Many of the 24 Iraqi civilians killed by Marine infantrymen in Haditha in 2005 died from close-range gunshot wounds, a military prosecutor said on Thursday. At least five Iraqis, two women and three men, were shot in the head.
Until now, the prosecutors and the lawyers representing Marines accused of murder in the Haditha case have said the civilian deaths resulted largely from hand grenades that infantrymen tossed into three homes to kill or wound enemy fighters within.
Marines were previously known to have followed the grenade blasts with some gunfire. But Thursday was the first time that government lawyers had discussed how many of the victims appeared to have been targeted with seemingly well-placed gunshot blasts.
The account offered at a military hearing on Thursday by Lieutenant Colonel Paul Atterbury, a Marine prosecutor, reflects findings from a military investigation that has not been made public.
The report describes how Marines responded to a deadly roadside bomb blast that killed one of their comrades on Nov. 19, 2005, by attacking three Iraqi homes and the occupants of a nearby car.
The hearing is being conducted to decide whether the military should proceed to a court-martial for Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Chessani, a former Marine battalion commander charged with failing to investigate and report the killings.
Referring to photographs of the bodies taken later by Marine intelligence officers, Atterbury said that in one house two Iraqi men had been shot through the head with 5.56mm rounds of the kind used by US forces. In another corner, a woman in her 20s slumped in a "cowering position" was shot in the back of the neck, he said.