Haditha Probe Finds Leadership Negligent

By Thomas E. Ricks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 9, 2006

The U.S. military officer overseeing the investigation into 24 civilian killings in Haditha, Iraq, has concluded that Marine leadership failed multiple times, including in pre-deployment training, in the tone set by commanders, and in how information was reported up the chain of command, defense officials said.

Army Lt. Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, the No. 2 officer in Iraq, found that commanders and staff at the regimental and division levels were negligent in how they conveyed orders about how to deal with Iraqi civilians and also in how they responded to conflicting reports they received from units about the Haditha incident, the officials said.

Most of Chiarelli's "Findings and Recommendations" endorse the conclusions of an investigation led by Army Maj. Gen. Eldon A. Bargewell, the officials said. Bargewell concluded that Marine commanders should have asked more questions about how and why 15 Iraqi civilians -- the number first reported -- were killed, especially after a discrepancy emerged between the first report, that they had been killed by a roadside bomb, and a later report, that they all had died of gunshot wounds. Chiarelli told colleagues that he was stunned to learn that no investigation of the incident had been conducted even after it was evident that the facts of the matter were in dispute, an official said.

Bargewell's report also criticized the Marine Corps for letting stand a statement, released in November by one of its public affairs officers, that the Iraqis had been killed by a roadside bomb, instead of correcting the record when it was clear the statement was incorrect.

Chiarelli has long been concerned that the U.S. military was inadequately prepared to conduct an effective counterinsurgency campaign in Iraq. He also included thoughts about how better to prepare troops and commanders, the official added.

"You've got to prepare for the fight you're in today," said a second defense official, summarizing Chiarelli's findings on the military's inadequate training for counterinsurgency operations. "It's totally different" from fighting in Iraq two or three years ago, he said.

The Army, for example, tends in its training to emphasize using heavy firepower against the enemy, although classic counterinsurgency doctrine teaches that soldiers should use the minimal amount of force necessary to accomplish the mission.

Also, the Army early in Iraq tended to focus on killing or capturing insurgents, although counterinsurgency doctrine teaches that the best way to deal with an insurgent is to persuade him to change sides or to desert. Also, in contrast to a spate of cases of abuse of detainees, counterinsurgency theorists recommend treating captured fighters well, to encourage them to desert and to persuade others to give themselves up. Above all, people are seen as the prize in the war, not as its playing field.

When stacked up, Bargewell's exhaustive investigation stands more than four feet high. His report will not be released, but, later this week, Chiarelli is expected to release a redacted version of his 30-page report. On Friday, Chiarelli gave his report to Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the top U.S. commander in Iraq, but Casey is not expected to ask for major changes, the officials said.

The two generals' inquiry into the role of the Marine Corps chain of command in the incident is different from a criminal investigation being conducted by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS). That investigation involves more than 45 agents and is expected to conclude this summer, Pentagon officials have said.

No charges have been filed, but people familiar with the case say they expect charges of homicide, making a false statement and dereliction of duty, among others. Defense attorneys are expected to respond that the Marines involved were operating within the rules of engagement they had been given.

Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich, a squad leader who was at Haditha, told his attorney last month that several civilians were killed last November when his squad went after insurgents who were firing at them from inside a house after a Marine convoy was hit by a roadside bomb. Wuterich said there was no vengeful massacre, even though women and children were killed. He instead described a house-to-house hunt that went awry on a chaotic battlefield.

"It will forever be his position that everything they did that day was following their rules of engagement and to protect the lives of Marines," Neal A. Puckett, who represents Wuterich, said then.

NCIS is investigating members of Kilo Company of the 3rd Battalion of the 1st Marine Regiment, based at Camp Pendleton, Calif. While in Iraq, the battalion was attached to the 2nd Marine Division based at Camp Lejeune, N.C. Chiarelli blames Gen. Richard A. Huck, who then commanded that division, for leadership failure, the official said. Huck recently retired from the Marines and could not be reached for comment yesterday.

The Bargewell investigation began in January after a Time magazine reporter began asking questions about the Haditha incident. Time's report appeared in March. A few weeks later, Lt. Col. Jeffrey R. Chessani was relieved of command of the 3rd Battalion of the 1st Marines, Kilo Company's parent unit. Two subordinates also were removed. The Marines did not specify why the actions were taken, beyond saying that the officers had lost their superiors' confidence.

But Haditha did not become a major issue until May, when Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), who had turned sharply against the Iraq war, said at a news conference that Marines had "killed innocent civilians in cold blood." Murtha is a former Marine and had been briefed by a senior Marine officer on the probe.

Spokesmen for the Marine Corps and for the Central Command, which oversees U.S. military operations in Iraq and the rest of the Middle East, declined to comment. Some of the details of Chiarelli's findings were reported Friday night by CBS News and the New York Times.


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