Drone may have video of Haditha action

Washington Post:

Military investigators piecing together what happened in the Iraqi town of Haditha on Nov. 19 -- when Marines allegedly killed two dozen civilians -- have access to video shot by an unmanned drone aircraft that was circling overhead for at least part of that day, military defense lawyers familiar with the case said in interviews.

It is unclear whether the video obtained from that day's flight captured the violence, said the lawyers, who have consulted with Marines who were there. One lawyer said investigators have reviewed surveillance footage taken hours after the shootings, which showed the Marines returning to the town to remove the bodies of the Iraqis.

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In addition to video from the drone, investigators have records of radio message traffic between the Marines and a command center, said military defense lawyers who have discussed the investigation with Marines who were at Haditha but who have not yet been formally retained by them.

"There's a ton of information that isn't out there yet," said one lawyer, who, like the others, would speak only on the condition of anonymity because a potential client has not been charged. The radio message traffic, he said, will provide a different view of the incident than has been presented by Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) and other members of Congress. For example, he said, contrary to Murtha's account, it will show that the Marines came under small-arms fire after the roadside explosion.

Two of the lawyers said the message traffic will show officers in higher headquarters knew early on that a large number of civilians had been killed and that they did not raise alarms.

"The chain of command knew about it," said one, and "the number of deaths was reported" by the commander of the company involved, Capt. Lucas M. McConnell of Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion of the 1st Regiment of the 1st Marine Division.

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The presence of the drone is potentially significant because such surveillance craft are in high demand in Iraq and their use is supervised by senior officers -- which could indicate there was interest among higher officers about what was occurring in Haditha.

One of the military lawyers said Nov. 19 was the 3rd Battalion's "hottest day" in Iraq, and was unusually violent even for al Anbar Province, which is where the insurgency began and where it remains extremely active.

In addition to drone surveillance that day, AV-8 Harriers were dropping bombs, helicopters were evacuating wounded, and a large firefight occurred about one-third of a mile from the site of the civilian shootings, said several people familiar with the investigation.

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One of the problems for troops and commanders in Iraq is that the enemy camoflages himself as a civilian. This endangers all civilians that are near a fire fight. If people were really shooting at the Marines, the rules of engagement allow them to return fire. However what is alleged here is that people were executed rather than being caught in a fire fight. The video, if it exist could be crucial evidence. This report does support some of the contentions about command knowledge made in this post.

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