Files Contradict Account of Raid in Iraq
By ERIC SCHMITT and DAVID S. CLOUD
Published: May 31, 2006
WASHINGTON, May 30 — A military investigator uncovered evidence in February
and March that contradicted repeated claims by marines that Iraqi civilians
killed in Haditha last November were victims of a roadside bomb, according
to a senior military official in Iraq.
Among the pieces of evidence that conflicted with the marines' story were
death certificates that showed all the Iraqi victims had gunshot wounds,
mostly to the head and chest, the official said.
The investigation, which was led by Col. Gregory Watt, an Army officer in
Baghdad, also raised questions about whether the marines followed
established rules for identifying hostile threats when they assaulted houses
near the site of a bomb attack, which killed a fellow marine.
The three-week inquiry was the first official investigation into an episode
that was first uncovered by Time magazine in January and that American
military officials now say appears to have been an unprovoked attack by the
marines that killed 24 Iraqi civilians. The results of Colonel Watt's
investigation, which began on Feb. 14, have not previously been disclosed.
"There were enough inconsistencies that things didn't add up," said the
senior official, who was briefed on the conclusions of Colonel Watt's
The official agreed to discuss the findings only after being promised
anonymity. The findings have not been made public, and the Pentagon and the
Marines have refused to discuss the details of inquiries now underway,
saying that to do so could compromise the investigation.
When Colonel Watt described the findings to Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the
senior ground commander in Iraq, on March 9, they raised enough questions
about the marines' veracity that General Chiarelli referred the matter to
the senior Marine commander in Iraq, who ordered a criminal investigation
that officials say could result in murder charges being brought against
members of the unit.
Colonel Watt's findings also prompted General Chiarelli to order a parallel
investigation into whether senior Marine officers and enlisted personnel had
attempted to cover up what happened.
Colonel Watt's inquiry included interviews with marines believed to have
been involved in the killings, as well as with senior officers in the unit,
the Third Battalion of the First Marine Regiment.
Among them were Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, whom officials had said was one
of the senior noncommissioned officers on the patrol, and Lt. Col. Jeffrey
R. Chessani, the battalion commander, the senior official said. Colonel
Chessani was relieved of his command in April, after the unit returned from
In their accounts to Colonel Watt, the marines said they took gunfire from
the first of five residences they entered near the bomb site, according to
the senior military official.
The official said the marines had recalled hearing "a weapon being prepared
to be used against them."
Colonel Watt also reviewed payments totaling $38,000 in cash made within
weeks of the shootings to families of victims.
In an interview Tuesday, Maj. Dana Hyatt, the officer who made the payments,
said he was told by superiors to compensate the relatives of 15 victims, but
was told that rest of those killed had been deemed to have committed hostile
acts, leaving their families ineligible for compensation.
After the initial payments were made, however, those families demanded
similar payments, insisting their relatives had not attacked the marines,
Major Hyatt said.
Major Hyatt said he was authorized by Colonel Chessani and more senior
officers at the marines' regimental headquarters to make the payments to
relatives of 15 victims.
Colonel Chessani "was part of the chain of command that gives the approval,"
Major Hyatt said.
"Even when he signs off on it," the major added, "it still has to go up to"
the unit's regimental headquarters.
Colonel Chessani declined to comment on Tuesday when visited at his home at
Camp Pendleton, Calif.
The list of 15 victims deemed to be noncombatants was put together by
intelligence personnel attached to the battalion, Major Hyatt said. Those
victims were related to a Haditha city council member, he said. The American
military sometimes pays compensation to relatives of civilian victims.
The relatives of each victim were paid a total of $2,500, the maximum
allowed under Marine rules, along with $250 payments for two children who
were wounded. Major Hyatt said he also compensated the families for damage
to two houses.
"I didn't say we had made a mistake," Major Hyatt said, describing what he
had told the city council member who was representing the victims. "I said
I'm being told I can make payments for these 15 because they were deemed not
to be involved in combat."
The military began its examination of the killings only after Time magazine
presented the full findings of its investigation to a military spokesman in
Baghdad in early February.
General Chiarelli, an Army officer who took command of American ground
forces in Iraq in January, learned soon after the spokesman was notified
that the Marines had not investigated the incident, according to the senior
On Tuesday, the White House spokesman, Tony Snow, said President Bush first
became aware of the episode after the Time magazine inquiry, when he was
briefed by Stephen Hadley, the national security adviser. "When this comes
out, all the details will be made available to the public, so we'll have a
picture of what happened," Mr. Snow said.