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US marines may face death penalty for "massacre" of civilians in Iraq

Friday, May 26, 2006

United States Marine Corps seal

According to the New York Times "Congressional, military and Pentagon officials" said Thursday that it is expected an investigation will find that the deaths of more than 20 civilians in Iraq were a war crime. According to NYT source a group of US Marines "carried out extensive, unprovoked killings of civilians" and the killings were "methodical in nature."

The Naval Criminal Investigative Service is expected to call for criminal charges, including murder, negligent homicide, dereliction of duty and filing a false report. Lawyers involved in discussion thought it could lead to charges of murder, an offense carrying the death penalty.

The incident happened in the Iraqi town of Haditha on November 19, 2005, after an attack on a convoy when one US marine was killed. According to NYT source evidence indicates sustained operation by marines that lasted three to five hours. Civilians, including women and children were killed inside two or more homes, as well as five men standing near a taxi at a checkpoint. Military Officials initially indicated that 15 Iraqi civilians had died when gunmen attacked a convoy with a roadside bomb and small arms fire, prompting the Marines to return fire.

On Thursday, General Hagee, the commandant of the Marine Corps, said without referring to any specific incident "Recent serious allegations concerning actions of marines in combat have caused me concern" in a speech emphasizing the rules of lawful combat.

John Kline, a Representative from Minnesota (R) and retired Marine colonel said about the allegations "this was not an accident. This was direct fire by marines at civilians". He continued "This was not an immediate response to an attack. This would be an atrocity".

John Sifton of Human Rights Watch said "If the accounts as they have been alleged are true, the Haditha incident is likely the most serious war crime that has been reported in Iraq since the beginning of the war". He continued "Here we have two dozen civilians being killed — apparently intentionally. This isn't a gray area. This is a massacre".

The US Marines are from Camp Pendleton, located in southern California. Three Marine officers, the battalion commander and two company commanders who were stationed in Haditha at the time, have been relieved of duty, although statements by military officials have not linked the action to the incident.

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