SAN DIEGO – Military prosecutors are close to charging some of the Marines involved in the deaths of 24 civilians in the Iraqi town of Haditha last year, the Marine Corps said Tuesday.
It is the first time the Corps has said it will file charges in the deaths, which included unarmed women and children and followed the killing of a Marine by a roadside bomb in the town.
Defense lawyers for some members of Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment have said their clients were following rules of engagement when they returned fire after the bomb went off Nov. 19, 2005.
Lt. Gen. James Mattis has examined the investigations into the killings and has made initial decisions about what action to take, Marine spokesman Lt. Col. Sean Gibson said Tuesday in a news release.
Gibson declined to say how many Marines would be charged or what crimes prosecutors would allege.
The Marines initially reported that 15 Iraqi civilians had been killed by a makeshift roadside bomb and in crossfire between Marines and insurgent attackers. After media reports surfaced in March that the killings were deliberate, the top Marine commander in Iraq ordered a crimnial investigation.
A parallel investigation examined whether officers in the Marines' chain of command tried to cover up details of the killings. Results of the probes have not been made public.
Gibson said the Marine Corps would brief members of both the Senate and House Armed Services Committees this week on the findings of the investigations.
Washington-based attorney Mark Zaid, who represents squad leader Sgt. Frank Wuterich, said he had not heard if his client was going to be charged.
"We'll be prepared," Zaid said in a telephone interview. "If they file anything we will refute them. Our position remains that the collateral deaths of civilians was a tragedy but all of them were legally justified actions in a time of war."
In a separate case involving Camp Pendleton Marines, an eight-man squad was accused of kidnapping and murdering an Iraqi man in the town of Hamdania. That case is working its way through the military courts.