Pendleton Marines investigated in alleged killings

ORTH 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.

The battle for Fallujah was one of the major fights of the Iraq war that came after the insurgency took control of the city after U.S. forces left it in April of that year.

On Nov. 6, 2004, a main group of troops from Camp Pendleton's 3rd Battalion, 1st and 5th Marine Regiments, along with supporting Marine units and U.S. Army forces, massed and launched an assault to take back the city the next day.

Intense fighting took place during the next week with the final resistance cleared by late December. Several Camp Pendleton Marines were later honored with awards such as the Navy Cross for valorous actions during the fighting.

Ninety-five U.S. servicemen were killed during the fight for the city and more than 600 were wounded. An estimated 1,350 insurgents were killed and an additional 1,000 captured, according to military authorities.

A movie about the battle, titled "No True Glory: The Battle for Fallujah," based on a book written by Bing West is scheduled for release next year.

Lt. Gen. James Mattis, current commander of the I Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Pendleton and head of Marine forces throughout the Middle East, is portrayed in the movie by actor Harrison Ford. Mattis helped lead the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and was one of the top commanders at Fallujah.

Contact staff writer Mark Walker at (760) 740-3529 or mlwalker@nctimes.com.

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