraq.

But the news that three American soldiers have been charged in connection with the deaths of three prisoners in Iraq last month - and the probable charges over Haditha - may mean that Americans will now start blaming those who are actually fighting the war as well.

Just as they did in Vietnam.

Marines face Iraq murder charges

Handcuffed Iraqi prisoners

The US marine corps has charged seven marines and a navy sailor with murder over the death of a disabled Iraqi man.

All eight would also face kidnapping and conspiracy charges, a spokesman told reporters at the Californian camp where the defendants were being held.

They are accused of shooting a disabled man in Hamandiya in April, and covering up the circumstances of his death.

It is one in a series of inquiries into the alleged abuse or killing of Iraqis by coalition forces.

Another Pentagon inquiry is looking into an alleged massacre at Haditha last November, in which 24 civilians are thought to have been killed.

Roadside bomb

The Hamandiya investigation has been examining claims a man was deliberately killed on 26 April in the town in central Iraq.

The accused are alleged to have taken the 52-year-old victim from his house, shot him and then left a rifle and shovel by his body to make it appear as if he were an insurgent planting a roadside bomb.

Local Iraqis are said to have told marine leaders about the alleged shooting, which prompted an inquiry.

The accused were taken out of Iraq and held at Camp Pendleton in California.

A military spokesman said all were presumed innocent and it would be up to the authorities to decide if the men would face the death penalty in any future courts martial.

They have been identified as Sgt Lawrence Hutchins, Cpl Trent Thomas, Navy Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Melson Bacos, Lance Cpl Tyler Jackson, Pfc John Jackson, Lance Cpl Jerry Shumate, Lance Cpl Robert Pennington and Cpl Marshall Magincalda.

"The marine corps takes allegations of wrongdoing by its members very seriously and is committed to thoroughly investigating such allegations," spokesman Col Stewart Navarre told reporters.

"The marine corps also prides itself on holding its members accountable for their actions."

More charges

Correspondents say the Hamandiya and Haditha cases have generated a huge amount of unfavourable publicity for the marines and concern within the corps about the conduct of some in Iraq.

Separately, the US military in Iraq announced that murder charges had been filed against a fourth soldier following the shooting of three male Iraqi prisoners near Tikrit in northern Iraq on 9 May.

The announcement came after three soldiers were charged on Monday with premeditated murder in connection with the incident.

Another US inquiry has cleared marines of blame for the deaths of civilians in Ishaqi in March.

Earlier this month the US military announced that US-led troops in Iraq were to undergo 30 days of ethical training in the wake of the alleged massacre in Haditha.

8 Troops Charged In Death Of Iraqi
All Are Accused of Murdering Civilian

 

Seven Marines and one Navy corpsman have been charged with murder and kidnapping in connection with the April death of an Iraqi man in a small village west of Baghdad, Marine Corps officials announced yesterday.

The corps said that the eight sought out Hashim Ibrahim Awad in his Hamdaniyah home, dragged him into the street, bound his hands and feet, and shot him during a late-night operation, according to Marine criminal-charge sheets released yesterday. The troops are members of a fire team with Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment. It is unclear what led to the incident.

The announcement marked the second time this week that the U.S. military has charged troops with murder in Iraq. Army officials announced Monday that three soldiers had been accused of killing three men their unit had captured near Samarra last month, and a fourth soldier was charged yesterday. The cases come as another investigation continues into allegations that a Marine unit gunned down as many as 24 civilians last November in Haditha.

The incidents have drawn widespread international criticism of the way U.S. troops are treating Iraqi civilians as they fight insurgents, and have caused the military to redouble efforts to remind troops of their moral and legal obligations on the battlefield. In announcing the murder charges yesterday, Col. Stewart Navarre said Marines are trained in the law of armed conflict and are expected to fully comply with it.

"The Marine Corps takes allegations of wrongdoing by Marines very seriously and is committed to thoroughly investigating such allegations," Stewart said at an afternoon news conference at Camp Pendleton, a Marine base north of San Diego. "The Marine Corps also prides itself on holding its members accountable for their actions."

Lawyers for several of the Marines and family members of the troops said yesterday that the men are innocent.

Gary Solis, a professor of the law of war at Georgetown University, said it is unfortunate that the cases have surfaced at the same time, because they provide an impression of a military run amok in Iraq. He said that fatal mistakes are common in war, and that the key to these investigations will probably be to determine whether the troops planned the alleged attacks.

"Where is the line? The line is premeditation," Solis said of wartime killings. "If you make a mistake, you're not going to be investigated. The only guys that have to be worried are those that have thought about doing it and then do it."

The eight service members charged in the Hamdaniyah incident are confined at Camp Pendleton. Stewart said four other Marines connected to the investigation are under no restrictions but could face charges in the future.

The Marine Corps identified the eight as Sgt. Lawrence G. Hutchins III, Cpl. Marshall L. Magincalda, Cpl. Trent D. Thomas, Lance Cpl. Tyler A. Jackson, Lance Cpl. Robert B. Pennington, Lance Cpl. Jerry E. Shumate Jr., Pfc. John J. Jodka and Navy Hospitalman 3rd Class Melson J. Bacos, who was attached to the Marines' unit as its medic. The four other Marines were not identified. The soldier charged yesterday in the killings near Samarra was identified as Spec. Juston R. Graber, 20.

Lawyers for the service members in the Hamdaniyah incident said yesterday that they have not had the opportunity to review much, if any, of the evidence against their clients.

"He's an all-American boy," said retired Marine Brig. Gen. David Brahms, who is representing Pennington, 21, of Washington state. "It's hard to imagine him conspiring with others to commit the dastardly deed."

Joseph Casas, a civilian lawyer representing Jodka, 20, of California, said his client believes he was taking part in a "legitimate, command-sanctioned ambush" in a location where insurgents are known to plant roadside bombs. Jodka, who was on his first tour in Iraq, was months out of boot camp.

"He does not believe that anything that happened that night was inappropriate, illegal or in contravention to Marine Corps rules," Casas said in an interview. "I will adamantly say that what the government believes happened did not happen on that night."

While the Marines have released few details about Awad's death, Iraqis who live in his neighborhood have told Washington Post reporters that the Marines shot him four times in the face before planting an AK-47 rifle and a shovel near his body to make it appear as though he had been trying to bury a roadside bomb. He was known in the village as Awad the Lame because a metal bar was inserted in his leg several years ago.

An investigative statement obtained by The Post that appears to be signed by Hutchins says that the unit "spotted a man digging on the side of the road from our ambush site." It continues: "I made the call and engaged. He was pronounced dead at the scene with only a shovel and an AK-47."

It was unclear who shot Awad. All eight service members were charged with conspiracy, murder, assault and larceny -- the last count for allegedly stealing the rifle and the shovel before using them as props. Some of the men also were charged with lying to investigators and with obstruction of justice.

Navarre declined to discuss details of the incident and stressed that the accused are presumed innocent. All could face the death penalty if convicted.

Casas, Jodka's attorney, said his client was forced to sign a statement about the events that he knew to be incorrect after Naval Criminal Investigative Service agents kept him in a room at Camp Fallujah last month for more than seven hours without food, water or breaks. He said the agents threatened Jodka with the death penalty and scared him into signing the statement.

Ed Buice, an NCIS spokesman in Washington, said that such statements are voluntary and that suspects are "given the opportunity to review the statement and make any changes to it before signing."

Reached by telephone in Massachusetts yesterday, a woman who identified herself as Hutchins's fiancee said she is standing by the sergeant, the highest-ranking member of the unit charged.

"We are heartbroken about the situation and we love him very much," she said. "We believe he is innocent."

US troops face Iraq death charges

US marines in Iraq

Three US soldiers have been charged over the deaths of three male Iraqi prisoners, the US military has said.

The detainees were allegedly killed in an operation near the Thar Thar Canal near Tikrit in northern Iraq on 9 May.

The charges against the three soldiers include murder, attempted murder, conspiracy and obstructing justice.

US troops in Iraq have faced several accusations of unlawfully killing civilians and abusing detainees, prompting inquiries into their conduct.

The US military recently began investigating the deaths of 24 unarmed civilians in the town of Haditha last year in an attack blamed on US marines.

The US military appears to have acted quickly to investigate this latest allegation of misconduct, following the accusation that it did not move fast enough to probe the Haditha incident.

But the news that elite American troops are being charged with murder is far from helpful for the US military, says the BBC's Adam Brookes, in Washington.

Confined

The three soldiers charged on Monday are from the 101st Airborne Division.

Their unit commander had ordered an inquiry on the day the alleged murders took place, the US military said.

The US military gave little other information about the events leading to the charges.

On 9 May some troops from the 101st Airborne were taking part in a raid on an old chemical complex, hunting for insurgents active in Salahuddin province, our correspondent says.

A statement by the military said the inquiry had been ordered after soldiers became suspicious about the circumstances in which the detainees had died.

The military said a criminal investigation had been started on 17 May and was "ongoing".

The accused soldiers are currently said to be in "pre-trial confinement".

They must await the outcome of an Article 32 hearing - the military equivalent of a grand jury - before finding out whether they will face a court martial.

Pentagon report details abuse of Iraqi detainees

 

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. special operations forces fed some Iraqi detainees only bread and water for up to 17 days, used unapproved interrogation practices such as sleep deprivation and loud music and stripped at least one prisoner, according to a Pentagon report on incidents dating to 2003 and 2004.

