Fri, Sep 07, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Marine Corp disciplines senior trio over Haditha

AP , CAMP PENDLETON, CALIFORNIA

A Marine major general and two senior officers have been disciplined for their roles in investigating the deaths of 24 Iraqi civilians in the town of Haditha in 2005, the Marine Corps said.

Major General Richard Huck, former commanding general of the 2nd Marine Division, has received a letter of censure from the secretary of the Navy for the "actions he took and failed to take" in response to the killings. The Wednesday statement from the Marine Corps did not elaborate.

In all, 24 civilians were killed by a Marine squad in the aftermath of a bomb blast that killed one Marine on Nov. 19, 2005. Among the dead were women and children who were killed in their homes.

Colonel Stephen Davis and Colonel Robert Sokoloski also received letters of censure.

Davis was cited for failure to take action when informed of the slayings in Haditha, while Sokoloski was cited for unsatisfactory performance of his duties.

"Accountability and responsibility are the foundation of all we do as Marines," said General James Conway, commandant of the Marine Corps.

"While these three officers have served their country and corps exceedingly well for decades, their actions, inactions and decisions in the aftermath of the Haditha incident did not meet the high standards we expect of Marine senior officer leadership," Conway said.

Major General Stephen Johnson, former commanding general of II Marine Expeditionary Force, was fully exonerated, the Marine Corps statement said.

In Washington, a senior Marine official said that "no investigation was initiated immediately" after the killings. He noted that the first probe started when the media reported the killings in February.

"There was no evidence of an intentional coverup," he said.

The official briefed reporters on condition of anonymity so he could speak freely about the personnel matter. He declined to release the text of the letters censure, which is the most severe in a range of administrative actions and extremely rare.

Having the censure on their records would make it difficult for the three officers to receive future promotions and could result in a reduction in rank for the purpose of calculating retirement benefits.

There is no appeal to a letter of censure, but the three can write rebuttal statements that also will be put into their records. The officers have five days to acknowledge the notification and then 15 days to submit any rebuttal statement.

The disciplinary action came as a preliminary hearing continued in the Haditha case for Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich, 27, who is charged with unpremeditated murder in the slaying of 17 of the Iraqis.

He has acknowledged shooting five men who were at the scene of the bomb blast but claims he did so because they were running away.

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