ACLU to Seek Public Accountability in Haditha Investigations

June 22, 2006 12:00 am

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Public Oversight Will Encourage Comprehensive Investigation, ACLU Says

NEW YORK – The American Civil Liberties Union today filed a Freedom of Information Act request demanding that the Defense Department publicly disclose investigative files relating to the alleged killing of 24 civilians by U.S. Marines in Haditha, Iraq.

“The intentional killing of civilians is a profoundly serious violation of both domestic and international law, and the allegation that senior officers suppressed evidence of this tragic incident is deeply troubling,” said ACLU attorney Jameel Jaffer. “The request we filed today is meant to encourage an investigation that is credible and comprehensive.”

The ACLU’s FOIA request seeks information about an incident in which U.S. Marines are said to have killed 24 Iraqi civilians, including women and children, in retaliation for the killing of another Marine by a roadside bomb. The request seeks information about the Haditha incident, about the alleged cover-up of that incident by senior officers, and about other incidents involving the killing of civilians by U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. The request also seeks to ascertain whether military officers attempted to suppress information about these deaths.

Specifically, the request seeks the release of all records relating to the killing of civilians by U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan since January 1, 2005, including death certificates, autopsy reports, investigative files, documents related to criminal and administrative proceedings, witness interviews, statistics, policy documents (including “rules of engagement”), paperwork for compensatory payments to relatives of victims, photographs, and videos.

“Disclosure of these documents will allow the public to evaluate the sufficiency of the military’s investigations,” said ACLU attorney Amrit Singh. “While we welcome the military investigations, the public has a right to see for itself that these allegations are being taken seriously and investigated thoroughly.”

There are currently two military investigations into the Haditha incident. The L.A. Times reported yesterday that an investigation by Major General Eldon Bargewell into the alleged cover-up had found that senior military officers had “failed to investigate” the Haditha incident and that “virtually no inquiry at any level of command was conducted into the circumstances surrounding the deaths.” The Bargewell report will be reviewed by Lieutenant General Peter Chiarelli, who can either accept the findings or substitute his own. A second investigation, conducted by the Navy’s Criminal Investigative Service is still pending. Under the ACLU’s request, both investigative reports will ultimately be made public, along with the documentary evidence on which the reports are based.

In the Haditha case, it is possible that some or all of the Marines involved could be charged with crimes including murder, and face court martial. To date, however, no charges have been filed.

Yesterday, the military charged seven Marines and a Navy corpsman with murder and other offenses in relation to a separate incident involving the killing of a civilian in Hamdania, Iraq, in April. According to news reports, the charges stem from an incident in which the servicemen shot a 52-year-old disabled Iraqi man in the face, then planted a rifle and shovel next to him to make it seem as if he was an insurgent.

The ACLU filed a FOIA request in October 2003 for records concerning the abuse of prisoners held by U.S. forces in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantánamo Bay. That request has resulted in the release of more than 100,000 pages, all of which are available here: Litigation surrounding that FOIA request is ongoing.

The FOIA request that the ACLU filed today is available at:

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