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Marine officers disciplined over Haditha killings

  • Story Highlights
  • Three officers receive letter of censure from Secretary of the Navy
  • A fourth officer has been exonerated of any culpability in the incident
  • Insurgents set off a roadside bomb that killed a Marine in 2005
  • Marines charged in connection with the killing of 24 Iraqi civilians after blast
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Three senior U.S. Marine Corps officers have been sanctioned in connection with the killings of 24 civilians in Haditha, Iraq, but it was determined they didn't commit any crimes, the Marine Corps said Wednesday.

"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," Gen. James T. Conway, commandant of the Marine Corps, said in a written statement.

Maj. Gen. Richard A. Huck, former commanding general of the 2nd Marine Division; Col. Stephen W. Davis, former commanding officer of Regimental Combat Team 2, 2nd Marine Division; and Col. Robert G. Sokoloski, former chief of staff of 2nd Marine Division (Forward) all received letters of censure from the secretary of the Navy.

Huck's letter was "for the actions he took and failed to take in response to the circumstances" surrounding the incident in Haditha, the Marine Corps said in the statement.

Davis was sanctioned for failing to take appropriate action when informed of the incident, and Sokoloski was censured "for his unsatisfactory performance of duty."

The letters of censure, the highest administrative punishment an officer can receive, will be filed in the officers' official military records, the Marine Corps said.

Navy Secretary Donald Winter signed the letters of censure on Wednesday, Marine officials said.

The Consolidation Disposition Authority for the Haditha case, Lt. Gen. James Mattis, found no evidence they intended to cover up the killings, but "he did determine that their actions, or inaction, demonstrated lack of due diligence on the part of senior commanders and staff," the statement said.

Mattis recommended the punishment of the three officers to Winter, Marine officials said.

A fourth officer, Maj. Gen. Stephen T. Johnson, former commanding general of II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward), was exonerated of any culpability in the incident.

The letters of censure are expected to end the military careers of the three officers. When they file for retirement, their request will be reviewed by Winter, who will determine if they will retire at their current ranks or at the last rank at which they served satisfactorily, Marine officials said.

Huck is currently the deputy assistant commandant for plans, policy and operations at Marine Corps Headquarters in Arlington, Virginia. Davis is now the chief of staff for the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, and Sokolowski is the staff judge advocate general for the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Lejeune.

On November 19, 2005, insurgents set off a roadside bomb that killed a Marine. Marines from the victim's unit were eventually charged in connection with the deaths of 24 Iraqi civilians killed shortly after the blast.

The military began investigating the killings in March 2006 after an Iraqi human rights group alleged that Marines had gone on a house-to-house rampage after the bombing. Charges were brought the following December.

A statement from the Marine Corps originally blamed the civilian deaths on the same roadside bomb that killed the member of the detachment, triggering a parallel investigation into how commanders handled the incident.

Four Marines initially were charged with murder, but charges against two were dropped -- one in exchange for his testimony and the other because a hearing officer decided he acted in accord with rules of engagement.

Murder charges remain against Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich and Lance Cpl. Stephen Tatum.

CNN has learned that video from a small, unmanned spy plane that captured bombings and ground work by the Marines seeking the insurgents will be introduced as evidence by Wuterich's lawyers. Video Watch video from the drone and a report about it »

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In addition, three officers are charged with failing to report and investigate the killings -- Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani, the battalion commander, Capt. Lucas McConnell and 1st Lt. Andrew Grayson.

The men's supporters have argued they are being railroaded by the government. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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