NYT on Haditha: Investigation looks bad for Marines

The shootings inside the homes aren’t even the worst of it, their sources say. It’s the evidence from the killing of the first five men, who the Marines claimed were fleeing the scene in a “taxi,” that’s most damning.

The overview:

[I]nvestigators have found evidence that the men in the taxi were not fleeing the bombing scene, as the marines have told military officials. Investigators have also concluded that most of the victims in three houses died from well-aimed rifle shots, not shrapnel or random fire, according to military officials familiar with the initial findings…

[A]ccording to two people briefed on the investigation, one member of the Marine squad at Haditha, himself closely tied to some of the deaths, is now cooperating with investigators.

The taxi:

Two people briefed on the investigation said Thursday that evidence gathered on the shooting of the taxi passengers now appeared to be the most at odds with the account given by marines through their lawyers.

One Defense Department official said photographs indicated that the positions of those corpses — and the pooling of their blood — can be viewed as sharply inconsistent with the marines’ version that the Iraqi men were shot as they fled.

The houses (Colonel Watt conducted the preliminary investigation):

For several reasons, Colonel Watt does not believe the marines’ version is accurate, according to a military official who has been briefed on the investigation but who would not discuss it on the record because it was not yet complete…

Some marines told Colonel Watt they were let into the houses they entered; others said they conducted forced entries, the military official said… The wounds of the dead Iraqis, as seen in photographs and viewed by the morgue director, were not consistent with attacks by fragmentation grenades and indiscriminate rifle fire, Colonel Watt found.

The opinion of the Iraqi medical expert, for reasons elsewhere explained, might not be credible. The photographs, which I wrote about here, are more worrisome. Then there’s this:

In addition, if the marines had violently cleared the houses using automatic weapons and fragmentation grenades, there would be lots of damage and bullet marks in the walls. Early investigators said they found no such evidence, although the walls may have been patched before they arrived.

You think? From Time’s original story on Haditha: “The video was obtained by the Hammurabi Human Rights Group, and has been shared with TIME… The scenes from inside the houses show that the walls and ceilings are pockmarked with shrapnel and bullet holes as well as the telltale spray of blood.” The fact that the investigators are citing the paucity of blemishes on the walls when there’s infamous video evidence to the contrary makes me wonder.

Here’s the last of it. The firefight:

Members of this squad gave differing accounts of their actions. One said that they quickly came under fire. “All we knew was, there’s a big firefight,” one marine in this group told his lawyer, Paul L. Hackett, a major in the Marine Reserves and an unsuccessful Democratic candidate for Congress from Ohio in a special election last fall. “You just heard it everywhere, medium, heavy machine gun fire.”…

But a corporal from this same group, who had been badly wounded in Falluja but was able to return for a second deployment, said there was intermittent small-arms fire that did not appear to him to be directed at his patrol. The other marine may have been hearing the First Squad’s action about 700 yards up the road at the bombing site and thought they were under fire, he suggested.

Assuming all this can be explained away, there’s the separate question about the rules of engagement: namely, whether blind-fire room-clearing tactics were appropriate in an environment with civilians scattered about. They were used successfully in Fallujah — but the citizens there had all been evacuated before the operation began.

Needless to say, the blockquotes above aren’t exhaustive. Read the whole article. The Times has a graphic up too about which victims were in which houses, which I really should compare to Dan Riehl‘s post about the media inconsistencies on that point. I’m worn out right now, though, and I’m sure Dan himself will be tackling this later, so keep your eye on his site.

Update: Regarding the firefight, the Marines’ lawyers seem pretty confident.

Update: Dan responds. Check out what he found in a Washington Post article from late May — an Iraqi eyewitness on record as saying the men in the taxi were trying to flee.

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