HADITHA, Iraq - Top US Marine Corps officers in Iraq failed to properly investigate allegations that their own troops killed 24 civilians in the town of Haditha.
A division commander, Major General Richard Huck, and a regiment commander, Colonel Stephen Davis, failed to investigate contradictions and inaccuracies in the initial report following the November 19 incident, the New York Times reported Saturday, citing two Pentagon officials.
According to the Times, the dead included 10 women and children and an aged man in a wheelchair.
Investigators concluded that most of the victims' houses were shot with rifles, not hit by shrapnel or even random fire, according to the Times.
Lieutenant General Peter Chiarelli, currently the second-ranking US military commander in Iraq, "concludes that some officers were derelict in their duties," one of the unnamed officials told the Times. The officials, who had been briefed on the findings, did not say how many officers aside from Huck and Davis were singled out.
Punishment for the marine officers could range from a slap-on-the-wrist admonishment to a court martial, according to the Times.
Chiarelli was acting on an inquiry completed in mid-June by US Army Major General Eldon Bargewell into how the Haditha killings were reported up the chain of command and whether there was a cover-up.
A separate criminal probe focusing on the US marines who are the alleged killers is being conducted by the Navy Criminal Investigative Service.
According to the Times, Chiarelli approved Bargewell's findings and expanded on certain points.
One additional recommendation Chiarelli added was for all US forces in Iraq to receive more counterinsurgency training, first in the United States before deploying and again in Iraq.
Chiarelli's report now go to the desk of the top US military commander in Iraq, General George Casey.
According to the Times, it could take days for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to be briefed on the report, and before a redacted version of Chiarelli's findings is made public.
The US Marine Corps initially reported that 15 civilians and a marine were killed by a roadside explosion in Haditha on November 19.
But the military opened an investigation after Time magazine reported in March that witnesses, backed by a videotape of the scene, said the marines went on a rampage after a roadside explosion killed one of their comrades.
The marines allegedly went house to house deliberately killing men, women and children. Five unarmed men in a taxi near the site of the bombing were also allegedly killed, according to accounts leaked to the press.
In a separate case, Chiarelli has ordered a criminal investigation into the May 9 deaths of three Iraqi men while in US military custody near Balad. No information was provided on the identity of the Iraqis, how they died or why they were being detained.
Military investigators also have been probing allegations that US marines shot to death an Iraqi man in the town of Hamandiyah, and left a shovel by his body to make it appear he was planting a roadside bomb.
And in Louisville, Kentucky, a former US army soldier from the 101st Airborne Division pleaded not guilty Friday in federal court to charges of raping and murdering an Iraqi woman after allegedly killing three of her relatives on March 12 near Mahmudiyah, south of Baghdad.
Copyright © 2006 AFP