The Secretary of the Navy Sept. 5 handed down letters of censure to three US Marine officers for improper performance of duties in the reporting and investigation of the killings of 24 Iraqi civilians at Haditha in November 2005. A previous investigation into the officers’ alleged misconduct revealed no evidence of a plan to conceal the Haditha incident which would violate the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). As the investigation did not indicate a UCMJ violation, the officers were not brought before an Article 32 panel to determine whether they should face courts-martial for their actions. Letters of censure are the most severe administrative punishment available to the Secretary of the Navy. The censured officers—Maj. Gen. Richard A. Huck, Col. Stephen W. Davis and Col. Robert G. Sokoloski—may be denied promotion and may lose full retirement benefits as a result of the letters.
The Haditha investigation has culminated in the largest US military prosecution involving civilian deaths during the war in Iraq. In August, preliminary Article 32 hearings began for US Marine Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich (see his advocacy website), who commanded the platoon implicated in the killing and apparent cover-up. He faces several counts of unpremeditated murder, as well as charges of soliciting another to commit an offense and making a false official statement. Also in August, a hearing officer recommended that murder charges be dropped against Lance Cpl. Stephen Tatum (also with his own advocacy site) for his role in the Haditha incident. The hearing officer argued there was insufficient evidence to support bringing Tatum to court-martial on charges of unpremeditated murder, negligent homicide and assault. A final decision has not yet been issued on whether Tatum will face court-martial. An official report on the incident by US Army Major General Eldon Bargewell found “serious misconduct” on all levels of the US Marine Corps chain of command. (Jurist, Sept. 6)