A military investigation into the killings of 24 Iraqi civilians in Haditha last November has found evidence that Marines involved in the incident appear to have destroyed or withheld evidence, according to a report in The New York Times.
The information, supplied by two Defense Department officials briefed on the case, includes evidence that an official company logbook of the unit involved had been tampered with and that an incriminating video taken by an aerial drone the day of the killings was not immediately given to investigators.
The findings are from a long report that was completed last month but has not yet been made public. They go beyond what has been previously reported about the case, which included earlier findings that the Marines who were involved in the killings made misleading statements to investigators and that senior officers were not aggressive enough in investigating the case. The report is the first time it has been suggested that evidence was concealed or possibly destroyed, though it does not directly accuse the Marines of attempting a cover-up.
The findings have been sent on to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, which is investigating members of the unit involved in the killings and higher-ranking officers in the Second Marine Division. No charges have been filed. A decision regarding disciplinary action will be made by the Marine Corps commander in Iraq based on a review of the report and the results of an ongoing criminal investigation.
The report found that pages were missing from the logbook — a daily record of major incidents encountered by the Marines — specifically, all the pages from November 19, the day of the killings. Investigators were also initially told by Marine officers that videotape taken by the drone was not available, an official told the Times. The tape was produced only after the chief investigator, Major General Eldon Bargewell, had completed his inquiry and the Marines were again asked to produce it by Lieutenant General Peter Chiarelli, the second-ranking commander in Iraq. Though the footage from the drone was limited, it appears to contradict the Marines' account that five of the Iraqis were shot as they were running away after setting a roadside bomb (see [article id="1533229"]"Military Inquiry Contradicts Marines Account Of Haditha Deaths"[/article]).
Officials who viewed the video said it showed the bodies of the five Iraqis on the ground close to the car they had been riding in. At one point it also appears to show one body stacked on top of another, which officials said was inconsistent with an account that the men had been shot while running away.
The report, which faulted officers in the Second Marine Division for not aggressively investigating the Haditha killings, also said the commanders created a climate that minimized the importance of Iraqi lives, particularly in the insurgent stronghold of Haditha, the Times reported.
"In their eyes, they didn't believe anyone was innocent," said one official, describing the attitude of the Marines in the unit toward Iraqis. "Either you were an active participant, or you were complicit."