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海兵隊が、犠牲者の家族15人にそれぞれ2,500ドルを支払ったことが調査の焦点となっている。海兵隊のスポークスマンは支払い自体があったことは認めているが、「法的責任や過失を認めたものではない」としている。（A Marine headquarters spokesman said payments were made but said they were "not an admission of legal liability or fault."）
（"The payments raise a lot of questions," said retired Rear Adm. John Hutson, a former senior Navy lawyer. "If this is the misdeed of insurgents" in setting off a roadside bomb, "then why is the U.S. paying for it?" Hutson asked. "You have to wonder if this is hush money."）
Dollars for silence? Marine hush money probe
WASHINGTON - The investigation of an alleged Marine massacre of 24 civilians in Haditha last year has focused on whether cash payments to the families of victims were part of a coverup, sources said yesterday.
Iraqi charges that the Marines offered hush money have also figured in a separate investigation of the shooting death of a disabled Iraqi man in the Baghdad suburb of Hamdaniyah on April 26.
Gen. Michael Hagee, the Marine commandant, said yesterday, "I am gravely concerned about the serious allegations concerning actions of some Marines at Haditha and Hamdaniyah."
The approval by officers of $2,500 payments to the families of 15 victims in the Nov. 19 Haditha incident has been the main focus of a coverup investigation by Army Maj. Gen. Eldon Bargewell, military and congressional sources said.
The Marines initially reported that the 15, including five girls ages 3 to 14, were killed by an insurgent's roadside bomb, but they were all later found to have died of gunshot wounds.
A Marine headquarters spokesman said payments were made but said they were "not an admission of legal liability or fault."
"Authority to approve such payments is normally held at the regimental level, but may be delegated to battalion commanders," the spokesman said.
In the Haditha case, "There's a gap in the whole narrative, you just don't give them a bag of money" without officers concluding that the Marines bore some responsibility, said Catholic University Law Prof. Michael Noone, a former Air Force lawyer.
Noone said the cash payments made about a month after the shootings suggested that the command knew of possible wrongdoing well before the Naval Criminal Investigative Service began looking into the case in February.
"The payments raise a lot of questions," said retired Rear Adm. John Hutson, a former senior Navy lawyer. "If this is the misdeed of insurgents" in setting off a roadside bomb, "then why is the U.S. paying for it?" Hutson asked. "You have to wonder if this is hush money."
At a Pentagon briefing on his recent tour of Iraq, Hagee said Marine morale was high but at least one noncommissioned officer told him of being shaken by the allegations that Marines killed civilians in Haditha.
"Sir, that's not what we do, that's not what we're about," Hagee quoted the NCO as saying. "I want to know what senior leadership is doing, and I want to know what we can do about that," the NCO said.
Originally published on June 8, 2006
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