The report, with many portions blacked out, concludes that the detainees' treatment was wrong but not illegal and reflected inadequate resources and lack of oversight and proper guidance more than deliberate abuse. No military personnel were punished as a result of the investigation.

Released to the American Civil Liberties Union on Friday, the details of the report were part of more than 1,000 pages of documents, including two major reports — one by Army Brig. Gen. Richard Formica on specials operations forces in Iraq and one by Brig. Gen. Charles Jacoby, on Afghanistan detainees.

While some of the incidents have been reported previously and reviewed by members of Congress, this was the first time the documents were released publicly. Specific names and locations, including the identities of the military units, were blacked out.

The report comes as the military is grappling with new allegations of war crimes in an increasingly unpopular conflict in Iraq. And they could hamper the Bush administration's election-year effort to turn public opinion around with upbeat reports about the progress of the new government in Baghdad.

"Both the Formica and the Jacoby report demonstrate that the government is really not taking the investigation of detainee abuse seriously," said Amrit Sing, an ACLU attorney.

General Leading Haditha Probe Known for Integrity, Toughness

 

The two-star Army general leading the main inquiry into the killings of 24 civilians in the Iraqi town of Haditha is a decorated Delta Force operative known among his peers for integrity and uncanny judgment in combat.

Maj. Gen. Eldon A. Bargewell rose from a Special Forces staff sergeant in Vietnam to commander of the secretive Delta Force, earning a reputation as an unusually skilled fighter who bluntly confronted superiors to get what he needed for his men. He is one of the Army's most highly decorated soldiers on active duty.

Bargewell's intimate familiarity with combat -- he was wounded seven times -- gives him credibility as the chief investigator into allegations of some of the worst war crimes committed by the U.S. military in Iraq, according to active-duty and retired Special Forces officers who know him.

"Key to the investigation will be to ask the right questions, and he knows exactly what to ask," said one officer who has served overseas with Bargewell. He, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment on the record.

His investigation is one of two probes into what happened in Haditha and how commanders reacted. On Nov. 19, 2005, a Marine convoy was hit by a roadside bomb, and in the aftermath, the Marines killed unarmed civilians, including women and children, in their homes. A criminal inquiry by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service is underway. Bargewell's report, submitted to senior commanders in Iraq this month, examines whether Marines tried to cover up the shootings and whether commanders were negligent in failing to investigate the deaths.

The 59-year-old general is seen as unlikely to bend to pressure to sway his conclusions, both by virtue of his character and because he plans to retire this year after nearly four decades in the Army. "He has unimpeachable integrity," said retired Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Lambert, a Special Forces officer who has known Bargewell for decades. "He has no constituency that could influence findings. Bargewell is his own man."

Bargewell is considered so unflinchingly candid that another officer suggested that military leaders "may be sorry they chose him" to lead the probe.

Bargewell grew up in Hoquiam, Wash., where his father was an elementary-school principal, and graduated from Hoquiam High School in 1965. He attended a local college on a football scholarship before suffering a knee injury, according to a newspaper profile that Bargewell provided to The Washington Post.

In 1967, he enlisted in the Army and volunteered for the Special Forces, or Green Berets, an elite force that specializes in working with indigenous fighters.

During two tours in Vietnam, he led a team of three American and six Vietnamese Montagnard soldiers as part of a secret unit conducting strike and surveillance missions in Laos, Cambodia and North Vietnam and in the demilitarized zone between North and South Vietnam. The unit, MACV Special Operations and Augmentation OP-35, "was considered a highly classified and hidden unit based on our mission area," according to Bargewell, who speaks French and Spanish.

Bargewell saw heavy combat in Vietnam, where he was awarded four Purple Hearts for battle wounds and won the Distinguished Service Cross, which is second among military decorations only to the Medal of Honor.

According to the citation, on Sept. 27, 1971, Bargewell and his team were on a long-range reconnaissance mission deep in enemy territory when they came under attack from 75 to 100 fighters. Bargewell was seriously wounded by a B-40 rocket but managed to fire back a torrent of machine-gun rounds, inflicting enough casualties to twice break enemy assaults that threatened to overrun his small group. His "extraordinary heroism" under fire allowed the team to be extracted, the citation said.

"His judgment in combat was almost supernatural," Lambert said. "He was not only absolutely fearless, he could do everything. He had 20/10 vision. His sniping was off the scale. He had perfect eye-hand coordination."

Bargewell also was known for his toughness, a trait he continued to exhibit after he left the enlisted ranks and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the 75th Ranger Regiment in 1973. Bargewell stayed primarily with the Rangers until 1981, when as a major he began a 17-year stint with the Special Forces Operational Detachment -- Delta, also known as Delta Force, based at Fort Bragg, N.C.

During training for the U.S. invasion of Panama in 1989, Bargewell badly injured his back in a Black Hawk helicopter crash. But doctors patched him up, and he led a Delta squadron in Operation Just Cause in Panama, conducting dozens of missions, including the rescue of U.S. citizen Kurt Muse from a prison, according to Bargewell and officers who know him. In 1991, he led a Delta task force in northern Iraq during the Persian Gulf War.

In 1998, he took command of Special Operations Forces in Europe, overseeing activities in Kosovo and Bosnia as a brigadier general. At the time of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, he was operations chief for the U.S. Special Operations Command in Tampa and later served with NATO. Bargewell took his current post, as operations chief for the U.S. military in Iraq, in April 2005.

Inside the small -- and in the eyes of some, incestuous -- world of Delta Force, Bargewell has enjoyed support from another veteran commander, Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, the Army chief of staff, the officers said. Both men are pragmatic, with Schoomaker grasping the big picture and Bargewell excelling at the nuts and bolts of military operations. If Bargewell has a weakness, some said, it is that he can become too tactically focused.

Bargewell, known as fiercely loyal and "so down to earth it hurts," as one officer said, has two sons in the military and plans to retire to Alabama.

Bargewell's fondness for sleek cars -- he owns a Corvette -- contrasts with his introverted personality. "In a roomful of officers at a social, he'd be the one over in the corner with a beer -- even as a two-star general," said one Army acquaintance. "But the rewards of drawing him out are great."

Marine: Music video about killing Iraqis a joke

story.video.cair.jpg

JACKSONVILLE, North Carolina (AP) -- A Marine corporal seen in a video singing about killing members of an Iraqi family says the song was a joke.

"It's a song that I made up and it was nothing more than something supposed to be funny, based off a catchy line of a movie," Cpl. Joshua Belile said in Wednesday's Daily News of Jacksonville.

In a four-minute video called "Hadji Girl," a singer who appears to be a Marine tells a cheering audience about gunning down members of an Iraqi woman's family after they confront him with automatic weapons.

Belile, 23, apologized and said the song was not tied in any way to allegations that Marines killed as many as two dozen unarmed civilians in Haditha last year.

A Marine spokesman said Tuesday that officers were investigating.

Lt. Col. Scott Fazekas called the song "inappropriate and contrary to the high standards expected of all Marines."

Neither Belile nor officials at his base in Cherry Point immediately returned calls Wednesday from The Associated Press. Neither did officials at Camp Lejeune, the Corps' major base on the Atlantic coast.

The song tells a story of a Marine who falls in love with an Iraqi girl and is taken to meet her family. The girl's family shoots her and then attacks the Marine, who uses her younger sister as a shield and watches blood spray from her head.

He then sings about blowing the father and brother "to eternity."

"I think it was a joke that is trying to be taken seriously," said Belile, who learned the video was on the Internet after he returned from Iraq in March.

Belile said he wrote the song in September while in Iraq. He said his buddies pushed him on stage with his guitar. Someone taped the performance and posted it on the Internet, but it has since been removed.

"I will never perform this song again, and I will remove all video and text in relation to this that I have control of," he said.

Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said in light of recent allegations of atrocities committed by Marines in Haditha and other towns in Iraq, the video should be investigated by the Pentagon and Congress.

"The inappropriate actions of a few individuals should not be allowed to tarnish the reputation of all American military personnel," Awad said.

Marines Corps investigates song about killing civilians

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A music video posted on the Internet that tells a tale about a U.S. Marine killing members of an Iraqi family, is being condemned by an Islamic group and investigated by the Marine Corps.

The four-minute song, "Hadji Girl," appears to be sung by a Marine in front of a cheering audience. The lyrics talk about the Marine gunning down members of an Iraqi woman's family after they confront him with automatic weapons.

Lt. Col. Scott Fazekas, a spokesman for the Marines, said Tuesday that the Marines were aware of the video. Fazekas said officials don't know the identity of the singer or whether he is in the military.

The song was "inappropriate and contrary to the high standards expected of all Marines," Fazekas said. He said Marine officers are looking in to the matter.

Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said that in light of recent allegations of atrocities committed by Marines in Haditha and other towns in Iraq, the video should be investigated by the Pentagon and Congress.

"The inappropriate actions of a few individuals should not be allowed to tarnish the reputation of all American military personnel," said Awad.

The video was posted anonymously on the www.youtube.com Web site, but was removed. It is still available on CAIR's web site, www.cair-net.org. A hadji is a pilgrim who journeys to Mecca. CAIR said the word has often been used as a disparaging term by U.S. troops in Iraq.

