A U.S. military investigation has found that the Marine Corps chain of command in Iraq engaged in "willful negligence" in failing to investigate a November 2005 attack by Marines that killed 24 unarmed Iraqis, including several women and children, lawyers involved in the case said.
The report, completed last summer but never made public, also found that a Marine Corps general and colonel in Iraq learned of the killings within hours of the incident, on Nov. 19, 2005, in the town of Haditha, but did not investigate.
The 130-page report, by Army Maj. Gen. Eldon A. Bargewell, did not conclude that the officers covered up evidence or committed a crime. But it said the Marine Corps command in Iraq was far too willing to tolerate civilian casualties and dismiss Iraqi claims of abuse by Marines as insurgent propaganda, said lawyers who have read it.
"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 in his report, according to two people who have read it. "Statements made by the chain of command during interviews for this investigation, taken as a whole, suggest that Iraqi civilian lives are not as important as U.S. lives, their deaths are just the cost of doing business, and that the Marines need to get the job done no matter what it takes."
The report focused only on senior commanders' handling of the aftermath of the attack in Haditha, in which several Marines killed two dozen unarmed Iraqis in the hours after the Marines' convoy was hit by a roadside bomb, killing Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas. Bargewell's report, completed at the request of Lt. Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, the day-to-day commander of U.S. forces in Iraq at the time, did not focus on the killings themselves.
The Washington Post published details of the Bargewell report's findings yesterday. Marine Corps spokesmen did not immediately respond to phone messages requesting comment.
Bargewell's report was said to have found what it called "inattention and negligence, in certain cases willful negligence," among Marine officers who reported the civilian deaths immediately up their chain of command in ways that the report said were "untimely, inaccurate and incomplete."
But it is particularly critical of the Marine division commander, Maj. Gen. Richard A. Huck, and the regimental commander, Col. Stephen W. Davis, for failing to investigate the civilian deaths, according to lawyers who have read the report.
The Bargewell report, which was recently declassified, also established that junior officers, including a captain who issued a news release on the episode that blamed a roadside bomb planted by insurgents for most of the deaths, knew from the beginning that Marines had killed the civilians, the lawyers said.
The captain, Jeffrey S. Pool, told Bargewell's investigators that he was given reports from battalion commanders that accurately described the Marines' killing of civilians, said lawyers who read the report. But Pool said he issued a news release blaming the insurgents for the deaths because he believed that they were ultimately the result of the roadside bombing of the Marine convoy that led the Marines to strike back, the lawyers said.