BAGHDAD (Reuters) – A U.S. military report found that senior Marine officers failed to investigate conflicting and false reports of the killings of up to 24 Iraqi civilians in Haditha last year, U.S. media reported on Friday.
Despite evidence that initial reports the civilians died in a roadside bomb attack were false, the investigation found that no Marine officer in the chain of command questioned the original account despite several “red flags,” CBS News said.
The New York Times quoted two Defense Department officials as saying that Lieutenant General Peter Chiarelli, head of ground forces in Iraq, had faulted senior staff of the Second Marine Division and recommended unspecified disciplinary action for some officers.
“He concludes that some officers were derelict in their duties,” the Times quoted one of the officials as saying.
Iraqi officials accuse Marines of shooting dead up to 24 people in Haditha, including women and children in their homes, after a Marine was killed in a roadside bomb attack. It would be the worst known case of U.S. military abuse in Iraq since the 2003 invasion.
The military said earlier on Friday that Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, had been sent the report on whether there was a cover-up of Marines’ involvement in the killings. The findings have not been released officially.
“Chiarelli completed his findings and recommendations today and forwarded copies of the report to the commander (of) Multi-National Forces-Iraq,” the military said in a statement.
The report is separate from a Naval Criminal Investigative Service probe that U.S. politicians privy to some evidence have said seems likely to lead to charges of premeditated murder.
CBS said the report found there was no effort to correct an inaccurate U.S. military press release, which repeated the initial false report that civilians were killed by a roadside bomb. In fact, they were all killed by gunshot wounds.
The distribution by one Marine officer of $38,000 in compensation payments to the victims’ families was another clear signal that the original report was wrong, CBS cited the investigation as saying.
A U.S. military official in Baghdad said the report found room for improvement in areas “from reporting, to training to the command environment” but stressed the report was “purely administrative” and not a basis for criminal proceedings.
Chiarelli received the findings of the investigative team headed by Major General Eldon Bargewell three weeks ago.
The military official said it was Chiarelli’s goal to make public the report’s findings as soon as possible, with the goal of “full and total disclosure.”
The probe was one of a series into alleged misconduct by U.S. troops in Iraq. The Haditha case in particular has drawn comparisons with the 1968 My Lai massacre in Vietnam.
The Marine Corps has instructed commanders to retain documents related to the killing of Iraqi civilians both in Haditha and Hamdania, both in western Anbar province, because Congress will likely hold hearings and request the information, according to a memo obtained by Reuters.
Seven Marines and a Navy medic have been charged with premeditated murder and other crimes in the April killing of an Iraqi civilian in Hamdania, a village west of Baghdad.
The July 6 memo instructs all commanders to retain and preserve documents and e-mail messages related to those incidents, “their planning, execution and subsequent reporting and any documents referring to any aspect of them.”
“The alleged events at Haditha and Hamdania have generated intense interest both in the media and Congress,” the memo stated. “We can reasonably anticipate that Congress will hold hearings regarding those events and will request the production of records that pertain to them.”