"The video is not reflective of the tremendous sacrifices and dedication demonstrated, on a daily basis, by tens of thousands of Marines who have assisted the Iraqi people in gaining their freedom," Fazekas said. "We agree with the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations that the inappropriate actions of a few individuals should not tarnish the reputation of all American military personnel."

The singer is shown playing a guitar and singing about meeting an Iraqi woman and then being confronted by her brother and father, who have guns. The lyrics describe the Marine pulling the woman's little sister in front of him and watching blood spray from her head.

He then sings about blowing the father and brother "to eternity."

Defense officials are investigating allegations that U.S. Marines massacred as many as two dozen unarmed civilians in Haditha last November. Another probe is under way into charges that U.S. troops pulled an unarmed Iraqi man from his home in Hamandiya in late April and shot him to death without provocation.

Victim's Brother Speaks: New Evidence Undermines U.S. Iraq Claims

Iraqi Anger Builds Amid New Details of Civilian Deaths and Clearing of U.S. Forces at Ishaqi

 - New evidence may suggest cover-ups in two separate incidents at the center of a simmering scandal over Iraqi civilian deaths at the hands of American forces.

Iraqi anger is percolating over the incidents, and over an investigation that cleared U.S. forces in a third case.

A brother of a victim, Hashim Ibrahim Awad Abass, in Al Hamadania, Iraq, told ABC News today that Marines killed his brother needlessly.

According to the victim's brother, Marines came to his family's village at 2 a.m. on April 25 and first raided a home, where they discovered a shovel and an AK-47. They then went to his brother's house, dragged him into the street, arrested him and took him away. A little while later, Abass' brother heard gunfire outside the village.

Waking up at the crack of dawn, he rushed to the police department to report his brother missing. Abass told ABC News the police informed him that a body had been dropped off earlier by the Americans and that he should go and have a look. It was his brother, he said.

Later that day, Marines came to the family home and dropped off the incident report.

ABC News obtained a copy of the death report, which is written in Arabic on one side and English on the other. "We spotted a man digging on the side of the road from our ambush site," reads the statement. "I made the call and engaged. He was pronounced dead at the scene with only a shovel and AK-47," according to the statement.

Sgt. Lawrence G. Hutchins, with another Marine acting as a witness, signed the death report.

Eight Marines could face murder charges in the death of Abass, and other charges for possibly attempting to cover up the killing.

Residents told ABC News over the weekend that a Marine sergeant had lied on an official report about the death of a civilian, saying the man appeared to be planting a bomb. But several Marines have confessed to dragging the man from his house, shooting him and putting a shovel and weapon next to his body.

Two Cover-Ups?

Al Hamdania is not the only incident the Pentagon is investigating.

New pictures offer the first independent evidence that suggests Marines may have covered up what really happened in Haditha, Iraq, where 24 Iraqi civilians were killed in November. The pictures show a house pockmarked with bullet holes, despite the initial claim that a roadside bomb was responsible.

And a new witness has come forward. Iman Waleed Abdul Hameed, a 9-year-old girl, said Marines killed her father, mother, brother, two uncles and grandmother.

Local doctors said the dead included eight women and five children.

"Most of the dead," said Dr. Waleed Abdul Khaliq al Obaidi, in Arabic, "were shot in the head and chest."

The New York Times reported on Saturday that senior commanders learned the original Marine account was wrong two days after the incident last November but failed to act. The paper quoted an unnamed Marine general familiar with the investigation as saying, "It's impossible to believe they didn't know. You'd have to know this thing stunk."

In both cases, investigators are focusing on whether higher-ups covered up the details.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, the man at the top of the Pentagon's chain of command, was in Asia today, pursued by questions about the allegations.

"I've responded to that question repeatedly," Rumsfeld said, "and there is an investigation under way, and we'll see what the investigation produces."

A military spokesman in Baghdad said the charges of misconduct are damaging the U.S. effort there.

Three Marine officers have already been relieved of their commands because of the Haditha incident, and reports Saturday night indicated more senior officers may be disciplined even before the investigation is complete.

U.S. Forces Cleared

In a third case of alleged war crimes by American troops, however, the Pentagon has just closed its investigation and cleared the soldiers involved of any wrongdoing, saying the forces at Ishaqi in March 2005 were within their rules of engagement.

But the incident in Ishaqi, where a dozen civilians were killed alongside a man the military identified as a terrorist bomb maker, seems far from a closed case on the Iraqi streets. Ordinary Iraqis say they are outraged, and they doubt that the U.S. will conduct a fair and thorough investigation.

"The Arab reaction is a feeling of anger," said Sharif Nashashibi of Arab Media Watch. "It's that every time something like this happens, you get U.S. officials and British officials talking about a few rotten apples. And really, at this stage, the feeling is that the whole tree is rotten."

Local police charge that American troops deliberately shot 11 civilians, including four women and five children, in an attack on a house, and then called in air support to bomb the building.

Maj. Gen. William Caldwell IV, the chief military spokesman, denied the claims.

"Allegations that the troops executed a family living in a safe house," he said, "and then hid the alleged crimes by directing an air strike, are absolutely false."

'They Killed Children'

But that doesn't wash with one local man on the street.

"The American soldiers didn't kill insurgents," the man said through a translator. "They killed children. Do you really think these children were carrying guns?"

The Iraqi prime minister's office rejected the military report that exonerated American troops in Ishaqi, saying it was unfair. The Iraqi government will demand an apology and compensation.

Earlier last week, Prime Minister Nouri Kamel al-Maliki said he was losing patience with the accidental killing of unarmed civilians by U.S. troops, saying, "There is a limit to mistakes."

Nearly 2,500 American soldiers have been killed in Iraq in the past three years. With the daily threat of insurgent bombs, the troops are on edge for a reason.

But Iraqis say they are terrified by U.S. troops on patrol or at checkpoints who can open fire if they believe they are "under threat." According to one police estimate, an innocent Iraqi civilian is killed by coalition forces every two days.

"If you want to see their terrorism, you don't have to go to Haditha," said one man, named Jabur. "Just go out on the street. If you drive too close to them, you can get killed."

ABC News' John Yang at the Pentagon and Hillary Brown in Baghdad reported this story for "World News Tonight." Matthew McGarry contributed additional reporting from Baghdad.

Top general vows full probe into Iraqi deaths
Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff emphasizes thorough review of Haditha

SINGAPORE - The top U.S. military officer said Sunday it is more important to conduct a thorough rather than quick investigation into the alleged massacre of Iraqi citizens in Haditha by Marines.

Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, acknowledged that the allegations involving the deaths of about two dozen Iraqis have raised concerns among Iraqi officials and in the United States.

“But you don’t want to have the emotions of the day weigh into the process,” Pace told the Associated Press in an interview. “We need to stick with our judicial process. We want to be sure that it moves forward without any influence.”

Pace said it is not clear exactly what happened last November when as many as two dozen Iraqis were killed during a U.S. attack.

U.S. military investigators have evidence that points toward unprovoked murders by the Marines, a senior U.S. defense official said last week.

Over the weekend, Pace joined U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld at a conference a defense leaders in Southeast Asia. In some countries in the region with sizable Muslim populations, the war in Iraq has soured attitudes toward the U.S.

The killings in Haditha have contributed to that, leading the U.S. military on Thursday to order that the 150,000 coalition troops in Iraq, including 130,000 Americans, get special training in ethics and “the values that separate us from our enemies.”

The additional instruction, Pace said, “should provide comfort to those looking to see if we are we a nation that stands on the values we hold dear.”

U.S. troops should benefit from the additional training, particularly as they run through various battle scenarios, Pace said. “Emotions on the battlefield are intense,” Pace said. “It’s good to stop and check your moral compass.”

Pace, the first Marine to serve as Joint Chiefs chairman, is no stranger to such combat emotions. To this day he keeps a photo on his desk at the Pentagon of the first Marine killed under his command when he was a platoon leader in Vietnam.

According to Barney Barnes, one of the men who served with Pace, Pace’s first inclination was to call in the artillery “and bomb the heck out of that village.” Barnes said that Pace kept his emotions in check and went ahead with a search of the village — ultimately in vain — for the sniper whose bullet had killed Cpl. Guido Farinaro.

Those serving in the military, Pace said in the AP interview, need to train for combat situations “and think about when you go in, ‘Who do you want to be?’ If you do that, you are much better prepared for combat — to know what you’re going to do.”

In addition to the renewed ethics training for coalition troops in Iraq, U.S. Marine Commandant Gen. Michael W. Hagee has been talking to Marines about proper conduct on the battlefield.

Hagee last week spoke to troops about the danger of becoming “indifferent to the loss of a human life.”

To Pace, “It’s a very good thing to take an operational pause and talk about what we do and what we do not do in combat.”

Pace has declined to talk about the specifics of the two investigations into the Haditha killings. He said Sunday he does not know when they will be completed. Both he and Rumsfeld have said they do not want to make comments that might taint the probes.

The investigation that will be finished first is the one examining whether the Marines in Haditha or their commanders tried to cover up what happened, Pace said. The second, a criminal investigation, will take longer.

The results of both investigations will be made public as soon as possible without interfering with the legal process, Pace pledged.

“Regardless of the outcome of these investigations, 99.9 percent of the servicemen and service women are doing what we expect them to do,” he said.

