- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 1, 2006

U.S. Marine Corps headquarters in Washington did not learn of the killing of Iraqi civilians by Marines in Haditha until early March, a timeline that appears to exonerate the highest ranks of the Marine Corps from any cover-up or failure to act.

The U.S. military command in Baghdad learned of the civilian killings in February and began two investigations: one criminal and one administrative.

The administrative probe by Army Brig. Gen. Eldon Bargewell is focusing on whether any information was covered up along the Marine Corps chain of command. This is because the 2nd Marine Division issued a press release Nov. 20 saying Iraqi civilians had been killed in Haditha the previous day by an improvised explosive device (IED) and in a firefight with insurgents.

Officials now acknowledge that the statement was inaccurate. Evidence shows the civilians were killed deliberately by Marines’ gunfire during sweeps after an IED killed one of their battlemates.

One key question is: Did senior Marine Corps officers hear of the accusations and fail to act between the time of the Nov. 19 incident and February, when a Time magazine reporter brought the charges to the attention of the Baghdad command?

A timeline that the Marines provided yesterday to The Washington Times would appear to exonerate Gen. Michael W. Hagee, the Marine Corps commandant, and his staff.

Col. David Lapan, a Marine Corps headquarters spokesman, said the commandant and his staff were apprised in early March by Marine commanders in Iraq. He said Gen. Hagee subsequently received briefings on the criminal probe and then dedicated a tour of Iraq to telling Marines the importance of ethical conduct and the rules of war.

Gen. Hagee yesterday returned from that tour, which began Friday. Col. Lapan said Gen. Bargewell has not interviewed Gen. Hagee.

Col. Lapan, who was in Iraq at the time of the incident as spokesman for the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force, said the press release was issued by the division in Ramadi, not by MEF headquarters at Camp Fallujah, where he worked. He said such press statements typically are based on combat reports filed by those who conducted and led the missions.

Col. Lapan said he did not hear of the Haditha accusations until after he left Iraq and returned to the United States.

Gen. Bargewell’s administrative report is expected to reveal who filed, or knew about, the false report that led to the press release.

The U.S. military in Baghdad yesterday offered its condolences to the families of civilians purportedly killed by Marines, the closest the command has come to admitting that the deaths were unwarranted.

Army Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, spokesman for the coalition force in Iraq, issued the “heartfelt condolences” as the new Iraqi government said it would conduct its own investigation. Some local politicians want the Marines charged and tried in Iraq.

Gen. Caldwell announced that Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the top tactical commander, has ordered troops to undergo renewed values training over the next 30 days to make sure that all forces understand the rules of war.

“It’s to reinforce and sustain training that all the troops of the coalition forces received before they go here,” Gen. Caldwell told reporters in Baghdad. “It’s values-based. And, obviously, his intent is to make sure that it adheres to legal, moral and ethical standards that every military member should be adhering to on the battlefield.”

Marine sources said yesterday that it is not clear when Gen. Bargewell will file his report. It is also not clear when the Naval Criminal Investigative Service will conclude its probe into whether the Marines should be charged with crimes, including murder.

The House and Senate Armed Services committees plan to hold hearings into Haditha once Gen. Bargewell completes his investigation. Plans call for decisions on charging the Marines, who belong to the 3rd Battalion, 1st Regiment, at Camp Pendleton, Calif., to fall to Lt. Gen. John F. Sattler. He is the top Marine in U.S. Central Command, which oversees operations in Iraq.

HADITHA TIMELINE

The White House yesterday gave details of the government response after the purported massacre at Haditha, Iraq:

Nov. 19: A roadside bomb goes off in Haditha, killing a U.S. Marine and injuring two members of his battalion. In the following hours, a number of Iraqis die. Subsequent press reports say the Iraqi death toll was 24. The military sends a team to investigate and document the scene.

Nov. 20: The Marines release a preliminary report that says 15 Iraqis had been killed by an improvised explosive device.

Feb. 10: Time magazine raises questions with military sources in Baghdad about the circumstances under which the Iraqis died. Army Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, commander of the Multi-National Corps in Iraq, speaks with the Time reporter.

Feb. 14: Gen. Chiarelli appoints an Army colonel to lead an investigation into the case.

March 3: A preliminary report is completed and recommends further investigation.

March 9: Gen. Chiarelli receives that report and directs further review. That review is ongoing.

March 10: Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are notified of the case.

March 11: President Bush is told of the case by National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley.

March 12: Marine Maj. Gen. Richard C. Zilmer, commanding general of the Multi-National Force-West, appoints a Marine colonel to investigate reporting of information at all levels of the chain of command. Gen. Zilmer also requests a Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) inquiry.

March 13: The NCIS team arrives in Haditha.

March 19: Time reports the first public account of the case. Gen. Chiarelli appoints Army Maj. Gen. Eldon A. Bargewell to investigate the training and preparation of Marines before the Haditha killings, along with the reporting of information about the case at all levels of the chain of command.


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