Saturday, June 30, 2007

Pendleton Marines investigated in alleged killings (NEW CASE)

NORTH COUNTY ---- A federal agency is investigating whether Camp Pendleton Marines shot and killed a group of prisoners in the city of Fallujah, Iraq, in 2004, according to several military and legal sources.

The sources told the North County Times that the Naval Criminal Investigative Service probe centers on whether five to 10 Marines violated the laws of war.

"They have interviewed about 20 people so far and some have been read their rights," a source with direct knowledge of the probe said Friday.

Under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the killing of a captured enemy combatant who does not present a threat is considered murder.

Some of those being questioned are no longer in the Marine Corps, and at least one has hired a private defense attorney who specializes in military law, sources said. Because of the sensitivity of the matter, the five sources who spoke with the newspaper agreed to do so on the condition that they not be named.

The Marines are believed to have been involved in the deaths of as many as eight people who were captured during one of the largest battles of the Iraq war, according to the sources.

Questions the sources said that they could not immediately answer include whether the Iraqis had been declared prisoners, whether any or all were bound in any way and where specifically the slayings occurred.

The incident reportedly took place on or about Nov. 10, 2004, three days after the U.S. launched a major assault in Fallujah, an Anbar province city in western Iraq that at the time was under insurgent control.

One of the Marines has said that the troops believed they were carrying out the orders of their commanders when the insurgents were shot, according to one source.

A Marine Corps public affairs officer referred questions to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service in Washington, D.C.

Agency spokesman Ed Buice, who was presented with questions reflecting the essence of what the newspaper had been told, said Friday that no one would comment on the report. The Department of the Navy law enforcement agency is composed of civilian investigators who are not under Marine Corps control.

The sources said the Fallujah investigation arose as a result of the ongoing prosecution of three Camp Pendleton enlisted Marines charged with murder in the deaths of 24 Iraqi civilians in the city of Haditha on Nov 19, 2005. Four officers face charges of dereliction of duty for failing to fully investigate the deaths at Haditha.

In another ongoing Iraqi death case, five of eight Camp Pendleton troops have pleaded guilty for their roles in the abduction and shooting of a retired Iraqi policeman in April 2006. Three defendants in that incident face trial this summer.

None of the men being prosecuted in the Haditha or Hamdania cases are subjects of the Fallujah investigation, a source said........

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