Haditha, about 140 miles northwest of Baghdad, has been plagued by insurgents. On Nov. 19, a bomb rocked a military convoy, killing a Marine. Residents said Marines then went into nearby houses and shot members of two families, including a 3-year-old girl.

At first, the U.S. military described what happened as an ambush on a joint U.S.-Iraqi patrol, with a roadside bombing and subsequent firefight killing 15 civilians, eight insurgents and a Marine. The statement said the 15 civilians were killed by the blast, a claim the residents strongly denied.

Top Marine mum but 'concerned' over alleged Marine atrocities

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- The top Marine said Wednesday he is "gravely concerned" by allegations of atrocities committed by his troops against Iraqi civilians but declined to say what investigators have found thus far.

In his first public remarks about the allegations concerning Iraqi civilian deaths in the town of Haditha last November and in Hamandiya two months ago, Gen. Michael Hagee, the Marine Corps commandant, sought to assure the public that any Marine found to have violated standards of behavior will be held accountable.

Asked at a 15-minute Pentagon news conference whether he had considered resigning over the matter, Hagee replied, "I serve at the pleasure of the president, and I have not submitted any resignation."

He said he could not comment on any aspect of the investigations, which are being conducted by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.

The Haditha case centers on allegations that a small number of Marines from the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment murdered 24 Iraqi civilians -- included unarmed women and children -- on Nov. 19 after a roadside bomb in the town killed one of their fellow Marines.

The allegation in the Hamandiya case is that Marines pulled an unarmed Iraqi man from his home April 26 and shot him to death without provocation. Seven Marines and one Navy corpsman in that unit were taken out of Iraq and put in the brig at Camp Pendleton, California, pending the filing of any charges against them.

Hagee acknowledged the existence of a set of photographs taken by a Marine intelligence team that examined the scene of the killings in Haditha, but he would not discuss any specifics. News reports have said the photos show that civilians in at least two houses, including several women and children, were shot in the head and torso at close range.

That evidence matches the accounts offered by villagers in interviews with The Associated Press and other news organizations. But it conflicts with the Marines' original public assertion that 15 civilians were killed by the explosion of the roadside bomb that also killed one Marine, and that eight insurgents were killed in a subsequent firefight.

The Marines now admit that their original version of events was false, but they have not presented a corrected version pending the outcome of the investigations.

Hagee said he would wait until the Haditha and Hamandiya criminal investigations are completed before he would remove any commanders from their posts. "I am waiting for those investigations to be complete so that I can understand actually what happened, both on the ground and within the chain of command," he said.

Noting the growing public speculation about the case, Hagee urged patience as investigators complete their work.

"We intend to keep you informed to the fullest extent possible without interfering with the legal process," he said.

Hagee said no one should doubt that the allegations will be fully and fairly investigated.

"As commandant I am gravely concerned about the serious allegations concerning actions of some Marines at Haditha and Hamandiya," he said. "I am responsible and I take these responsibilities quite seriously."

Hagee, who is scheduled to complete his four-year tenure as Marine commandant this year, traveled last week to Iraq to reinforce the importance of adhering to Corps standards of behavior. At his news conference he said he was pleased to find that "their morale is really quite high," despite concerns about the atrocity allegations.

"They are focused on what they're doing," he said. "They are making a difference. They are very proud of what they're doing. And I can tell you, their families are very proud of what they're doing. Are they concerned? Yes. But they know what we're going to do: We're going to complete those investigations. And if any individual has been found to have violated our standards, rules or regulations, they will be held accountable."

The commandant said he plans to make additional trips, to Marine bases in California, Hawaii and Japan, to deliver the same message.

Senators urge Bush to act on Haditha probe
Warner wants hearings on alleged massacre held on ‘earliest possible date’

WASHINGTON - U.S. senators demanded on Tuesday that the Bush administration swiftly establish what happened in Haditha where U.S. Marines are suspected of killing 24 unarmed Iraqis.

They said only swift action could salvage the image of the military and U.S. international relations.

The Senate Armed Services Committee plans hearings soon on last November’s incident in the western Iraqi town and to determine whether the military tried to cover it up.

One Republican senator insisted Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld should be brought to account.

The senator, Susan Collins from Maine, said the committee must “ask hard questions such as, ’When did Secretary Rumsfeld learn of the allegations?’ and ’What action did he take?’”

Criticism only a ‘defense mechanism’
The senators spoke on the same day a senior U.S. State Department official brushed aside criticism from Iraq’s prime minister over the Haditha incident.

“It’s a defense mechanism ... I wouldn’t make too much out of it,” James Jeffrey, the State Department’s Iraq coordinator, said of the criticism from Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

He said he believed U.S. forces were well-respected in Iraq and Maliki’s outburst was to be expected.

“There is a constant buzz in Iraq of what our troops did or didn’t do,” Jeffrey told a group of defense writers.

Last week, Maliki demanded the United States share files from the investigation of the Haditha killings, which he called a “terrible crime.”

Haditha ‘very untenable position’
Senators just back from a week-long recess blasted the Pentagon for taking months to start a probe of the incident first reported by Time magazine.

Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner wrote to Rumsfeld worried about its impact on U.S. relations “around the world, ongoing military operations, diplomatic initiatives and the struggle of the new Iraqi government to assume full responsibilities of sovereignty.”

The Virginia Republican asked Rumsfeld “the earliest possible date” the Pentagon could provide witnesses.

Warner said the first might be Army Maj. Gen. Eldon Bargewell, who is investigating whether Marines involved in the incident lied about it and whether Marine Corps officers sufficiently examined their accounts.

Carl Levin of Michigan, the committee’s top Democrat, said the delay in investigating Haditha “further embarrassed the military and put them in a very, very untenable position.”

Bush has said he was troubled by news stories about the Nov. 19 killings of men, women and children in Haditha, and a general at the Pentagon said the incident could complicate the job for the 130,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.

Dissimilar to My Lai
Senators said their constituents so far were lumping Haditha into Iraq’s daily violence and that it did not appear to be galvanizing opposition to the war, as the 1968 My Lai massacre did for the Vietnam war.

“Is this really crystallizing opposition? That’s not what I’m hearing from my constituents,” said Rhode Island Republican Sen. Lincoln Chafee, who opposed the Iraq war.

But Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Inhofe, who has backed the war, said, “It gives some justification or some credibility to some of the lies that have been told by people who are just anti-war. I think they’re rejoicing in this.”

The State Department’s Jeffrey said he did not believe the impact of the incident could be compared to the scandal over abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad in which shocking pictures were published worldwide.

“I think this will not have the same impact in terms of insurgents turning the population against us or turning opinion in the Arab world against us. But that is something that has to be evaluated every day,” he said.

Asked whether the Haditha incident could erode Iraqi confidence in U.S. troops, Jeffrey said he believed Iraqis trusted American forces who were often viewed as neutral.

 

New Evidence of Cover-Ups in Alleged Atrocities?

Iraqi Anger Builds Amid New Details in Haditha and Al Hamdania Cases, and Clearing of U.S. Forces at Ishaqi

- New evidence may suggest cover-ups in two separate incidents at the center of a simmering scandal over Iraqi civilian deaths at the hands of American forces.

Iraqi anger is percolating over the incidents, and over an investigation that cleared U.S. forces in a third case.

New pictures offer the first independent evidence suggesting that Marines may have covered up what really happened in Haditha, Iraq, where 24 Iraqi civilians were killed in November. The pictures show a house pockmarked with bullet holes, despite the initial claim that a roadside bomb was responsible.

And a new witness has come forward. Iman Waleed Abdul Hameed, a 9-year-old girl, said Marines killed her father, mother, brother, two uncles and grandmother.

Local doctors said the dead included eight women and five children.

"Most of the dead," said Dr. Waleed Abdul Khaliq al Obaidi, in Arabic, "were shot in the head and chest."

The New York Times reported today that senior commanders learned the original Marine account was wrong two days after the incident last November -- but failed to act. The paper quoted an unnamed Marine general familiar with the investigation as saying, "It's impossible to believe they didn't know. You'd have to know this thing stunk."

Two Cover Ups?

Haditha is not the only incident the Pentagon is investigating.

In Al Hamdania, site of another alleged American atrocity in April, residents told ABC News today that a Marine sergeant lied on an official report about the death of a civilian, saying the man appeared to be planting a bomb. But several Marines have confessed to dragging the man from his house, shooting him and putting a shovel and weapon next to his body.

In both cases, investigators are focusing on whether higher-ups covered up the details.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, the man at the top of the Pentagon's chain of command, was in Asia today, pursued by questions about the allegations.

"I've responded to that question repeatedly," Rumsfeld said, "and there is an investigation underway, and we'll see what the investigation produces."

A military spokesman in Baghdad said today the charges of misconduct are damaging the U.S. effort there.

Three Marine officers have already been relieved of their commands because of the Haditha incident, and there's word tonight that some more senior officers may be disciplined even before the investigation is complete.

U.S. Forces Cleared

In a third case of alleged war crimes by American troops, however, the Pentagon has just closed its investigation and cleared the soldiers involved of any wrongdoing, saying the forces at Ishaqi in March 2005 were within their rules of engagement.

But the incident in Ishaqi, where a dozen civilians were killed alongside a man the military identifies as a terrorist bomb maker in March 2005, seems far from a closed case on the Iraqi streets. Ordinary Iraqis say they are outraged, and they doubt that the U.S. will conduct a fair and thorough investigation.

