Q Have you gotten updates on the situation?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I’m not involved with the investigation, and you shouldn’t expect me to be. I expect this investigation to be conducted independent of the White House, with a full and thorough investigation. And I’m confident. Listen, the Marine Corps wants to get to the bottom of this. If anybody wants to make sure that they know the facts and to correct problems, if they do exist, it’s the United States Marine Corps. They are run by — the Marines are run by an incredibly proud group of men and women who understand the history and tradition of the Marines. And they’ll get to the bottom of this.
And if there is wrongdoing, people will be held to account. And at the same time, what you’re seeing is the Marine Corps reminding our troops about what it means to be a Marine, what it means to uphold the honor of that Corps, and what it means to adhere to the rules of engagement that we expect our soldiers to adhere to. The United States of America has got a willingness to deal with issues like this in an up-front way, in an open way, and correct problems. And that’s what you’re going to see unfold.
Yeah, those Marines, boy. Them are some honorable-willing-to-deal-with-issues-in-an-up-front-open-way dudes.
The U.S. military investigation of how Marine commanders handled the reporting of events last November in the Iraqi town of Haditha, where troops allegedly killed 24 Iraqi civilians, will conclude that some officers gave false information to their superiors, who then failed to adequately scrutinize reports that should have caught their attention, an Army official said yesterday.
Bargewell has pursued two lines of investigation: not only whether falsehoods were passed up the chain of command, but also whether senior Marine commanders were derelict in their duty to monitor the actions of subordinates.
In anticipation of the Bargewell report, the Marine Corps has placed on hold its plan to nominate Maj. Gen. Stephen T. Johnson, who was the top Marine in Iraq when the Haditha incident occurred, for promotion to lieutenant general, a senior Pentagon official said. That decision reflects concern that the report may conclude that leadership failures occurred at senior levels in Iraq. It also stands in sharp contrast to the Army’s handling of the Abu Ghraib scandal, when the Pentagon forged ahead with plans to nominate Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, who had been the top commander on the ground in Iraq, for a fourth star. Sanchez’s promotion has been in limbo for more than a year.
One of Bargewell’s findings is that two failures occurred in reporting the Haditha incident up the Marine chain of command. The first is that Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich, a squad leader alleged to have been centrally involved in the shootings, made a false statement to his superiors when he reported that 15 Iraqi civilians had been killed in the roadside bombing that killed a Marine and touched off the incident. (The other nine dead initially were reported by the Marines to have been insurgent fighters but are now believed to have been civilians.) That report was entered into an official database of “significant acts” maintained by the U.S. military in Iraq, the Pentagon official said.
A second and more troubling failure occurred later in the day, this official said, when a Marine human exploitation team, which helped collect the dead, should have observed that the Iraqis were killed by gunshot, not by a bomb. The team’s reporting chain lay outside that of the other Marines — who were members of the 3rd Battalion of the 1st Marines — and went up through military intelligence channels directly to the 1st Marine Division’s intelligence director, he said. Had this second unit reported accurately what it witnessed, he indicated, that would have set off alarms and prodded commanders to investigate, he explained.
Bargewell’s report also is expected to address why the Marine Corps let stand statements issued by official spokesmen that were known to be false at least two months ago. On Nov. 20, the day after the shootings, Marine Capt. Jeffrey S. Pool told reporters that the Iraqis died in a crossfire, stating that, “Iraqi army soldiers and Marines returned fire, killing eight insurgents.” Time magazine, which first began making inquiries about the incident in January, reported that when one of its staff members asked Pool about the allegations, he accused the journalist of being duped by terrorists. “I cannot believe you’re buying any of this,” the magazine said the officer wrote in an e-mail. “This falls into the same category of any aqi [al-Qaeda in Iraq] propaganda.” Another military representative, Lt. Col. Michelle Martin-Hing, told the magazine that insurgents caused the civilian deaths by placing the Iraqis in the line of Marine fire.