[JURIST] An ongoing investigation into the November 2005 deaths of two dozen Iraqi civilians in the city of Haditha has yielded evidence indicating that the US Marines may have committed murders, according to a senior military officer speaking to AP Friday on condition of anonymity. The investigation was launched in March [JURIST report] after a TIME magazine report [text] alleged that the soldiers may have killed civilians without justification after a roadside bomb killed Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas. The soldiers may have violated the US law of war [UCMJ provisions] and the international law of armed conflict [ICRC materials] if they committed murder and/or failed to positively identify the enemy and determine whether there was hostile intent before firing on civilians. Though the AP source did not disclose the nature of the evidence, a piece may be a video [AP report] aired by an Arab television station that allegedly shows pictures of the aftermath of the killings, including the bodies of women and children.
A congressional aide said Friday that members of Congress were briefed on the investigation Thursday, and both the House and Senate armed services committees plan to hold hearings on the incident. The Naval Criminal Investigative Service [official website] is conducting the investigation and is expected to issue a report within 30 days. Marine Commandant General Michael W. Hagee [official profile] said Wednesday that the Marines involved in the incident will face charges [JURIST report], and on Thursday he took the unusual step of flying out to Iraq to stress [USMC press release] to his troops the importance of avoiding war crimes [Washington Times report]. In a message to Marines, Hagee said:
The nature of this war with its ruthless enemies, and its complex and dangerous battlefield will continue to challenge us in the commitment to our core values. We must be strong and help one another to measure up. The war will also test our commitment to our belief in the rule of law.
We have all been educated in the Law of Armed Conflict. We continue to reinforce that training, even when deployed to combat zones. We do not employ force just for the sake of employing force. We use lethal force only when justified, proportional and, most importantly, lawful. We follow the laws and regulations, Geneva Convention and Rules of Engagement. This is the American way of war. We must regulate force and violence, we only damage property that must be damaged, and we protect the non-combatants we find on the battlefield.
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