"The Arab reaction is a feeling of anger," said Sharif Nashashibi of Arab Media Watch. "It's that every time something like this happens, you get U.S. officials and British officials talking about a few rotten apples. And really, at this stage, the feeling is that the whole tree is rotten."

Local police charge that American troops deliberately shot 11 civilians, including four women and five children, in an attack on a house, and then called in air support to bomb the building.

U.S. Maj. Gen. William Caldwell IV, the chief military spokesman, denied the claims.

"Allegations that the troops executed a family living in a safe house," he said, "and then hid the alleged crimes by directing an air strike, are absolutely false."

'They Killed Children'

But that doesn't wash with one local man on the street.

"The American soldiers didn't kill insurgents," the man said through a translator. "They killed children. Do you really think these children were carrying guns?"

Today, the Iraqi prime minister's office rejected the military report that exonerated American troops in Ishaqi, saying it was unfair. The Iraqi government will demand an apology and compensation.

Earlier in the week, the prime minister said he was losing patience with the accidental killing of unarmed civilians by U.S. troops, saying, "There is a limit to mistakes."

Nearly 2,500 American soldiers have been killed in Iraq in the past three years. With the daily threat of insurgent bombs, the troops are on edge for a reason.

But Iraqis say they are terrified by U.S. troops on patrol or at checkpoints, who can open fire if they believe they are "under threat." According to one police estimate, an innocent Iraqi civilian is killed by coalition forces every two days.

"If you want to see their terrorism, you don't have to go to Haditha," said one man, named Jabur. "Just go out on the street. If you drive too close to them you can get killed."

ABC News' John Yang at the Pentagon and Hillary Brown in Baghdad reported this story for "World News Tonight."

Bush 'troubled' by Haditha report

Bodies of Haditha victims

US President George W Bush has said he is "troubled" by reports of an alleged massacre of Iraqi civilians by US marines last November.

Making his first public comments on the issue, Mr Bush said if anyone had broken the law they would be punished.

His comments followed claims that the killings of 24 people in the town of Haditha were covered up.

On Tuesday, the US government promised to make public all the details of inquiries into the alleged massacre.

"If, in fact, these allegations are true, the Marine Corps will work hard to make sure that... those who violated the law - if indeed they did - will be punished," Mr Bush told a press conference in Washington.

The Pentagon is close to ending its two separate inquiries into the killings in Haditha, initially attributed to a clash with militants.

According to initial US military reports, 15 civilians and eight insurgents died after a bomb killed a marine in Haditha, a militant stronghold in Anbar Province.

But the army now says it is investigating a total of 24 deaths.

'Shock and sadness'

Over the past few days the American media has been dominated by pictures and interviews of Iraqis in Haditha, says the BBC's Andy Gallacher.

Politicians fear that the repercussions could be far worse than the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, our correspondent says, with some politicians convinced that there has been a cover-up.

A member of the Iraqi parliament and former foreign minister, Adnan Pachachi, says the allegations have sparked "a feeling of great shock and sadness" amongst Iraqis.

"There must be a level of discipline imposed on the American troops and change of mentality which seems to think that Iraqi lives are expendable," he told the BBC.

But the UK's human rights envoy to Iraq, Ann Clwyd, who is in Baghdad at the moment, says the events in Haditha should "not be taken out of context".

"I would say as I did over Abu Ghraib... [this is] a small group of people out of the many thousands of British and American and other soldiers who are here who have done a good job by and large," she told the BBC.

'Rampage'

White House spokesman Tony Snow said on Tuesday that the US Marine Corps was taking an "active and aggressive role" in investigating the allegations.

The Pentagon had assured him that "all the details" of the inquiries would be made public, he said.

Iraq to probe US massacre claims

Wrapped bodies of Haditha victims, 21 November
                           2005

Iraq will investigate allegations that US marines carried out a massacre of civilians in Haditha in November, the country's prime minister has said.

Nouri Maliki told Reuters news agency there was "a limit to the acceptable excuses" for civilian casualties.

The Pentagon is close to ending its own inquiries into the deaths, initially attributed to a clash with militants.

Observers say the incident could deal a more serious blow to US standing than the Abu Ghraib scandal.

According to initial US military reports, 15 civilians and eight insurgents died after a bomb killed a marine in Haditha, a militant stronghold in Anbar Province.

The civilians were "victims of a wrong operation", Mr Maliki said in a separate interview with the BBC.

"It is not justifiable that a family is killed because someone is fighting terrorists."

Speaking to Reuters, he said his government was worried by "the increase in 'mistakes'" and would ask "for answers not only about Haditha but about any operation... in which killing happened by mistake".

"We will hold those who did it responsible," he added.

The BBC's Justin Webb reports from Washington that enough material has now been leaked to the US media about events in Haditha to suggest to many Americans that allegations of a massacre are very serious and may well be true.

'Cold blood'

US investigators are looking at both the actual events in Haditha on 19 November and an alleged cover-up by troops.

US marines in Iraq

The military said at the time that the civilians were killed as a result of either the bomb or a gun battle which erupted afterwards, in which the militants were reportedly killed.

But reports from Iraqi witnesses and in the US media allege that marines went on a rampage.

According to the Wall St Journal, there is evidence that marines killed civilians, including women and children, without provocation.

Several marines are likely to be charged with murder and others with attempting to cover up the incident, the newspaper said, quoting civilian and military officials close to the investigations.

One of the marines in Haditha that day, Lance Cpl Roel Ryan Briones of Hanford, California, told the Los Angeles Times he had taken photos and carried bodies out of homes as part of a clean-up crew:

"They ranged from little babies to adult males and females. I'll never be able to get that out of my head. I can still smell the blood."

Caution plea

Jim Murtha, a Democratic Congressman and former marine, has said he believes civilians in Haditha were murdered and the incident was covered up.

"They killed innocent civilians in cold blood and that's what the report is going to tell," he said.

"It is as bad as Abu Ghraib, if not worse," he told CNN television.

Gen Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and chief military adviser to the US president, said on Monday it would be premature for him to judge the outcome of the investigations.

"If the allegations as they are being portrayed in the newspapers turn out to be valid, then of course there'll be charges," he said.

"We'll get to the bottom of the investigation and take the appropriate action."

Troops cleared in Ishaqi killings

Military looking into three other incidents of Iraqi civilian deaths

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Investigators have determined U.S. soldiers followed proper procedure and will not face charges for the deaths of at least four Iraqis during a raid near the town of Ishaqi on March 15, Pentagon sources said Friday.

The death toll and the manner of the civilian deaths remains disputed. Iraqi officials say 11 people, including five children, were killed in the U.S.-led raid on a suspected al Qaeda in Iraq site about 60 miles north of Baghdad.

Four women were listed among the dead and one of the children was 6 months old, the Iraqi officials said.

Army Maj. Gen. William Caldwell said Friday that three civilians were killed along with an insurgent, whom he said was a bomb maker and recruiter. A man suspected of being a Kuwaiti-born al Qaeda cell leader was taken into coalition custody and questioned.

Other U.S. officials said Army soldiers conducting the raid near Balad came under fire and called in an airstrike that destroyed a building and killed the civilians.

Caldwell said investigators reported that up to "nine collateral deaths" may have occurred but that "a precise number could not be determined due to the collapsed walls and heavy debris."

Investigators from the Army Criminal Investigation Command concluded that the troops used appropriate force on a legitimate military target after coming under fire, the Pentagon sources said.

A Balad police official said at the time of the raid that witnesses claimed U.S. troops had kept an entire family in a room before spraying them with bullets.

Caldwell said that account was "absolutely false."

"The ground forces commander, while capturing and killing terrorists, operated in accordance with the rules of engagement," Caldwell said.

The police official further said U.S. troops destroyed the building and killed livestock belonging to people in the house. In the house police found bullet casings of the type used by U.S. soldiers, the official said.

Haditha bodies

Friday's announcement clears U.S. troops in one of four incidents in which they are alleged to have intentionally killed innocent Iraqis, including women and children.

Other investigations are under way into an alleged massacre in Haditha and the death of an Iraqi civilian near Hamandiya, west of Baghdad, on April 26.

Also, the military is looking into reports that soldiers killed two women, one of whom was pregnant, in Samarra on Tuesday. Witnesses said the women were killed when their vehicle drove through a checkpoint.

Investigators in Haditha are hoping to exhume victims' bodies to look for forensic evidence that may explain how 24 Iraqi civilians were fatally shot on November 19, according to a senior U.S. military official with knowledge of the probe.

The families of the Haditha victims are refusing the exhumation request, contributing to a delay in the Naval Criminal Investigative Service's investigation into the deaths, the military said Friday.

Sources said that military investigators strongly suspect that a small number of Marines snapped and went on a rampage after one of their own was killed by a roadside bomb in Haditha, a city on the Euphrates River northwest of Baghdad.

Source: Murder charges likely

Military prosecutors "likely" will file murder charges against seven Marines accused in the April 26 shooting death of an Iraqi civilian in Hamandiya, a source familiar with the investigation said Thursday.

"Somewhere around seven Marines are likely to face charges," said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because charges have not yet been filed. "Murder charges are likely," the source added but they may not come on Friday.

