August 19, 2006

Marine officer saw Haditha deaths as normal: Post

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Marine officer who
commanded the battalion involved in the deaths of two dozen
Iraqi civilians in Haditha in November did not consider the
incident unusual and did not initiate an inquiry, The
Washington Post reported on Saturday.

"I thought it was very sad, very unfortunate, but at the
time, I did not suspect any wrongdoing from my Marines," Lt.
Col. Jeffrey R. Chessani, commander of the 3rd Battalion of the
1st Marines, said in a sworn statement given to military
investigators in March.

"I did not have any reason to believe that this was
anything other than combat action," he said in the statement,
which was cited by the Post.

The newspaper said it was provided with the statement by a
person sympathetic to the enlisted Marines involved in the
case. It said it helps explain why there was no investigation
of the incident at the time and why the U.S. military chain of
command took several months to react to the event.

Chessani said he had concluded that insurgents had staged a
"complex attack" that began with a roadside bomb, followed by a
small-arms ambush intended to provoke the Marines to fire into
houses where civilians were hiding.

Because of that conclusion, he said, he saw no reason to
investigate, or ask how many women and children had been

U.S. Marines have been accused of killing 24 unarmed Iraqis
in Haditha in November 2005, one of a series of incidents in
which U.S. troops are suspected of killing Iraqi civilians. Two
investigations were initiated into the Haditha case - a murder
inquiry and a probe into the Marines' procedures following the

The New York Times reported on Friday that the Pentagon
investigation into the deaths in Haditha had found possible
concealment or destruction of evidence by U.S. Marines.