Thursday, May 25, 2006
U.S. Marines Massacre 24 Iraqi Civilians Including Women and Children. Hey Neocons, how's that Project For a New American Century coming along?
By Gayle S. Putrich
MARINE CORPS TIMES STAFF WRITER
A key member of Congress said he “wouldn’t be surprised” if a dozen Marines faced courts-martial for allegedly killing Iraqi civilians Nov. 19. Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., told Marine Corps Times that the number of dead Iraqis, first reported to be 15, was actually 24. He based that number on a briefing from Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Mike Hagee on Wednesday.
Hagee visited Capitol Hill in anticipation of the release of two investigation reports, which are expected to show that among the 24 dead civilians, five of the alleged victims, all unarmed, were shot in a car with no warning, Murtha said. The killings took place in Hadithah, 125 miles northwest of Baghdad.
At least seven of the victims were women and three were children.
“If the allegations are substantiated, the Marine Corps will pursue appropriate legal and administrative actions against those responsible,” said Col. David Lapan, a spokesman at Marine Corps headquarters.
“The investigations are ongoing, therefore any comment at this time would be inappropriate and could undermine the investigatory and possible legal process,” he said. “As soon as the facts are known and decisions on future actions are made, we will make that information available to the public to the fullest extent allowable.” Murtha, an outspoken war critic and retired Marine colonel, has maintained for several weeks that the reality of the Hadithah incident was far more violent than the original reports suggested.
“They originally said a lot of things. I don’t even know how they tried to cover that up,” he said.
Two investigations into the incident are ongoing, according to the Pentagon — one by Multi-National Forces Iraq, expected before the end of the week, and a second by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, that is due in June.
The Marine Corps originally said a convoy from the Camp Pendleton, Calif.-based Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines, hit a roadside bomb Nov. 19 that killed Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas, 20, of El Paso, Texas.
Marine officials initially said 15 Iraqi civilians also were killed in the blast, but later reported that the civilians were killed in a firefight that took place after the explosion.
But a 10-week investigation by Time magazine resulted in a March 27 report that included claims by an Iraqi civil rights group that the Marines barged into houses near the bomb strike in retaliation, throwing grenades and shooting civilians who were cowering in fear.
Three officers from the 3/1, including battalion commander Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani, were relieved April 7 for “lack of confidence in their leadership abilities stemming from their performance during a recent deployment to Iraq.”
The two other Marines who were relieved, Capts. Luke McConnell and James Kimber, were company commanders in the battalion.
Officials would not explicitly connect the firings to the Hadithah investigation.
While no charges have been filed yet, defense attorneys who handle military cases are bracing for what could fast become a busy summer season in the courtroom.
“It looks like it’s coming,” said one San Diego area-based civilian defense attorney who has handled other cases of assault and manslaughter and has gotten a sort of “warning order” about potential new cases.
“I think there’s a lot of pressure to do something,” the civilian attorney said.
“It’s going to be extraordinarily difficult for them to find enough defense counsel,” one Marine Corps attorney said.
Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, who was also briefed on the reports, said his committee will hold hearings on the incident after lawmakers return from their Memorial Day recess.
Hunter was matter-of-fact about the reports’ contents.
“It is not good,” he said. “Let the chips fall where they may.”
Hagee was due to brief leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee late Wednesday.
Staff writers Rick Maze and Gidget Fuentes contributed to this report.