US commanders knew Haditha deaths from gunfire: NYT
Sat Jun 3, 2006 1:27am ET
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Marine commanders in Iraq knew within two days of the killings in Haditha in November that gunfire, not a roadside bomb, had killed Iraqi civilians but they saw no reason to investigate further, The New York Times reported on Saturday.
A senior Marine officer told the Times that commanders informed investigators they had not viewed the early discrepancies in accounts about how the two dozen Iraqis died as unusual, and that they had no information at the time suggesting that any civilians had been killed deliberately.
But a senior Marine general familiar with the investigation told the newspaper "It's impossible to believe they didn't know," referring to mid-level and senior officers. "You'd have to know this thing stunk," the general, who was granted anonymity along with others who described the investigation, was quoted as saying.
The general also told the Times that it had not yet been determined just how high up the chain of command culpability for the killings went. He also said there were strong suspicions that some officers knew that the Marine squad's version of the incident had enough holes and discrepancies that it should have been questioned and investigated more fully.
Investigators have interviewed Marine commanders who were serving in Iraq at the time of the killings, including Maj. Gen. Stephen Johnson, commander of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force, and Maj. Gen. Richard Huck, commander of the 2nd Marine Division, the Times said, citing a senior Pentagon adviser.
The adviser also said that the Marine Corps commandant, Gen. Michael Hagee, is considering relieving some senior Marine commanders who served in Iraq at the time of the killings even before the investigation is complete.
Marine spokesman Lt. Col. Scott Fazekas said he had "no information" about that possibility, the Times said.