San Diego Union Tribune

June 8, 2006

Top-ranked Marine vows accountability in murder allegations

COPLEY NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON – The Marine Corps commandant, while refusing to discuss details of the alleged murder of unarmed Iraqis by Marines, yesterday declared that any Marine found to have violated the Corps' standards of conduct “will be held accountable.”

Gen. Michael Hagee, back from visiting Marines in Iraq, said he was “gravely concerned about the serious allegations concerning actions of some Marines” at Haditha, where 24 Iraqis might have been murdered, and at Hamdaniya, where a single Iraqi allegedly was murdered.

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Units from the Camp Pendleton-based 1st Marine Division were involved in both incidents.

Hagee, who already has met with Marines on the East Coast, is expected to visit Camp Pendleton next week to discuss core values, then go to Hawaii and Japan.

Hagee said the Marine Corps is “fully supporting the investigations” and wants to ensure they “are complete with respect to what actually happened on the ground and actions taken or not taken by the chain of command,” he said.

The remark referred to allegations that Marine commanders might have ignored early indications that the Iraqis who died in Haditha were not killed by a roadside bomb or accidentally in crossfire during a fight with insurgents, as the unit involved claimed.

“If it turns out that an individual violated rules or regulations, he will be held accountable regardless of grade or position,” Hagee said.

Although not in the combat chain of command of the Marines in Iraq, Hagee said as commandant he was responsible for the training of all the Marines, “and I take these responsibilities quite seriously.”

He said that while the Marines wanted the multiple investigations into the alleged murders and cover-up to be completed “as expeditiously as possible,” they also want to ensure they are thorough “and that due process and the rights of the affected individuals are protected.”

The investigations are being conducted by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and a senior Army officer under the jurisdiction of the operational commanders in Iraq.

When completed, the findings and recommendations will “go up the operational chain to the final adjudicating authority,” Hagee said. That would be Lt. Gen. John Sattler, commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Pendleton and head of Marine Forces Central Command.

Pentagon sources have indicated the investigation of the Haditha incident could take another month, but action might come sooner on the Hamdaniya killing and the alleged cover-up.

Senate Armed Services Committee chairman John Warner, R-Va., urged Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in a letter Tuesday to make as much information about the incidents available as soon as possible so his panel could hold hearings. Delay in releasing the facts will mean “a mixture of information, misinformation and unconfirmed facts will continue to spiral in the public domain,” Warner said.

House Armed Services Committee chairman Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine, also has vowed to hold hearings on Haditha as soon as possible without compromising the investigations.

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