Marines claim they are political casualties of war

    A Marine captain who was relieved of command after members of his battalion were accused of killing civilians in Haditha, Iraq, denied any role in the slayings and complained that he had become a “political casualty.”

    “It makes my blood boil to see my name lumped in with this massacre, when I was in a different city not playing any role in this incident,” Capt. James Kimber told The Associated Press.

    Kimber, 33, of Fountain Hills, Ariz., was one of three officers reassigned to new duties last month for what the Marines said was “a lack of confidence in their leadership abilities.” None of the three officers has been charged with wrongdoing.

    Investigators are trying to determine whether the 24 killings Nov. 19 were criminal, and whether the Marines involved and their commanding officers tried to hide the truth.

    The killings followed the death that day of a Marine in a bomb explosion that targeted a military convoy. U.S. military investigators have evidence that points toward unprovoked murders by the Marines, a senior defense official said last week.

    Families of 15 of the dead civilians have received a total of $38,000 in military-ordered reparations, the Marine who delivered the money confirmed Thursday.

    Maj. Dana G. Hyatt, who led a liaison team to improve relations between soldiers and Haditha residents, would not discuss the incident but confirmed published reports of the payment.

    “I don’t want to comment on what people are saying or not saying about any of it,” Hyatt said at his home in Colchester, Conn. He referred questions to the Marines’ Central Command in Tampa, Fla. A call was placed there seeking comment.

    The Washington Post reported Thursday that investigators will conclude that some officers involved gave false testimony to their superiors, who then failed to scrutinize the reports adequately.

    Kimber said he first learned about the shootings in February when he heard that a Time magazine reporter was asking questions about civilian deaths.

    Kimber said he heard nothing about a civilian massacre during city council meetings and talks with local leaders.

    “It would have been huge, there would have been no question it would have filtered down to us,” he said. “We reported no significant atmospheric change as a result of that day.”

    Kimber said he was removed because senior commanders at California’s Camp Pendleton were scrambling to defuse an explosive situation.

    “I believe I was a political casualty as a result of the Haditha incident,” Kimber said in a telephone interview.

    A Camp Pendleton spokesman did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

    Kimber, a Marine officer for 10 years, completed two combat tours in Iraq. He won a Navy-Marine Corps Commendation medal for valor in the battle of Fallujah during his first tour in 2004.

    He said his troops had performed exceptionally in Iraq. On street patrols in Haditha and Haqlaniyah, he said, India Company discovered more than 350 weapons caches, located 40 roadside bombs and saw a sharp drop in roadside bomb attacks, something Kimber attributed in part to good relations with local citizens.

    Kimber has been reassigned to a desk job at Pendleton. He said his military career is all but over and he hopes that before he leaves the Marines, he can stop his name from being associated with Haditha.


    Associated Press Writer Stephanie Reitz in Colchester, Conn., contributed to this report.

    © 2006 The Associated Press