By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 21, 2007
The Marine Corps chain of command in Iraq ignored "obvious" signs of "serious misconduct" in the 2005 slayings of two dozen civilians in Haditha, and commanders fostered a climate that devalued the life of innocent Iraqis to the point that their deaths were considered an insignificant part of the war, according to an Army general's investigation.
Maj. Gen. Eldon A. Bargewell's 104-page report on Haditha is scathing in its criticism of the Marines' actions, from the enlisted men who were involved in the shootings on Nov. 19, 2005, to the two-star general who commanded the 2nd Marine Division in Iraq at the time. Bargewell's previously undisclosed report, obtained by The Washington Post, found that officers may have willfully ignored reports of the civilian deaths to protect themselves and their units from blame. Though Bargewell found no specific coverup, he concluded that there also was no interest at any level in investigating allegations of a massacre.
"All levels of command tended to view civilian casualties, even in significant numbers, as routine and as the natural and intended result of insurgent tactics," Bargewell wrote. He condemned that approach because it could desensitize Marines to the welfare of noncombatants. "Statements made by the chain of command during interviews for this investigation, taken as a whole, suggest that Iraqi civilian lives are not as important as U.S. lives, their deaths are just the cost of doing business, and that the Marines need to get 'the job done' no matter what it takes."
Bargewell's sharp criticism of the Marine command appears to have been a contributing factor in subsequent efforts by top leaders to ensure that U.S. troops exercise appropriate restraint around civilians. Lt. Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, who was the top field commander in Iraq last year, and Gen. David H. Petraeus, now the top U.S. commander there, have emphasized the importance of protecting the civilian population in counterinsurgency operations and have ordered aggressive investigations of alleged wrongdoing.
Though Bargewell completed his secret report in June 2006, it has not been publicly released because of ongoing criminal investigations of three Marines on murder allegations and four Marine officers who allegedly failed to look into the case. Bargewell's report, now unclassified, focuses on the reporting of the incident and the training and command climate within the Marine Corps leadership; it does not address the actual incident in detail.
The investigation began in March 2006 after an initial inquiry concluded that the Marines did not intentionally kill civilians. Bargewell's team interviewed Marines in Asad in western Iraq and in the United States in April 2006. His final report was submitted to Chiarelli on June 15, 2006.
A Marine Corps spokesman declined to comment yesterday. Marine officials have generally not discussed the incident because it is under investigation.
In the Haditha incident, which has become one of the most notorious alleged atrocities of the Iraq war, Marines killed two dozen civilians after a huge roadside bomb ripped through a Humvee in their convoy, killing one Marine instantly and injuring two others. A Naval Criminal Investigative Service report found that the Marines then killed five unarmed civilians whom they ordered out of a car -- one Marine alleged that another got down on one knee and shot them one by one -- before storming several houses and killing women and children, some of them still in their pajamas and lying in bed.
The Marines have told investigators that they believed they were taking small-arms fire from the houses and that they were following their rules of engagement when they threw grenades and then shot everyone inside.
Bargewell found that, though the Marines were trained correctly, some "did not follow proper house and room techniques" by not positively identifying their targets. Lt. William T. Kallop, the only officer on the scene at the time, ordered the attack on the houses and told investigators that he did not believe the Marines did anything wrong. Kallop received immunity this month and will probably testify at the hearings for the other Marines.
The report notes errors and oversights at all levels of the Marine command in Iraq. Bargewell says that Marines at the squad level came up with a false story; that Kilo Company officers and the commander of the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, passed along insufficient information to the regimental commander; and that regimental officers and officers at the 2nd Marine Division ignored signs of a problem and believed the incident to be insignificant. He also accuses the entire chain of failing to recognize the importance of civilian deaths.
Of particular concern to Bargewell was that nearly all Marines looked the other way when confronted with early reports that many civilians had been shot in fighting on the streets of Haditha after a roadside bomb killed a member of their unit. His investigation found that Marines and officers present that day immediately reported numerous civilian deaths to superiors but that the reports were "untimely, inaccurate and incomplete" -- failures he attributed to "inattention and negligence, in certain cases willful negligence."
Then, no one asked any further questions, Bargewell wrote, despite gruesome photographs circulating among junior Marines that showed that women and children had been killed in their beds. He cited several opportunities to investigate that were not taken, such as when more than $40,000 in condolence payments went to Iraqis after the killings.
"I found that the duty to inquire further was so obvious in this case that a reasonable person with knowledge of these events would have certainly made further inquiries," Bargewell wrote. "The most remarkable aspect of the follow-on action with regard to the civilian casualties from the 19 November 2005 Haditha incident was the absence of virtually any kind of inquiry at any level of command into the circumstances surrounding the deaths."
No one recommended an investigation until a Time magazine reporter began asking questions about the attack in January 2006. Maj. Gen. Richard A. Huck, the division commander, dismissed the allegations as insurgent propaganda, according to the report. The battalion commander, Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani, also refused to investigate, saying, "My marines are not murderers," according to two of his top subordinates. Bargewell called this "an unwillingness, bordering on denial," to examine an incident that could be harmful to his unit.
Chessani's attorneys have denied that he did anything wrong and have said that he informed his commanders about the incident.
The regimental commander, Col. Stephen Davis, was also not interested in investigating, according to the report. "The RCT-2 Commander, however, expressed only mild concern over the potential negative ramifications of indiscriminate killing based on his stated view that the Iraqis and insurgents respect strength and power over righteousness," the report says.
None of Chessani's superiors has been charged with a crime, but in addition to the battalion commander, two captains and a lieutenant have been charged with failing to investigate or with impeding the investigation.
Bargewell found that Huck's division staff viewed the allegations of inappropriate killings as part of insurgent "information operations" and an attempt to make the Marines look bad. He also noted a proclivity among senior officers to look past such allegations even if there was a chance they could be accurate. Bargewell called that approach "myopic and overly simplistic" and said it produced a tendency to judge credibility based on the source of the information rather than on the facts.