The Associated Press quoted a defense lawyer, Jeremiah Sullivan III, as saying that a Navy Corpsman is also expected to face charges, which include kidnapping and conspiracy.

The Iraqi civilian reportedly was dragged from his home and shot. Both the Los Angeles Times and NBC News said troops may have planted an AK-47 and shovel near the body to make it appear the man was an insurgent burying a roadside bomb.

Neither media outlet suggested a possible motive for the killing.

The eight men are being held in the brig at Camp Pendleton Marine Corps base in California, the AP quoted Sullivan as saying.

Training ordered

Amid the series of allegations involving troops, the U.S. military has ordered all coalition personnel to undergo refresher courses in ethics and values.

A military spokesman defended the two-to-four hour presentation on Friday, saying, "It's not a PowerPoint presentation per se. It's there as a guide. It's there as a tool.

"This is serious business, and we're going to focus on doing the right thing."

The spokesman, Brig. Gen. Donald Campbell, deputy commanding general of Multinational Corps-Iraq, said the training includes an introduction on "why this is a tremendous profession, and what we're doing, and then it leads through what we view (as) values."

Emphasizing repeatedly that 99.9 percent of U.S. troops in Iraq behave properly and ethically, he described factors that could lead to rare exceptions: "stress, fear, isolation, and in some cases they're just upset. They see their buddies getting blown up on occasion, and they could snap."

CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq, Jennifer Deaton, Stan Wilson and Jamie McIntyre contributed to this report.

_41715596_ishaqi_house203.jpg

New 'Iraq massacre' tape emerges


The BBC has uncovered new video evidence that US forces may have been responsible for the deliberate killing of 11 innocent Iraqi civilians.

The video appears to challenge the US military's account of events that took place in the town of Ishaqi in March.

The US said at the time four people died during a military operation, but Iraqi police claimed that US troops had deliberately shot the 11 people.

A spokesman for US forces in Iraq told the BBC an inquiry was under way.

The new evidence comes in the wake of the alleged massacre in Haditha, where US marines are suspected of killing up to 24 Iraqi civilians in November 2005 and covering up the deaths.

The incident is being investigated by the Pentagon.

The US military has announced that coalition troops in Iraq are to have ethical training following the furore surrounding the alleged killings.

For the next 30 days, they would receive lessons in "core warrior values", a military statement said.

The news of ethical training for US-led troops is likely to be greeted with cynicism by many Iraqis, the BBC's Ian Pannell in Baghdad says, as the troops have long been accused of deliberately targeting civilians.

Cross-checked

The video pictures obtained by the BBC appear to contradict the US account of the events in Ishaqi, about 100km (60 miles) north of Baghdad, on 15 March 2006.

Map

The US authorities said they were involved in a firefight after a tip-off that an al-Qaeda supporter was visiting the house.

According to the Americans, the building collapsed under heavy fire killing four people - a suspect, two women and a child.

But a report filed by Iraqi police accused US troops of rounding up and deliberately shooting 11 people in the house, including five children and four women, before blowing up the building.

The video tape obtained by the BBC shows a number of dead adults and children at the site with what our world affairs editor John Simpson says were clearly gunshot wounds.

The pictures came from a hardline Sunni group opposed to coalition forces.

It has been cross-checked with other images taken at the time of events and is believed to be genuine, the BBC's Ian Pannell in Baghdad says.

US probes new Iraq massacre claim
 
The US army says it is investigating an incident in which 11 Iraqis may have been deliberately killed by US troops, after the emergence of video evidence.

The video aired on the BBC appears to challenge the US account of the events in the town of Ishaqi in March.

The US said at the time that four people died during a raid, but Iraqi police said 11 were shot by US troops.

The new evidence comes in the wake of the alleged massacre by US marines of up to 24 Iraqi civilians in Haditha.

The troops are also suspected of covering up the deaths in November 2005.

The Haditha incident and several others are being investigated by the Pentagon, according to US military sources.

The US army has also announced that coalition troops in Iraq are to have ethical training following the alleged incident in Haditha.

However, the BBC's Ian Pannell in Baghdad says the move is likely to be greeted with cynicism by many Iraqis, as the troops have long been accused of deliberately targeting civilians.

'Massacre' video

The video pictures obtained by the BBC appear to contradict the US account of the events in Ishaqi, about 100km (60 miles) north of Baghdad, on 15 March 2006.

The US authorities said they were involved in a firefight after a tip-off that an al-Qaeda supporter was visiting the house.

According to the Americans, the building collapsed under heavy fire killing four people - a suspect, two women and a child.

But a report filed by Iraqi police accused US troops of rounding up and deliberately shooting 11 people in the house, including five children and four women, before blowing up the building.

The video tape obtained by the BBC shows a number of dead adults and children at the site with what our world affairs editor John Simpson says were clearly gunshot wounds.

The pictures came from a hardline Sunni group opposed to coalition forces.

It has been cross-checked with other images taken at the time of events and is believed to be genuine, the BBC's Ian Pannell says.

After Haditha, New Look At Training
Pentagon Inquiry Into Alleged Massacre Finds False Reports

 

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.

Red Cross lambasts US terror law

ICRC president Jakob Kellenberger. File photo

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has expressed concern over a newly-approved US anti-terrorism law.

ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger said the law raised "questions" about its compliance with the Geneva Conventions on the conduct of war.

He said some points had been ommitted, such as the right to a fair trial and the ban on humiliating and degrading treatment of prisoners.

President Bush signed the law on Tuesday, saying it would say US lives.

The Military Commissions Act of 2006 sets standards for the interrogation and prosecution of foreign terror suspects held by the US.

The law aims to enshrine defendants' human rights, but still restricts their right to challenge their detention.

It follows a Supreme Court ruling in June that military tribunals set up to prosecute detainees at Guantanamo Bay violated US and international law.

ICRC criticism

"Our preliminary reading of the new legislation raises certain concerns and questions," Mr Kellenberger said.

"The very broad definition of who is an 'unwlful enemy combatant' and the fact that there is not an explicit prohibition on the admission of evidence attained by coercion are examples."

Mr Kellenberger said the ICRC would discuss its concern with the White House, such as how the law "omits certain violations from the list of acts that are war crimes under US domestic law".

"These include the prohibition of outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment, and the prohibition of the denial of the right to a fair trial, which is a basic protection provided for in international law," he said.

Special tribunals

Mr Bush said on Tuesday the law would allow the CIA "to continue to question terrorists and save lives".

"It complies with the spirit and letter of the US's international obligations," the president added.

He said the law also set out a system of special tribunals, which would give defendants a fair trial.

"These military commissions will provide a fair trial in which the accused are presumed innocent, have access to an attorney, and can hear all the evidence against them. These military commissions are lawful, they are fair, and they are necessary."

The legislation was passed by both houses of Congress in September after intense debate.

Civil liberties groups say the law does not guarantee detainees' rights, and legal challenges are to be expected.


Court martial in Iraq rape case

Room where alleged rape and
                           killing took place Four US soldiers are to face court martial over the alleged rape of an Iraqi girl and murder of her and her family, the US military has said.

Two of the soldiers could face the death penalty if found guilty.

Four other soldiers accused of killing detainees in north Iraq are also to face court martial, the military said.

And in a third case, three US marines face trial for murder over the death of an Iraqi grandfather kidnapped from his house in Hamdania.

The three cases are further straining the relationship between the United States and the Iraqi government, says the BBC's JAmes Coomarsamy in Washington.

Combat stress

The first group are all soldiers from the 2nd Brigade of the elite 101st airborne division, were at the time serving in Mahmoudiya, about 20 miles (32km) south of Baghdad.

They are charged with premeditated murder and rape. Three are also charged with arson and housebreaking.

The military said Sgt Paul Cortez and Pfc Jesse Spielman could face the death penalty if found guilty, while Spc James P Barker and Pfc Bryan L Howard could face life-long jail terms.

The men are alleged to have helped a former private - Steven Green, who has since left the army - plan, carry out and cover up the attack.

Mr Green has pleaded not guilty in a federal court and will be tried separately in the US.

The commander of the 101st Airborne Division referred the charges to court martial on the basis of a report from military investigators.

At hearings during the investigation, colleagues of the accused described intense combat stress, with troops left demoralised and emotionally drained by frequent insurgent attacks.

Detainees shot

In the second case, four soldiers from the 3rd Brigade of the same division have been referred to court martial on murder charges.

Sgt Raymond Girouard, Spc William Hunsaker, Spc Juston Graber and Pfc Corey Clagett are accused in the shooting of three male Iraqi prisoners near Tikrit, Salahuddin province, in northern Iraq. The detainees died during a US military operation near the Thar Thar Canal near Tikrit in northern Iraq on 9 May 2006.

The cases are two of several in which US soldiers serving in Iraq have been accused of abuses against Iraqis.

No dates have been set for the courts martial.

2 GI's Face Death Penalty For Rape-Murder

(CBS/AP) Eight soldiers from the U.S. Army's 101st division will be court-martialed for murdering Iraqi civilians, including two who face the death penalty for allegedly raping an Iraqi girl and killing her and her family, the military ordered Wednesday.

Military authorities said they would seek the death penalty against Sgt. Paul E. Cortez and Pfc. Jesse V. Spielman in connection with the March rape and murder of 14-year-old Abeer Qassim al-Janabi in her family's home in Mahmoudiya, about 20 miles south of Baghdad. The four others face a separate court martial for the alleged murder of three men near Samarra, 60 miles north of the Iraqi capital.

