No Charges for Two Marines in Deaths of Afghans

Associated Press
Saturday, May 24, 2008

RALEIGH, N.C., May 23 -- Two Marine officers in a unit accused of killing as many as 19 Afghan civilians in 2007 will not face criminal charges, but will be subjected to administrative actions, the military said Friday.

Lt. Gen. Samuel Helland, the commander of U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Central Command, decided not to bring charges after reviewing the findings of a special tribunal that heard more than three weeks of testimony in January at Camp Lejeune.

The tribunal examined allegations that as many as 19 Afghan civilians died when the unit of Marines Special Operations troops opened fire, after a car bomb targeted their convoy in March 2007 in Nangahar province.

The Marines said Helland determined the Marines in the convoy "acted appropriately and in accordance with the rules of engagement and tactics, techniques and procedures in place at the time in response to a complex attack."

The Marines, however, said "administrative, manning and training issues" related to the incident were uncovered by the court's investigation. Those unspecified issues have been forwarded to the commander of the Marine Corps's special operations command for action.

The Corps said Maj. Fred C. Galvin, 38, the company's commander; Capt. Vincent J. Noble, 29, a platoon leader; and a third officer, Capt. Robert Olsen, will face administrative actions. It was not immediately clear what those actions might be.

It was the first Marine Corps Court of Inquiry in more than 50 years. The panel, composed of two colonels and a lieutenant colonel, considered only the actions of Galvin and Noble.

"Obviously, I am delighted about the findings," said civilian attorney Knox Nunnally, who represented Noble before the Court of Inquiry.

Citing witness accounts, Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission concluded that the Marines fired indiscriminately at vehicles and pedestrians in six locations on a 10-mile stretch of road. Nearly a dozen Marines told the court that they heard gunfire after the bombing and called the unit's fire a disciplined response to a well-planned ambush.

An Army investigation later concluded that 50 people were injured and 19 were killed. The brigade commander in charge of regular forces in the province publicly apologized for the shootings, saying he was ashamed of what had happened.

But a week later, the Marine Corps commandant, Gen. James T. Conway, said the Army officer should not have apologized because an investigation into what occurred was still ongoing.

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