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Sources: Lawmakers told to brace for Haditha fallout

Charges of murder, cover-up possible against Marines

From Jamie McIntyre
CNN

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Sources say the inquiry into how these people in Haditha died is substantially complete.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Some members of Congress have been told to brace for the fallout from potential charges of murder and cover-up stemming from an inquiry into an alleged massacre of Iraqi civilians by U.S. Marines, sources say.

Military investigators strongly suspect that what happened in the western Iraqi city of Haditha last November was a rampage by a small number of Marines who snapped after one of their own was killed by a roadside bomb, the sources told CNN.

Pentagon sources told CNN that at least 24 Iraqis were killed.(Watch for specifics on where and when they died -- 1:57)

Sources told CNN on Monday that the investigation is substantially complete, and that charges -- including murder charges -- could be filed sometime in June. And, sources said, investigators have concluded there was a cover-up -- but won't say if it is limited to the handful of Marines who did the killings.

The formal findings of investigations into the matter are several weeks away, said Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Pace cautioned against a rush to judgment.

"There are two ongoing investigations," he told CNN. "One has to do with what happened. The other investigation goes to why didn't we know about it sooner than we knew about it."

Pace said the investigations may not be complete for "a couple of weeks," adding, "We should not prejudge the outcome."

IED first blamed for deaths

The U.S. military had previously refused to believe villagers who accused the Marines of murdering unarmed civilians, even when presented with credible evidence assembled by Time magazine for an article in March.

"They were incredibly hostile," said Time's Aparisim Ghosh. "They accused us of buying into enemy propaganda, and they stuck to their original story, which is that these people were all killed by the IED [improvised explosive device]."

But that story has fallen apart in the wake of an investigation that sources said is likely to result in murder charges against some Marines and dereliction of duty counts against others.

Sources said between four and eight Marines from Kilo company of the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, were directly involved -- but some Marines from other units knew what happened because they helped document the aftermath.

Lance Cpl. Ryan Briones told the Los Angeles Times that he took pictures of at least 15 bodies and is still haunted by the memory of picking up a young girl who was shot in the head. (Full story)

"I held her out like this," he said, demonstrating with his arms extended, "but her head was bobbing up and down and the insides fell on my legs."

Briones' mother, Susie Briones, told CNN her son is now suffering from post-traumatic stress.

"It was horrific," she said. "It was a terrible scene. The biggest thing that comes to his mind is the children.

"Since he was part of the cleanup crew, he had to carry that little girl's body, and her head was blown off," she said. "Her brains splattered on his boots. And that is what affected Brian the most."

Killings began after Marine slain

Pentagon sources said the killings began after a roadside bomb killed 20-year-old Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas at 7:15 a.m. on November 19 in Haditha, a city along the Euphrates River in western Iraq.

The Marines originally reported that 15 civilians also died in that blast.

But according to the Pentagon sources' account, the Marines immediately suspected four Iraqi teenagers in a taxi and fatally shot them, along with the driver, when the Marines said they failed to lie on the ground as ordered.

The hunt for the bombers then moved to a nearby house, where seven people -- including two women and children -- were killed. Then eight people, including six women, were shot and killed next door, while women in a third house were not harmed, the sources said. In a fourth house, four men were killed.

"We're supposed to be fighting this war for democracy and yet something like this happens that sets us back," Rep. John Murtha told CNN on Tuesday. "It's as bad as Abu Ghraib, if not worse."

The Pennsylvania Democrat said the military tried to cover up the incident. "They knew the day after this happened that it was not as they portrayed it," he said. "They knew that they went into the rooms, they killed the people in the taxi. There was no firing at all. And this comes from the highest authority in the Marine Corps."

Pace told CNN that "as soon as we found out there were allegations" -- which he said was about February 10 -- "the investigations began."

Also on ABC, Sen. John Warner, the Virginia Republican who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, announced that his committee would hold hearings on the matter.

Separate accusations surfaced earlier this month that Marines from the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment killed a civilian near Hamandiya, west of Baghdad, on April 26.

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