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Investigators of Haditha Shootings Look to Exhume Bodies

Sources close to the case said the military is assembling a team of experienced prosecutors for the Haditha shootings case. Defense officials said the Pentagon and the Marine Corps are taking the investigation very seriously.

"I think it's going to be a very difficult case for them to prove," said Vaughan Taylor, a former military prosecutor and instructor in criminal law at the Army's Judge Advocate General's Legal Center and School. On balance, he said, he would rather be a defense counsel in the case than prosecute for the government.

"I think there's plenty of avenues for defense in this case -- the fact that it wasn't initially investigated, the fact that there's been plenty of time for witnesses to play with stories. There's a lot of wiggle room in there."

The gap between the incident and the beginning of the NCIS investigation is going to cause major problems in prosecuting any charges, a Marine officer familiar with the case agreed. "They have huge proof problems," he said, citing the lack of identified bodies.

"The long and the short of it is, until they prove the cause of death," they don't have anything, said one civilian defense lawyer representing a Kilo Company Marine. "Photographs won't be enough to do it. Good luck with that."

Marine spokesmen at the Pentagon and at Marine Corps Forces Central Command have declined to comment, citing the investigation.

A separate investigation has found several failures in the aftermath of the shootings, according to top officials familiar with the probe. These include Marines giving false statements and officers in the chain of command not providing proper oversight in the weeks and months that followed. That probe, by Army Maj. Gen. Eldon A. Bargewell, is expected to be finished this week.

Yesterday, the military announced that Marines and soldiers stationed in Iraq will undergo core values training to reinforce how troops should act on the battlefield. The move is a sign that commanders and leaders in Washington are concerned about the ramifications of the Haditha shootings in Iraq and at home.

Aine Donovan, director of the Ethics Institute at Dartmouth College and a former Naval Academy professor, said Marines have more ethics training than most troops and that there is no excuse for what happened.

"If you look at what happened in Haditha, you had soldiers stressed to the point of no return, and they snapped," Donovan said. "This will be remembered as the worst episode of this war. This will damage the entire profession. You're never going to restore peace by killing civilians."

President Bush said yesterday that the training "is just a reminder for troops either in Iraq or throughout our military that there are high standards expected of them, and that there are strong rules of engagement."

Bush added that "if there is wrongdoing, people will be held to account," and said the nation has "a willingness to deal with issues like this in an upfront way and an open way and correct problems."

Staff writer Steve Fainaru in San Diego contributed to this report.

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