On the eve of the full Pentagon report on what occurred in Haditha, Iraq, on November 19 when U.S. troops are believed to have fired on and killed 24 civilians, The Washington Post reported Thursday that the investigation has concluded that some officers lied to their superiors about the incident.
The Post reports that after the officers involved gave false information to their superiors, those commanders then failed to adequately scrutinize the reports for inconsistencies that should have caught their eye, according to an Army official.
The three-month probe into the incident is expected to call for changes in how U.S. troops are trained for duty in Iraq. And even before the results of the investigation are released, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Army General George Casey, has ordered that U.S. and allied troops undergo "core values" training to instruct them how to operate professionally and humanely in the battlefield. The training will discuss how to treat civilians under the rules of engagement and small units will be put through training scenarios to measure their understanding of those rules.
In addition to the report due by the end of this week, a criminal investigation by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service being conducted by 45 agents is due later this summer and could include charges of homicide, making a false statement and dereliction of duty (see "Military Inquiry Contradicts Marines Account Of Haditha Deaths").
President Bush — who learned of the incident in March after an aide read him the first public account of it from Time magazine — made his first public statement regarding Haditha on Wednesday. "I am troubled by the initial news stories," Bush said. "I am mindful there is a thorough investigation going on. If in fact laws were broken, there will be punishment."
The Post reported that the investigation into the killings is likely to cause a stir in Congress because, in light of the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal two years ago, it raises the question of how U.S. military leaders in Iraq react to allegations of wrongdoing by their troops and whether the military is equipped to handle the difficult task of quelling the insurgency in Iraq.
One of the report's conclusions is that the training of troops for the Iraq war has been flawed, an official told the Post, with too much emphasis on traditional war-fighting skills and not enough focus on how to wage a counterinsurgency campaign.
The report finds two main failures in reporting the incident. First, Staff Sergeant Frank 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 Marine Lance Corporal Miguel Terrazas and touched off the incident (see "Bush, Blair Admit Mistakes In Iraq; Report Says Marines May Have Murdered Civilians"). The other nine dead in the incident were initially reported by the Marines to have been insurgent fighters, but are now believed to have also been civilians.
Later in the day, the official told the Post that the Marine team which helps collect the dead should have noticed that the Iraqis were killed by gunshot, not by a bomb. Had that unit accurately reported what it witnessed, it would have set off alarms and prodded commanders to investigate, the official said. The report is also likely to address why the Marine Corps stood behind statements issued by official spokesmen that were known to be false at least two months ago.
The day after the shootings, Marine Captain Jeffrey Pool told reporters that the Iraqis died in a crossfire, stating, "Iraqi army soldiers and Marines returned fire, killing eight insurgents." Time reported that when one of its reporters 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 Pool wrote in an e-mail. "This falls into the same category of any aqi [al-Qaeda in Iraq] propaganda." Another military representative told Time that insurgents caused the civilian deaths by placing the Iraqis in the line of Marine fire.
According to a story in the current issue of Time, investigators have obtained two sets of photos from the incident. The first, after-action shots taken by the military as part of a routine procedure following any such event, does not show any bodies. A second set, taken by members of the Marine company involved directly after the massacre are said to be more damning, though Time did not reveal what they depicted. The magazine reports that following the explosion that killed Terrazas, Marines descended on a taxi that they had attempted to earlier stop, ordering the driver and the four unarmed students in the vehicle to lie on the ground. When they ran, the Marines shot and killed them. According to Time, the Marines then moved through four homes on nearby streets killing 19 men, women and children.
While the Marines claimed they took small-arms fire from at least one house, locals refuted that report and, according to Time, only one of the 19 victims was found with a weapon. An Iraqi journalism student who shot video at a local morgue on the day of the shootings told the magazine that "you could tell they were enraged ... they not only killed people, they smashed furniture, tore down wall hangings, and when they took prisoners, they treated them very roughly."