WASHINGTON - The White House said the details of an investigation into the killings of Iraqi civilians in Haditha in November 2005 will be released to the public when the probe is completed.
Press Secretary Tony Snow said that he has been assured by the Pentagon that "all the details" will be made available. "We'll have a picture of what happened," Snow said.
Evidence uncovered in February and March reportedly contradict the claims made by Marines that Iraqi civilians died as a result of a roadside bomb, the New York Times reported Wednesday.
Citing an unnamed senior U.S. official, the Times reported that a review of the incident by Col. Gregory Watt in Baghdad has uncovered evidence that casts doubt on initial reports by Marines involved.
"There were enough inconsistencies that things didn't add up," the unnamed official said, according to the Times. The report cites death certificates that show all the Iraqi victims had been shot, many in the head and chest.
Separate investigations seek to determine whether the Nov. 19 killings in the western Iraqi city of Haditha were criminal and whether the Marines involved and their commanding officers tried to hide the truth.
The Pentagon has said little publicly. What is known is that a military convoy hit a roadside bomb, killing one Marine. The Marine Corps had initially attributed 15 civilian deaths to the bombing and a firefight with insurgents, eight of whom the Marines reported had been killed.
Rep. John Murtha, a Pennsylvania Democrat and decorated war veteran who has been briefed by military officials, has said Marines shot and killed unarmed civilians in a taxi at the scene and went into two homes and shot others.
On Tuesday, White House spokesman Tony Snow said President Bush learned of the killings only after a reporter from Time magazine asked questions. Time published an article in March that said the Pentagon was investigating the incident.
Asked when Bush was first briefed about the events in Haditha, an insurgent stronghold in western Iraq, Snow replied Tuesday: "When a Time reporter first made the call."
Bush was briefed on the incident and investigation by his national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, Snow said. He would not detail Bush's personal involvement since.
"I think anybody who's heard the story has a personal interest and it's impossible not to," he said. "But the president also is allowing the chain of command to do what it's supposed to do in the Department of Defense, which is to complete an investigation. The Marines are taking an active and aggressive role in this."
According to the attorney for one of three Marine Corps officers relieved of command from a Marine battalion are not targets of investigations into whether their troops killed the civilians or tried to cover it up.
Capt. James Kimber learned about the deaths only after the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment returned from Iraq in March, his attorney Paul Hackett said.
Meanwhile, Lance Cpl. James Crossan of North Bend, Wash., who was injured in the roadside bomb attack in Haditha, told a Seattle television station that some of the Marines might have snapped after seeing one of their own killed in action.
"So, I think they were just blinded by hate ... and they just lost control," Crossan told KING-TV, which aired the interview Tuesday.
The targets of the investigations are about a dozen enlisted Marines, according to Hackett, a Marine reservist and Iraqi war veteran who represents Kimber.
Hackett, who last year narrowly lost a special election for a U.S. House seat in Ohio, said the highest ranking among those under investigation is a staff sergeant who led the four-vehicle convoy that was hit by the bomb.
Kimber, who was nominated for a Bronze Star for valor in Haditha, was relieved of command last month because his subordinates in the battalion's Lima Company used profanity and criticized the performance of Iraqi security services during an interview with Britain's Sky News TV, Hackett said.
"My purpose is to separate his name from the alleged war crimes that took place," Hackett told The Associated Press by telephone. "He's not under investigation for anything related to what has played out in the press."
The Pentagon has named two others who were relieved of command: Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani, the commander of the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, and Capt. Lucas McConnell, who commanded Kilo Company, which was implicated in the killings.
In his first statement on the case, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Tuesday expressed remorse over the deaths of the civilians.
"It is not justifiable that a family is killed because someone is fighting terrorists; we have to be more specific and more careful," al-Maliki told the British Broadcasting Corp. through an interpreter.