The rape-slaying case sparked international outrage and led to a claim by an al Qaeda-linked group that it had killed three other 101st soldiers in retaliation. It also threatened to strain relations between the United States and Iraq's new government if Iraqis perceived soldiers receive lenient treatment.

The case also increased demands for changes in an agreement that exempts U.S. soldiers from prosecution in Iraqi courts.

Spielman's attorneys expressed shock that their client faces a death penalty, citing evidence discussed during a hearing in August that indicated he was not in the house when the rape and murders occurred.

"Even according to the government's evidence that they're putting forth, Jesse isn't even a principal in murder and rape," said Craig Carlson, Spielman's attorney. "It surprises me that they're treating him like they're treating Green."

Spc. James P. Barker and Pfc. Bryan L. Howard are also accused in the rape and murders but will not face the death penalty, the military said in a statement.

Former Pvt. Steven Green, who was discharged for a personality disorder and arrested in North Carolina, will be tried in federal court in Kentucky. In affidavits, Green was described as a central figure to the rape and murders.

Green has pleaded not guilty to one count of rape and four counts of murder.

Military prosecutors have said the five — all from the division's 502nd Infantry Regiment — planned the attack from a checkpoint near the family's home, changed their clothing to hide their identities and set the girl's body on fire to destroy evidence.

Mahmoudiya is part of the so-called "triangle of death" a region known for numerous attacks by insurgents, and the soldiers' unit suffered months of bombings and shootings that felled dozens of comrades.

Defense attorneys have argued that soldiers of every rank were emotionally ragged and strained.

In the other case, Pfc. Corey R. Clagett, Spc. William B. Hunsaker, Staff Sgt. Raymond L. Girouard and Spc. Juston R. Graber are accused of murdering three Iraqi men taken from a house May 9 on a marshy island outside Samarra, about 60 miles north of Baghdad.

Meanwhile, three Camp Pendleton Marines will face courts-martial on murder and kidnapping charges in the death of an Iraqi man in the town of Hamdania, but will not face the death penalty, the Marine Corps said Wednesday.

The three were among seven Marines and one Navy corpsman charged with kidnapping and killing 52-year-old Hashim Ibrahim Awad last April.

Lance Cpl. Tyler Jackson, Lance Cpl. Robert B. Pennington and Cpl. Trent D. Thomas will also face charges including conspiracy, housebreaking and larceny.

On. Oct. 6, Petty Officer 3rd Class Melson J. Bacos, a Navy corpsman on patrol with the Marines,
pleaded guilty to kidnapping and conspiracy under a deal with prosecutors. He agreed to testify at his court-martial and during upcoming proceedings about what he witnessed.

Since the start of the Iraq war in 2003, at least 14 members of the U.S. military have been convicted in connection with the deaths of Iraqis. Two received sentences of up to life in prison, while most others were given little or no jail time.


 

US 'winding up' Iraq deaths probe

around the shrouded bodies of people they say were
                           civilians killed by US marines in Haditha, Iraq on Monday, Nov 21, 2005

An investigation into claims that US marines may have deliberately killed civilians in Iraq is nearing its end, the Pentagon says.

Official accounts from the Iraqi city of Haditha in November said 15 people were killed by a bomb and firefight.

But reports in the US press say as many as 24 people may have died, and that murder charges may be in preparation.

Moves are being made to prepare the public, perhaps for something shocking, says a BBC correspondent in Washington.

A defence department spokesman said he believed the inquiry into Haditha - being carried out by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service - was nearing an end.

But he would not say what investigators had found, and added that he did not expect an announcement on charges in the next few days.

Conflicting accounts

What took place in Haditha on 19 November last year is not clear.

The US military said in statements issued after the incident that 15 Iraqi civilians had been killed by the blast of a roadside bomb, or in a subsequent firefight between US marines and insurgents.

But local Iraqis told a different story.

The criminal investigation has been seeking to establish whether or not the marines killed civilians in cold blood.

The Los Angeles Times has reported that investigators have concluded that marines went on the rampage, killing unarmed civilians, including women and children, after a marine was killed by a roadside bomb.

According to this account, up to a dozen marines were involved either in the incident, or covering it up afterwards.

The LA Times says investigators are preparing to call for charges including murder, negligent homicide, dereliction of duty and filing a false report.

The BBC's Adam Brookes in Washington says it certainly seems that public opinion in America is being prepared for the possibility that the investigators' findings will be shocking.

'Cold blood'

On Thursday, John Warner, chairman the Senate Armed Services Committee, said there were "established facts that incidents of a very serious nature did take place".

The commander of the US marine corps, Gen Michael Hagee, flew to Iraq the same day and said the scenes and experiences faced by marines "can be numbing".

"There is the risk of becoming indifferent to the loss of a human life, as well as bringing dishonour upon ourselves," he said.

Last week John Murtha, a Democrat member of the House of Representatives and a retired marine said US troops in Haditha "overreacted because of the pressure on them.

"They killed innocent civilians in cold blood. And that's what the report is going to tell."

NBC: Marines accused of cover-up in killing
Officials say Marine confessed to killing innocent civilian in Hamandiyah


WASHINGTON - As many as seven Marines are accused of dragging an innocent Iraqi man from his home in April, killing him in cold blood and then trying to cover up the crime, NBC News has learned.

Further, military officials tell NBC that at least one of the Marines has reportedly confessed in the killing, saying they find the allegations especially disturbing because the case appears to have been a premeditated killing and not carried out in the heat of combat.

The revelations come on the heels of a visit to Iraq by the commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps to address concerns that Marines are becoming indifferent to killing and death.

The alleged incident occurred April 26 in the town of Hamandiyah. The Marines are accused of dragging the innocent man from his home, shooting him to death, then planting an AK-47 rifle and a shovel next to his body, apparently to make it appear the man had been burying an IED, one of the roadside bombs that have been so deadly to U.S. forces in Iraq.

As many as 19 Marines have been returned to Camp Pendleton in California pending investigations, officials tell NBC's Jim Miklaszewski. The Hamandiyah allegations mean the U.S. military is now investigating two separate incidents in which Marines are accused of killing innocent, unarmed Iraqi civilians.

Gen. Michael W. Hagee, the Marine Corps commandant, reportedly told members of Congress that Marines had killed as many as 24 innocent Iraqi civilians, including women and children, last November in Haditha, northwest of Baghdad, and not the 15 first reported.

Concerned by the assertions of cold-blooded killing by some in his service, Hagee on Thursday issued a strong message to the entire corps to have the “moral courage to do the right thing in the face of danger or pressure from other Marines.”

Fear of indifference to loss of life
Hagee said Thursday that he feared, based on the recent cases, that some Marines could become “indifferent to the loss of a human life.” His office announced that he was enroute to Iraq to reinforce the Corps’ standards of behavior in combat.

“We do not employ force just for the sake of employing force. We use lethal force only when justified, proportional and, most importantly, lawful,” Gen. Michael W. Hagee wrote in a statement issued by his office.

His statement and the announcement of his trip to Iraq came just hours after the Marine command in Iraq disclosed a criminal investigation into the Hamandiyah allegations. Iraqis made the charge during a meeting with Marine officers on May 1.

“Many of our Marines have been involved in life or death combat or have witnessed the loss of their fellow Marines, and the effects of these events can be numbing,” Hagee wrote. “There is the risk of becoming indifferent to the loss of a human life, as well as bringing dishonor upon ourselves.”

A spokesman for Hagee, Col. David Lapan, said the general had scheduled the trip long ago but in light of the latest allegations he decided to use the visit as an opportunity to reinforce Marine Corps values and standards.

“To a Marine, honor is more than just honesty; it means having uncompromising personal integrity and being accountable for all actions,” Hagee said in his statement.

Investigation into Haditha incident
A criminal investigation is under way in connection with the Haditha encounter, initially described as an ambush during a joint U.S.-Iraqi patrol that involved a roadside bombing in which a Marine died. However, residents of the neighborhood maintained that only U.S. forces were shooting after the explosion.

Videotape aired by an Arab television station showed images purportedly taken in the aftermath of the encounter: a bloody bedroom floor, bullet holes in walls and bodies of women and children. An Iraqi human rights group called for an investigation of what it described as another deadly mistake that had harmed civilians.

The military began its administrative investigation to review whether the Marines involved had lied about what happened. A House committee will review the military’s investigation next month.

On May 17, Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., a decorated former Marine, said the toll in the Haditha attack was far worse than originally reported and that U.S. troops killed innocent women and children “in cold blood.” He said that nearly twice as many people were killed than first reported, maintaining that U.S. forces are “overstretched and overstressed” by the war in Iraq.

Last August, the Marine Corps announced a criminal investigation into the death of the cousin of Iraq’s ambassador to Washington, Samir al-Sumaidaie, who was shot and killed during a search of his home in Haditha on June 25.

No announcement has been made about the findings of the investigation.

New Witness Describes Alleged Iraq Atrocity

Girl, 12, Was Sole Survivor When Her Family Was Killed in Haditha; Congressman Says 'Mass Murder' Was Covered Up

- After a small group of Marines stormed the Younis family home in Haditha last November, everybody inside was killed -- except one person.

