Top Marine Addresses Murder Probe

Marine Corps Commandant, Gen. Michael Hagee gestures during a Pentagon news conference, Wednesday, June 7, 2006 where he talked about his recent trip to Iraq. AP

The top Marine said Wednesday he is "gravely concerned" by allegations of atrocities committed by his troops against Iraqi civilians but declined to say what investigators have found thus far.

In his first public remarks about the allegations concerning Iraqi civilian deaths in the town of Haditha last November and in Hamdaniya two months ago, Gen. Michael Hagee, the Marine Corps commandant, sought to assure the public that any Marine found to have violated standards of behavior will be held accountable.

Hagee has seen the still-secret photos of men and women shot at close range, and spoke at a 15-minute Pentagon news conference about the allegations that Marines are responsible for killing Iraqi civilians in cold blood, CBS News correspondent David Martin reports.

Asked at a 15-minute Pentagon news conference whether he had considered resigning over the matter, Hagee replied, "I serve at the pleasure of the president, and I have not submitted any resignation."

He said he could not comment on any aspect of the investigations, which are being conducted by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.

The Haditha case centers on allegations that a small number of Marines from the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment murdered 24 Iraqi civilians — included unarmed women and children — on Nov. 19 after a roadside bomb in the town killed one of their fellow Marines.

The allegation in the Hamdaniya case is that Marines pulled an unarmed Iraqi man from his home on April 26 and shot him to death without provocation. Seven Marines and one Navy corpsman in that unit were taken out of Iraq and put in the brig at Camp Pendleton, Calif., pending the filing of any charges against them.

But, as Martin reports, defense lawyers who have spoken with the Marines, say there were fire fights going on throughout Haditha on the day of the killings and that civilians were accidentally shot amid the fog of war.

Hagee acknowledged the existence of a set of photographs taken by a Marine intelligence team that examined the scene of the killings in Haditha, but he would not discuss any specifics. News reports have said the photos show that civilians in at least two houses, including several women and children, were shot in the head and torso at close range.

That evidence matches the accounts offered by villagers in interviews with The Associated Press and other news organizations. But it conflicts with the Marines' original public assertion that 15 civilians were killed by the explosion of the roadside bomb that also killed one Marine, and that eight insurgents were killed in a subsequent firefight.

The Marines now admit that their original version of events was false, but they have not presented a corrected version pending the outcome of the investigations.
  • James Klatell

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