Bad enough, if true, are the allegations of the killings of civilians by marines.
From an institutional standpoint, this is worse:
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.This investigation is being led by Army Major General Eldon Bargewell, a Special Ops officer who as a Staff Sergeant in Vietnam received the Army's second highest honor, the Distinguished Service Cross. In short, his credentials, and credibility, are next to impeccable.
Here's the worst of it:
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.Didn't anyone involved remember the Watergate-era maxim that it's not the crime, it's the coverup? The initial wrongdoings - the alleged murder of Iraqi civilians by US forces - were, if true, heinous acts committed by individual marines. But if these crimes had been dealt with in a timely and forthright manner, rather than covered up or ignored by those higher in the chain of command, the Corps might have been spared the serious institutional damage it's going to experience if the Bargewell report is accurate.
A civilian attorney for Wuterich said he only recently had been retained by the Marine and has yet to interview his client, so could not comment on the case.
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.
Unfortunately, this whole thing is going to feed into liberal/European/Arab suspicions that this is how the US military as a whole operates.