Officers Not a Target of Iraq Death Probe

The Associated Press
Wednesday, May 31, 2006; 1:03 AM

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. -- Three officers relieved of command from a Marine battalion are not targets of investigations into whether their troops killed as many as two dozen Iraqi civilians and tried to cover it up, the attorney for one of the officers said Tuesday.

Capt. James Kimber learned about the deaths only after the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment returned from Iraq in March, attorney Paul Hackett said.

Separate investigations seek to determine whether the Nov. 19 killings in the western Iraqi city of Haditha were criminal and whether the Marines involved and their commanding officers tried to hide the truth.

The Pentagon has said little publicly. What is known is that a military convoy hit a roadside bomb, killing one Marine. The Marine Corps had initially attributed 15 civilian deaths to the bombing and a firefight with insurgents, eight of whom the Marines reported had been killed.

Rep. John Murtha, a Pennsylvania Democrat and decorated war veteran who has been briefed by military officials, has said Marines shot and killed unarmed civilians in a taxi at the scene and went into two homes and shot others.

On Tuesday, White House spokesman Tony Snow said President Bush learned of the killings only after a reporter from Time magazine asked questions. Time published an article in March that said the Pentagon was investigating the incident.

Meanwhile, Lance Cpl. James Crossan of North Bend, Wash., who was injured in the roadside bomb attack in Haditha, told a Seattle television station that some of the Marines might have snapped after seeing one of their own killed in action.

"So, I think they were just blinded by hate ... and they just lost control," Crossan told KING-TV, which aired the interview Tuesday.

The targets of the investigations are about a dozen enlisted Marines, according to Hackett, a Marine reservist and Iraqi war veteran who represents Kimber.

Hackett, who last year narrowly lost a special election for a U.S. House seat in Ohio, said the highest ranking among those under investigation is a staff sergeant who led the four-vehicle convoy that was hit by the bomb.

Kimber, who was nominated for a Bronze Star for valor in Haditha, was relieved of command last month because his subordinates in the battalion's Lima Company used profanity and criticized the performance of Iraqi security services during an interview with Britain's Sky News TV, Hackett said.

"My purpose is to separate his name from the alleged war crimes that took place," Hackett told The Associated Press by telephone. "He's not under investigation for anything related to what has played out in the press."

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