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Core-Values Training Ordered for Military in Iraq

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

The American commander in Iraq is ordering his troops to get training in moral and ethical battlefield standards. That's the response to allegations that Americans were responsible for a massacre. General George Casey issued the order after U.S. Marines were accused of killing unarmed civilians and then covering up their actions.

NPR's Tom Bowman has been covering this story. Tom, good morning to you.

TOM BOWMAN reporting:

Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: And the basics here, first. We know that 24 people were killed, 11 of them were women and children. What more are you learning about what the Marines allegedly did, and what they did afterward?

BOWMAN: Well, what we know is that the Marines lied about the initial report that a roadside bomb killed these civilians. We know that was a lie. We know that a sergeant and a corporal are the main focus of the investigation, and as many as three other lance corporals could also be implicated here.

We also have learned from investigators that the sergeant coached the other Marines to lie about what they saw. He was particularly concerned about a taxicab. We know a taxicab rolled into the scene shortly after the roadside bomb exploded, and that the Iraq - five Iraqis were ordered out of the taxi. They were unarmed and all were killed.

INSKEEP: So we have a situation where a roadside bomb exploded, an American was killed. The response came to kill these civilians, allegedly, and we should say allegedly, there haven't been formal charges filed, right?

BOWMAN: That's exactly right.

INSKEEP: And then what happened was you have a sergeant who clearly knew that -according to the allegations - that they had gone beyond what they should have done.

BOWMAN: That's exactly right.

INSKEEP: And tried to clean up afterward.

BOWMAN: And that the sergeant led his troops - led the Marines into the four houses where the rest of the civilians were killed. Now, initially, they said there was a firefight, that they were taking fire from these houses. There is no evidence of that at this point. So far investigators have only found one AK-47 in the fourth house that they searched, that there was an exchange of fire between an Iraqi male and the Marines, and that Iraqi male was killed; but again, only one AK-47 out of four houses.

INSKEEP: Tom, I realize that military officials are going to be circumspect in what they say to you because this is an ongoing investigation, but do you have a sense of how this came to the attention of the U.S. military?

BOWMAN: Well, we know that Iraqi human rights people were talking with the survivors in Haditha; and that they gathered information and then they went to Time magazine. This is probably maybe January, February timeframe. And Time went to the U.S. military. While they were working on their story, a preliminary investigation was started. And then there was enough evidence to go forward with a formal investigation by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. That investigation is expected to wrap up some time, middle of the month.

INSKEEP: And what has happened in the last few days that has caused investigators to feel a lot more certain in their conclusions, and cause military officials to make announcements that they want more training?

BOWMAN: Well, with this investigation we have statements from members of Congress, statements from some of the Iraqis; we have death certificates showing that these people were shot, they were not the victims of a roadside bomb. And the fact that we have an investigation by a two-star Army general into how this was reported tells you that there's a serious problem there.

INSKEEP: Forgive me, but aren't American soldiers and Marines and sailors already trained in how to behave on a battlefield in what's accepted and what's not?

BOWMAN: Absolutely, from basic training in boot camp, they're taught how to respond to fire from enemy fighters, how to protect noncombatants. And they do this, again, from boot camp. And then after boot camp, before they go to Iraq, they're trained in mock Iraqi villages with Iraqi role players and told how to deal with the situation, and again, to protect the innocents, and not to fire on them.

INSKEEP: And the allegation here is that none of it worked. NPR's Tom Bowman, thanks very much.

BOWMAN: Thanks, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Tom Bowman is a NPR National Desk reporter covering the Pentagon.