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Navy ends Haditha investigation

Military officials expect some Marines to be charged

From Mike Mount
CNN Washington Bureau

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Marines
Iraq
Cable News Network (CNN)
Crime, Law and Justice

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A U.S. naval investigation team has wrapped up its investigation into the murders of 24 Iraqi civilians in Haditha, allegedly at the hands of U.S. Marines, U.S. military officials told CNN.

The case has been handed over to a military prosecution team that will look further into the allegations and see if there is enough evidence to build a case, the officials said Tuesday.

U.S. Marines are alleged to have killed the civilians in a bloody rampage November 19, following the death of a Marine by a roadside bomb.

The Naval Criminal Investigative Service will assist with additional interviews as the prosecution proceeds with the investigation.

Once the findings are reached, Lt. Gen. John Sattler -- the commander of Marine forces in the U.S. Central Command region -- will determine whether any Marines will be charged. There is no timetable for when that decision will be made.

Military officials expect some of the Marines to be charged.

Hindering the investigation is the fact that relatives of the victims will not allow the bodies to be exhumed for examination because their religion forbids it.

Although the U.S. government is still trying to persuade the families to change their minds, prosecutors are building their case under the assumption they will not get autopsy results, according to U.S. military officials.

Last month, a separate investigation into the military response to and reporting of the incident concluded that senior leaders failed to sufficiently investigate the killings in spite of conflicting information, according to a defense official. (Full story)

The findings, which have not been been made public, came as part of a voluminous report prepared by Maj. Gen. Eldon Bargewell and reviewed by Army Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli.

Chiarelli forwarded copies of the report, along with his recommendations, to Gen. George Casey, commander of forces in Iraq, and Gen. John Abizaid, the commander of the U.S. Central Command.

While Bargewell found the reporting of the incident untimely, inaccurate and incomplete, according to a Defense Department source, Chiarelli questioned the motivation of senior Marine leadership in failing to investigate the incident properly.

Any finding of negligence could lead to a range of actions, from administrative reprimand to criminal charges.

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