Official: No proof for Marines' claim
Four Marines are charged with murder in the deaths of Iraqi civilians.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. criminal investigators found no evidence to support the claim of Marines charged in the deaths of unarmed Iraqi civilians that five were shot after trying to flee the scene of a roadside bombing that killed one Marine, a senior defense official said Saturday.
Investigators determined that all five Iraqis were shot within arm's length of each other and no more than 18 feet from the white taxi they were ordered to exit by members of a Marine squad in the western Iraqi town of Haditha, said the official, who is familiar with reports produced by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to publicly discuss details of the killings on Nov. 19, 2005.
Two Marines are charged with murder in the five deaths. They are Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich and Sgt. Sanick P. Dela Cruz.
Two other Marines -- Lance Cpl. Justin L. Sharratt and Lance Cpl. Stephen B. Tatum -- face murder charges in connection with the deaths of other Iraqi civilians shot shortly after the killings by the taxi.
Through his lawyers, Wuterich has claimed he acted appropriately and within military rules governing the use of deadly force in combat.
Reaction to leak
Mark Zaid, an attorney for Wuterich, said in an interview Saturday he was highly disappointed that information from the government's investigative report on Haditha had been leaked to the press. He called it an effort by unidentified Pentagon officials to "portray a negative slant of these Marines."
Tatum's attorney, Jack Zimmerman, said he got the report the day after Christmas and has not "even begun to crack it." He called disclosure of details from the report a "serious, serious violation" and said he may ask the military to investigate the source of the leak.
Attempts on Saturday to reach lawyers for DelaCruz and Sharratt were unsuccessful.
Dela Cruz told investigators that he fired bullets into the five bodies as they lay on the ground and that he later urinated on one, the defense official said.
These details about the deaths were first reported in Saturday's Washington Post, which said it obtained a copy of a lengthy government investigative report. The Post published photos from the investigative file that had not previously been made public; one shows the five Iraqis sprawled near the taxi.
One of the five may have been kneeling at the time he was shot, the defense official told The Associated Press.
Others facing charges
In addition to the four Marines facing murder charges, four other Marines who were not at the scene were charged with dereliction of duty for failing to report or properly investigate the killings. In all, the case involves the deaths of 24 Iraqi civilians.
The Haditha investigation is the biggest U.S. criminal case involving civilian deaths so far in the Iraq war.
Members of an explosive-ordnance disposal team that was summoned to the scene scoured the taxi and found no weapons or evidence of bomb-making materials, the defense official said. At least two, and possibly four, of the five Iraqis were students; the other was the taxi driver, who was taking the students to school.
Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.