The New York Times has a scoop on a military investigation that indicates that Camp Pendleton-based Marines may have destroyed and withheld evidence related to the November killing of 24 Iraqis, including 10 women and children and an elderly man in a wheelchair, in Haditha, Iraq.
While no one has been charged in the incident, two anonymous military officials told The Times that the investigation, conducted by Army Maj. Gen. Eldon A. Bargewell, found that pages detailing the events of Nov. 19, the day in question, were missing from an official logbook. Moreover, Marine officers did not turn over to investigators a video of the area taken the same day by an aerial drone until Lt. Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, the second-ranking commander in Iraq, intervened.
The incident, which involved members of Kilo Company, 3rd battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, occurred after one Marine was killed and several were wounded by a roadside bomb. A press release issued by the Marine Corps shortly after the attack indicated that several civilians were killed by the bomb while other civilians were killed in a resulting fire fight with insurgents. Military officials launched two separate investigations after a Time Magazine investigation (subscription required) revealed that a number of the civilians may have been killed in their homes by Marines.
The Times’ story ads a new twist to the case:
It has been known that marines who carried out the killings made misleading statements to investigators and that senior officers were criticized for not being more aggressive in investigating the case, in which most or all of the Iraqis who were killed were civilians. But this is the first time details about possible concealment or destruction of evidence have been disclosed.
Here’s what The Times learned about Bargwell’s report.
It says that the logbook, which was meant to be a daily record of major incidents the marines’ company encountered, had all the pages missing for Nov. 19, the day of the killings, and that those portions had not been found, the officials said.
No conclusions are drawn about who may have tampered with the log. But the report says that Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich, the leader of the squad involved in the killings, was on duty at the unit’s operations center, where the logbook was kept, shortly after the killings occurred, the officials said.
Neal A. Puckett, a lawyer for Wuterich, was unavailable to comment.
Investigators were also initially told by Marine officers that videotape taken by the drone was not available, one of the officials said. The officials added that the marines produced the tape only after General Bargewell had completed his inquiry and they had been asked again to produce it by General Chiarelli.
The Naval Criminal Investigate Service has conducted a separate investigation of the incident, the findings of which will be turned over to Lt. Gen. James N. Mattis, as will those of Bargewell’s report. Mattis recently took command of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. He will decide whether to bring charges against Marines under his command.