WASHINGTON – 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.
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 investigation began in March 2006 after an initial inquiry concluded that the Marines did not intentionally kill civilians. Bargewell’s team interviewed Marines in al-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 Friday.
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.