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Military Investigators Conclude U.S. Marines Murdered Civilians in Haditha

Military investigators are ready to conclude that U.S. Marines killed up to 24 civilians over several hours in Iraq last November, nearly double the number of deaths initially reported by the Marine Corps. New York Times Pentagon reporter Eric Schmitt updates the situation.

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    The first public reports of killings of civilians by U.S. Marines came in this video and accompanying story in Time magazine in March.

    The images, captured by an Iraqi human rights group, are graphic: bloodstained rooms; bodies of victims, some wrapped in blankets and rugs, others at the morgue. The reported killings of as many as two dozen people took place November 19th in the town of Haditha, an insurgent stronghold 140 miles northwest of Baghdad.

    The alleged Marine attack on civilian men, women and children came hours after a roadside bomb ambush killed one of their own, Lance Corporal Miguel Terrazas. His death was noted on the NewsHour honor roll on December 15th.

    The first official account described civilian deaths from the roadside bombing and ensuing firefight between Marines and insurgents. At least two investigations were launched after Time magazine challenged that account.

    The story gained wider circulation last week. Democratic Representative John Murtha, a former Marine colonel and decorated Vietnam War veteran, was among a group of senators and congressmen briefed by top Marines on the matter. He discussed some of the findings with reporters.

    REP. JOHN MURTHA (D), Pennsylvania: It's much worse than reported in Time magazine. There was no firefight. There was no IED that killed these innocent people. Our troops overreacted because of the pressure on them, and they killed innocent civilians in cold blood. And that's what the report is going to tell.


    Yesterday, the commandant of the Marine Corps, General Michael Hagee, flew to Iraq to talk to his troops about the appropriate use of force. In a statement issued by his office, Hagee wrote: "We do not employ force just for the sake of employing force. We use lethal force only when justified, proportional and most importantly lawful."

    And late yesterday at the Capitol, after being briefed by top officials, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner, a World War II veteran, had this to say.

    SEN. JOHN WARNER (D), Virginia: Based on, I guess, now well over 30 years of experience with the military, I would rank this as quite serious.


    Congressional hearings are expected to begin soon.

    On Wednesday, the U.S. military announced another criminal investigation. That one deals with an April 26th incident in which Marines allegedly killed an Iraqi civilian in Hamandiyah, west of Baghdad.