May 24, 2008 in Nation/World

No charges in Afghan deaths

Estes Thompson Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

Maj. Fred C. Galvin is seen outside Camp Lejeune in January 2008. Associated Press
(Full-size photo)

RALEIGH, N.C. – A Marine Corps general has decided not to bring criminal charges against two officers whose unit was accused of killing as many as 19 Afghan civilians in 2007.

The Marines said Friday that Lt. Gen. Samuel Helland, the commander of U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Central Command, made the decision 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 investigated allegations that as many as 19 Afghan civilians died when a 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.”

It was the first time in more than 50 years the Marines empaneled a Court of Inquiry. The panel, composed of two Marine Corps colonels and a lieutenant colonel, only considered the actions of the company’s commander, 38-year-old Maj. Fred C. Galvin of the Kansas City area, and a platoon leader, Capt. Vincent J. Noble, 29, of Philadelphia.

“Obviously, I am delighted about the findings,” said civilian attorney Knox Nunnally, who represented Noble before the Court of Inquiry. “From a legal standpoint, it was overwhelming that this was going to be the result.”

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’ special operations command for action.

The Corps also said Galvin, Noble and a third officer – Capt. Robert Olsen – will face administrative actions. It was not immediately clear what those actions might be.

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

Galvin and several other Marines were sent back to Camp Lejeune after the shooting. The rest of the unit was ordered to leave Afghanistan and returned to ships in the Persian Gulf.

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