LA Times: Civilians Slain Execution-Style


Richard Moore

Original source URL:,1,1672056.story

From the Los Angeles Times

Photos Indicate Civilians Slain Execution-Style

An official involved in an investigation of Camp 
Pendleton Marines' actions in an Iraqi town cites 
`a total breakdown in morality.'

By Tony Perry and Julian E. Barnes
Times Staff Writers

May 27, 2006

WASHINGTON - Photographs taken by a Marine 
intelligence team have convinced investigators 
that a Marine unit killed as many as 24 unarmed 
Iraqis, some of them "execution-style," in the 
insurgent stronghold of Haditha after a roadside 
bomb killed an American in November, officials 
close to the investigation said Friday.

The pictures are said to show wounds to the upper 
bodies of the victims, who included several women 
and six children. Some were shot in the head and 
some in the back, congressional and defense 
officials said.

One government official said the pictures showed 
that infantry Marines from Camp Pendleton 
"suffered a total breakdown in morality and 
leadership, with tragic results."

The case may be the most serious incident of 
alleged war crimes in Iraq by U.S. troops. Marine 
officers have long been worried that Iraq's 
deadly insurgency could prompt such a reaction by 
combat teams.

An investigation by an Army general into the Nov. 
19 incident is to be delivered soon to the top 
operational commander in Iraq. A separate 
criminal investigation is also underway and could 
lead to charges ranging from dereliction of duty 
to murder.

Both investigations are centered on a dozen 
Marines from the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine 
Regiment, 1st Marine Division. The battalion was 
on its third deployment to Iraq when the killings 

Most of the fatal shots appear to have been fired 
by only a few of the Marines, possibly a four-man 
"fire team" led by a sergeant, said officials 
with knowledge of the investigation, who spoke on 
condition of anonymity.

The same sergeant is suspected of filing a false 
report downplaying the number of Iraqis killed, 
saying they were killed by an insurgent's bomb 
and that Marines entered the Iraqis' homes in 
search of gunmen firing at them. All aspects of 
his account are contradicted by pictures, 
statements by Marines to investigators and an 
inspection of the houses involved, officials said.

Other Marines may face criminal charges for 
failing to stop the killings or for failing to 
make accurate reports.

Of the dead Iraqis, 19 were in three to four 
houses that Marines stormed, officials said. Five 
others were killed near a vehicle.

The intelligence team took the pictures shortly 
after the shooting stopped. Such teams are 
typically assigned to collect information on 
insurgents after firefights or other military 

Investigators and top officers of the Camp 
Pendleton-based 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, 
which oversees Marine infantry, aviation and 
support units in Iraq, have viewed the pictures.

The incident began when a roadside bomb attached 
to a large propane canister exploded as Marines 
passed through Haditha, a town on the Euphrates 
River. Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas, who was 
driving a Humvee, was killed and two other 
Marines were wounded.

Marines quickly determined that the bomb was a 
"line-of-sight" explosive that would have 
required someone to detonate it. Marines and 
Iraqi forces searched houses and other structures 
in the narrow, dusty streets. Jets dropped 
500-pound bombs and a drone aircraft circled 

Time magazine, in a report published in March, 
quoted witnesses, including a 9-year-old girl, 
Eman Waleed, who said that she saw Marines kill 
her grandparents and that other adults in the 
house died shielding her and her 8-year-old 
brother, Abdul Rahman.

An elder in Haditha later went to Marine 
officials at the battalion's headquarters to 
complain of wanton killings.

The Marines involved in the incident initially 
reported that they had become embroiled in a 
firefight with insurgents after the explosion. 
However, evidence that later emerged contradicted 
that version.

"There wasn't a gunfight, there were no 
pockmarked walls," a congressional aide said.

"The wounds indicated execution-style" shootings, 
said a Defense Department official who had been 
briefed on the contents of the photos.

The Marine Corps backed off its initial 
explanation, and the investigations were launched 
after Time published its account.

Some lawmakers are asking the Marine Corps why an 
investigation wasn't launched earlier if the 
intelligence team's pictures contradicted the 
squad's account. The pictures from the 
intelligence team would probably have been given 
to the battalion intelligence officer, and they 
should have raised questions immediately, one 
congressional aide said.

The intelligence teams typically comprise Marine 
Corps reservists, often police officers or other 
law enforcement officials in civilian life who 
travel with active-duty battalions or regiments.

Such questions were put to Marine Commandant Gen. 
Michael Hagee during a series of individual 
briefings over the last week. One focus of the 
administrative investigation by Army Maj. Gen. 
Eldon Bargewell is to find out how high up the 
Marine Corps chain of command the misreporting 

Military officials say they believe the delay in 
beginning the investigation was a result of the 
squad's initial efforts to cover up what 
happened. Military and congressional sources said 
there was no indication that the members of the 
intelligence team did anything improper or 
delayed reporting their findings.

"They are the guys that probably provided the 
conclusive, demonstrative evidence that what 
happened wasn't as others had described," a 
congressional staffer said.

The Marine Corps apologized to the families of 
several of those killed and made payments to 
compensate them for their losses. The families 
have denied permission to have the bodies exhumed 
for investigation.

Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), a retired Marine 
colonel, said there was clearly an attempt to 
cover up the incident by those involved. But he 
said he did not think the Marine command was slow 
in investigating.

"There is no question that the Marines involved, 
those doing the shooting, they were busy in lying 
about it and covering it up - there is no 
question about it," Kline said. "But I am 
confident, as soon as the command learned there 
might be some truth to this, they started to 
pursue it vigorously. I don't have any reason now 
to think there was any foot dragging."

As Marines moved across the desert into Iraq on 
March 19, 2003, each Marine received a signed 
statement from then-Maj. Gen. James N. Mattis, 
commanding general of the 1st Marine Division, 
exhorting his troops to fight vigorously but to 
treat noncombatants with "decency Š chivalry and 
soldierly compassion."

"Engage your brain before you engage your weapon," he said.

As detailed in Bing West's book "The March Up: 
Taking Baghdad With the 1st Marine Division," 
Brig. Gen. John Kelly, assistant division 
commander, was concerned about instances of 
seemingly random firing by Marines, most of them 
untested in combat. Kelly is now the Marine 
Corps' congressional liaison and has helped Hagee 
deliver briefings to legislators on the 
investigations into the Nov. 19 incident.

Hagee left for Iraq on Thursday to sternly remind 
Marines that harming noncombatants violates 
Marine policy and numerous laws governing 
warfare. He plans to give the same message to 
troops at Camp Pendleton and other Marine bases 
when he returns.

Haditha has been a particularly difficult area 
for the Marines. Officers have said they lack 
enough troops to do an adequate job of developing 
intelligence and then confronting insurgents.

A documentary shown this week on the A&E Network 
detailed the frustrations of a company of Marine 
reservists who had 23 members killed and 36 
wounded during a deployment last year in Haditha.

One Marine sergeant, in an interview after his 
unit had returned to Columbus, Ohio, remembered a 
raid in which he burst into a home and came close 
to killing two women and a teenage boy out of 
rage for the deaths of fellow Marines.

Sgt. Guy Zierk, interviewed in the documentary, 
"Combat Diary: The Marines of Lima Company," said 
he knew at that point that he had been in Iraq 
too long.


Perry reported from San Diego and Barnes from 
Washington. Times staff writer Peter Spiegel in 
Washington contributed to this report.

Copyright 2006 Los Angeles Times

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