Friday, August 18, 2006

Probe suggests Marines hid Haditha evidence

Probe suggests Marines hid Haditha evidence: NYT

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Pentagon investigation into the deaths of two dozen Iraqi civilians in Haditha has found possible concealment or destruction of evidence by U.S. Marines involved in the case, The New York Times reported on Friday.

Two Defense Department officials briefed on the investigation said the unit's logbook had been tampered with and an incriminating video taken by an aerial drone was not given to investigators until a top-ranking commander in Iraq intervened, the newspaper reported.

The findings, based on an investigation by Army Maj. Gen. Eldon Bargewell, draws no conclusions about who may have tampered with the log and does not directly accuse Marines of attempting a cover-up, The New York Times said.

It said the report, concluded last month but not made public, is the first time details about possible concealment or destruction of evidence have been disclosed.

The Pentagon had no immediate comment.

U.S. Marines have been accused of killing 24 unarmed Iraqis in Haditha in November 2005, one of a series of incidents in which U.S. troops are suspected of killing Iraqi civilians.

Two investigations were initiated into the Haditha case -- a murder inquiry and a probe into the Marines' procedures following the killings.

The Bargewell report was sent to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, the Times report said.

According to the newspaper, the report faults officers in the Second Marine Division for not aggressively investigating the Haditha killings.

The defense officials were quoted as saying the report also found commanders had created a climate that minimized the importance of Iraqi lives, particularly in Haditha, where insurgent attacks were rampant, The New York Times said.

Lt. Gen. James Mattis, the new top Marine general in U.S. Central Command, is due to decide on whether charges are warranted, officials said this week.