The initial report filed by the sergeant who commanded the squad of Marines charged with the shooting, claimed 15 civilians were killed when a roadside bomb struck his convoy.
Yet a Marine intelligence team took pictures of the bodies that show all the civilians were killed by gunshots, not by shrapnel from the bomb.
Marines also transported the bodies to a local morgue, where death certificates listed the cause of death as gunshot wounds. Another Marine officer distributed $38,000 in compensation payments to the victim's families – clear evidence, Martin reports, that the original report could not be correct.
Despite what the investigation calls these "red flags," no investigation or even an inquiry was made and there was no effort to correct the original press release which repeated the false report that civilians had been killed by a roadside bomb.
Three officers already have been relieved of command and now that the investigation has been completed and reviewed by Lt. Gen. Pete Chiarelli, the No. 2 U.S. commander in Iraq and disciplinary action against more and in some cases higher ranking officers is expected, Martin reports.
Chiarelli's report was based on an investigation conducted by Maj. Gen. Eldon Bargewell into whether the Marines followed proper procedures in reporting the incident to commanders, or whether anyone engaged in a cover-up.
The investigation was separate from an inquiry still under way into whether a small number of Marines from the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment murdered the 24 civilians, including unarmed women and children, on Nov. 19 after a roadside bomb in the town killed one of their comrades.
In other developments:
A U.S. military official said Chiarelli agreed with Bargewell's findings for the most part, but there were some areas in which he recommended a different course of action. The official did not elaborate.
He said the investigation found that errors were made in the reporting and follow up of initial allegations after the killings and suggested some were of a criminal nature.
"It essentially bolsters the ongoing criminal investigation and lays bare some of the administrative faults that existed during November 2005," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the findings have not been publicly released.
"What some of these people did wrong is certainly not illegal or criminal, but administratively their actions are something that Gen. Chiarelli wants to look at," the official said.
The official said the military hoped to release most of the findings in the next two weeks, but anything that could be used in the criminal investigation would not be made public.
"Some of the portions will be redacted because they could be used in a criminal investigation, either a current one or one in the future," he said.
The case is one of several allegations of U.S. abuse of Iraqi civilians that threaten to further weaken popular support for the Iraq war in the United States and tarnish the military's image.
Iraq has ordered its own probe of the killings, with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki using unusually strong language to condemn them.