ABC News has obtained an interview with the sole survivor, 12-year-old Safa Younis. The interview was done by a local Iraqi journalism student about one week after the killings on Nov. 19, 2005.

The U.S. military continues to investigate what happened in Haditha, where a total of 24 civilians died. But one congressman, Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., said today that he's convinced the incident was mass murder and that it was covered up.

"There's has to have been a cover-up," Murtha told ABC News' "This Week with George Stephanopoulos." "There's no question about it."

'I Pretended to Be Dead'

On the new tape shot by an Iraqi journalism student and given to ABC News by the Hammurabi Human Rights Group in Iraq, Younis, soft-spoken, with rounded cheeks and a headscarf, begins by calmly telling the interviewer, "My name is Safa Younis. I'm 12 years old."

The interviewer asks, "What did the American soldiers do when they broke into the house?"

"They knocked at the door," Younis says. "My father went to open it, they shot him dead from behind the door, and then they shot him again after they opened the door."

She describes hearing the Marines go through the rest of the house, shooting and setting off a grenade before getting to the bedroom where she was with her mother and siblings.

"Then comes one American soldier and shot [at] us all," she says. "I pretended to be dead … and he did not know about me."

Changing Story

All of this happened after a small Marine convoy was struck by a roadside bomb, killing Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas. At first, the Marines acknowledged civilian deaths, but said they were caused by the roadside bomb. Later, they said the civilians were caught in the crossfire of a gunfight with insurgents.

Now, military investigators believe the only gunfire came from the Marines themselves.

Murtha, a former Marine, recently was briefed on the investigation by Marine Corps Commandant Michael Hagee.

"The reports that I have," Murtha said, "from the highest level: No firing at all. No interaction. No military action at all in this particular incident. It was an explosive device, which killed a Marine. From then on, it was purely shooting people."

Military investigators have collected bullet shells and other forensic evidence found in these homes and determined they came from a small number of rifles belonging to a team of Marines that included, ABC News has learned, Sgt. Frank Wuterich.

Pentagon officials are worried the allegations will severely damage America's effort to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people. The only way to minimize that damage, officials say, is to conduct a thorough investigation, hold a fair trial and to severely punish anybody found guilty.

Coverup of Iraq Incident By Marines Is Alleged

 

A powerful member of Congress alleged yesterday that there has been a conscious effort by Marine commanders to cover up the facts of a November incident in which rampaging Marines allegedly killed 24 Iraqi civilians.

"There has to have been a coverup of this thing," Rep. John P. Murtha (Pa.), ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, charged in an interview on ABC's "This Week." "No question about it."

John W. Warner (R-Va.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, also raised the issue of whether the military chain of command reacted properly and legally.

"There is this serious question . . . of what happened and when it happened, and what was the immediate reaction of the senior officers in the Marine Corps when they began to gain knowledge of it," he said on the same program. He added, "That is seriously a question that is going to be examined."

Warner said he intends to hold hearings on the Haditha incident as soon as he can without interfering with the prosecution of criminal charges, which are expected to be brought this summer.

Iraqi witnesses in Haditha, an Upper Euphrates Valley farm town, say the Americans shot men, women and children on Nov. 19 at close range in retaliation for the death of a Marine lance corporal in a roadside bombing.

Two U.S. military inquiries began earlier this year after Time magazine presented military officials in Baghdad with the findings of its own investigation, based on survivors' accounts and on a videotape shot by an Iraqi journalism student at Haditha's hospital and inside victims' houses. People familiar with the case say they expect that charges of murder, dereliction of duty and making a false statement will be brought against several Marines.

Murtha, who like Warner is a former Marine, said that there was a preliminary investigation by the military but that "it was stifled." Until Time's report appeared in March, four months after the incident, he said, "There was no serious investigation."

Murtha said he understands the stress being put on Marines fighting in western Iraq's turbulent Anbar province: "The pressure builds every time they go out," with roadside bombs exploding "every day they go out."

But, he said, "I will not excuse murder, and this is what has happened," adding that there is "no question in my mind about it." He reiterated a previous statement that shootings of women and children occurred "in cold blood" and that there was no firefight in which civilians were killed in a crossfire, as some Marines asserted after the event.

"This is worse than Abu Ghraib," he said, referring to the abuse of Iraqi detainees by U.S. soldiers at a prison west of Baghdad that, when revealed in spring 2004, became a major setback for the U.S. effort in Iraq.

Murtha was most emphatic in discussing his belief that senior Marine officers acted to prevent the facts of the case from emerging. "The problem is, who covered up? And why did they cover it up?" he asked. He said an investigation should have been conducted immediately after the incident, with the facts disclosed to the public at that time.

Instead, he said, the Marine Corps issued a statement that falsely asserted that the Iraqis had been killed in the initial bomb blast. The Marines knew that was not true, he said, because they issued payments to the families of the dead, which are made only to compensate for accidental deaths inflicted by U.S. troops.

"We know the Iraqis knew about it, because they [the Marines] made payments to the Iraqis for accidental deaths," he said.

The Denver Post reported yesterday that $38,000 was paid to relatives in Haditha. Mike Coffman, the Colorado state treasurer who served in Iraq recently as a Marine reservist, told the newspaper that the amount was relatively large, and so indicated that the Marines knew that something had gone wrong in the operation in the town that day.

"We don't know how far it goes," Murtha said of the alleged coverup. "The Marines knew about it all this time. Somebody in the chain of command decided not to allow this to happen. How far up it went, I don't know."

Asked about Murtha's charges, Lt. Col. Scott Fazekas, a Marine Corps spokesman, said: "The investigation isn't complete, so it isn't appropriate for me to comment."

Murtha also talked about a more recent allegation against a separate group of Marines in western Iraq accused of killing an Iraqi man and then trying to make it look as if the victim had been planting a makeshift bomb. "A Marine, or some Marines, pulled somebody out of a house, put them next to an IED [improvised explosive device] thing, fired some AKs so they'd have cartridges there, and then tried to cover that up," Murtha said.

The case concerns a man killed April 26 near Fallujah. The U.S. military disclosed the case in a statement Wednesday, sent after midnight Baghdad time, saying local Iraqi leaders had brought the killing to the attention of the U.S. military and it is under criminal investigation by the military. Several Marines assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, have been recalled to their base at Camp Pendleton, Calif., in that investigation.

Murtha: Marine Murder in Iraq?

Congressman Says Haditha 'Worse Than Abu Ghraib,' War Crimes 'In Cold Blood'

- Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., told "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" in an exclusive appearance that reports a group of U.S. Marines may have killed 24 Iraqi civilians following an IED explosion in Haditha, Iraq, was "worse than Abu Ghraib," calling their actions war crimes committed "in cold blood."

Murtha, a Marine veteran who six months ago called for the complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, added, "There's has to have been a cover-up. … There's no question about it."

Time magazine reported this week that the Marines in question attacked men, women and children in the Iraqi town of Haditha after an improvised explosive device, or IED, killed Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas, 20, of El Paso, Texas. According to the report, only one of the Iraqi civilians was armed, and the U.S. military has opened a criminal investigation into the incident.

But for Murtha, the ranking Democrat on the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee in the House, the damage to U.S. interests in Iraq may already be done.

"This is the kind of war [in which] you have to win the hearts and mind of the people," Murtha said.

"I will not excuse murder and that what's happened," Murtha told ABC News chief Washington correspondent George Stephanopoulos. "This investigation should have been over two or three weeks after the incident."

Sen. John Warner, R-Va., voiced a less aggressive tone on "This Week."

"I respect my friend John Murtha [but] we've got to let the uniformed code of military justice proceed before we reach any conclusions on this matter," Warner said. "This is very serious, but the military are looking at it equally seriously. … There is this question of what happened, when did it happen and what was the reaction of the Marine Corps when it happened?"

Warner, chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the former Secretary of the Navy, said the Senate will proceed with its own investigation and hearings into the Haditha killings if and when they can do so without interfering with the military's formal inquiry.

"I will do exactly what we did with Abu Ghraib," Warner said.

But Murtha said, "There's no question about what happened. … The problem is: Who covered it up, why did they cover it up and why did it take so long?"

"We cannot allow something like this to fester," said Murtha, a decorated veteran of the Marines. "[The military has] got to put the blame where it goes."

Murtha contends photographic evidence of the incident proves beyond a doubt that the Marines at Haditha committed war crimes, making it critical the military take prompt action.

"These kind of things have to be brought out immediately," he told "This Week," "because if the Marines got away with it, other Marines might think it's okay."

The congressman doesn't know how far the blame will go.

"That's what we're trying to find out," he said. "It goes right up the chain of command right up to General Pace. … Did he know about it? Did he cover it up? I'm sure he didn't, but we need to find out."

Warner pleaded for a "sense of calmness" as the military conducts their investigation, but Murtha contended, "I understand what happened, but I don't excuse what happened."

Describing the scene in Haditha, Murtha said, "I hear that one of them was even in English asking for mercy."

Warner refused to detail his briefings on the situation.

"I think we should be calm and re-assuring to the American people that the men and women of our armed forces are [acting] admirably and respectfully."

"We've already lost the direction in this war," Murtha said. "It's an isolated incident, but that's why it's so important to get it out."

George Stephanopoulos's entire interviews with Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., and Senator John Warner, R-Va., can be viewed at 'This Week's' Web page at www.abcnews.com.