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COURT OF INQUIRY:
MARSOC, CAMP LEJEUNE

May 23, 2008--After an administrative Court of Inquiry, Lt. Gen. Samuel Helland, commander of U.S. Marine Forces Central Command, determined that no charges would be filed against Maj. Fred C. Galvin, 38, commander of the 120-person special operations company, and Capt. Vincent J. Noble, 29, a platoon leader.

From Left, Lt. Col. Scott Jack, military council, Maj. Fred Galvin, Fox company commander and Mark Warple, civilian counsel, arrive on Camp Lejeune on Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2007, for the second day of a court inquiry examining a March 4, 2007 incident in which Marines of Marine Special Operations, Fox Company are accused of opening fire on a crowded highway, killing as many as 19 civilians and wounding 50 others. (AP photo, Chuck Beckley)

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* MAJOR NEWS: No charges for 2 Marines accused in Afghan deaths, Estes Thompson, Associated Press, May 23, 2008. [Story no longer at original url.]

A Marine Corps general has decided not to bring criminal changes against two officers whose unit was accused of killing as many as 19 Afghan civilians in 2007.

The Marines said Friday that Lt. General Samuel Helland, the commander of U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Central Command, made the decision not to bring charges after reviewing the findings of a special tribunal that heard more than three weeks of testimony in January at Camp Lejuene.

The tribunal investigated allegations that as many as 19 Afghan civilians died when a unit of Marines special operations troops opened fire after a car bomb targeted their convoy in March 2007 in Nangahar Province.

The Marines said Helland determined the Marines in the convoy "acted appropriately and in accordance with the rules of engagement and tactics, techniques and procedures in place at the time in response to a complex attack."

It was the first time in more than 50 years the Marines empaneled a Court of Inquiry. The panel, comprised of two Marine Corps colonels and a lieutenant colonel, only considered the actions of the company's commander, 38-year-old Maj. Fred C. Galvin of the Kansas City area, and a platoon leader, Capt. Vincent J. Noble, 29, of Philadelphia.

"Obviously, I am delighted about the findings," said civilian attorney Knox Nunnally, who represented Noble before the Court of Inquiry. "From a legal standpoint, it was overwhelming that this was going to be the result."

The Marines, however, said "administrative, manning and training issues" related to the incident were uncovered by the court's investigation. Those unspecified issues have been forwarded to the commander of the Marine Corps's special operations command for action.

The Corps also said Galvin, Noble and a third officer Capt. Robert Olsen will face administrative actions. It was not immediately clear what those actions might be.

Citing witness accounts, Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission concluded the Marines fired indiscriminately at vehicles and pedestrians in six different locations on a 10-mile stretch of road. Nearly a dozen Marines told the court they heard gunfire after the bombing and called the unit's fire a disciplined response to a well-planned ambush.

Galvin and several other Marines were sent back to Camp Lejeune after the shooting. The rest of the unit was ordered to leave Afghanistan and returned to the ships of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit in the Persian Gulf.

An Army investigation later concluded that 50 people were injured and 19 were killed. The brigade commander in charge of regular forces in the province publicly apologized for the shootings, saying he was ashamed of what had happened.

But a week later, Marine Corps commandant Gen. James T. Conway said the Army officer shouldn't have apologized because an investigation into what occurred was still ongoing. Nunnally has said he believes three to five people died and less than 19 were injured.

"This is a concurrence that all the Marines on the patrol did the right thing," said Galvin's civilian lawyer, Mark Waple.

* No word yet on Marine Corps' Afghan shooting inquiry, Associated Press via Charlotte Observer, February 25, 2008. [Story no longer at original url.]

* Col. Nicholson testifies, Jacksonville Daily News, Jennifer Hlad, January 23, 2008. 

* Afghans testify in inquiry, Jacksonville Daily News, Jennifer Hlad, January 23, 2008. 

* Payments to Afghans detailed at MarSOC inquiry, Navy Times, January 15, 2008.

* NCIS: No evidence of 2nd ambush on MarSOC unit, Navy Times, January 14, 2008.

* NCIS: no evidence of attack on Marine involved in Afghan shooting, Associated Press via the Winston-Salem Journal, January 14, 2008. [Story no longer at original url.]

Quote: Naval authorities could find no evidence that a Marine special operations unit accused of firing indiscriminately at civilians in Afghanistan last year were responding to a well-planned ambush that followed a suicide car bombing, an investigator testified Monday.

But Marine Chief Warrant Officer Robert O'Dwyer, an investigator with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, said authorities didn't arrive on scene until two months later and had only an hour to look at the site of the shooting.

"From a law enforcement standpoint, that's ludicrous," O'Dwyer said, adding that while one investigation later determined two civilians died and 23 were wounded, another concluded 19 died and 50 were wounded....

* Attorney Says Marine Inquiry Shows Patrol Performed Correctly, Associated Press, January 11, 2008. [Story no longer at original url.]

* Sgt. Heriberto Becerra-Bravo, Marine testifies he heard distant small arms fire after convoy was bombed in Afghanistan, Associated Press, January 10, 2008.

Quote: Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission had concluded the Marines had fired indiscriminately at pedestrians and motorists in response to the bombing.

But attorneys for the two officers, Maj. Fred C. Galvin, the company commander, and Capt. Vincent J. Noble, a platoon leader, argue that the shootings were a justified reaction to a well-planned ambush, and that the death toll was lower than the 19 that the Army counted.

On Wednesday, one Marine in the lead Humvee testified that the ambush was so severe that crossfire cut trees branches as the convoy fled.

"You could see branches falling across the road ... all along our route," testified Sgt. Benjamin Baker. "We were taking semiautomatic small arms fire all along this road."

Another witness, Sgt. Brett Hayes, testified that the convoy was fired upon at least three times. Hayes said the gunner in his Humvee shouted that he was taking small arms fire from both sides of the road, and Hayes said he heard cracks of the bullets passing overhead.

"I'm 100 percent sure we were taking fire," Hayes said. "And I'm sure we had to kill some guys who were shooting at us."

Habib Sahar, a U.S. citizen working in Afghanistan as a translator for the military, also testified Wednesday that he heard gunfire in the distance after the car-bombing, a defense lawyer said.

* Sgt. Benjamin Baker, Sgt. Brett Hayes. Marines testify about Afghanistan battle, Associated Press, January 9, 2008. [Story no longer at original url.]

* Nathaniel Travers. Ex-Marine testifies that civilians died unnecessarily in Afghanistan shooting, Associated Press, January 8, 2008. [Story no longer at original url.]

 

Background

* MARSOC warriors return from the fight, Marine Corps News, December 4, 2007. [Story no longer at original url.]

* Maj. Gen. Dennis J. Hejlik. Marine general: Special Forces unit should have stayed in Afghanistan after shooting, Associated Press, November 29, 2007. 

* Col. John Nicholson. Commander 'ashamed' of civilian deaths, Associated Press, May 9, 2007.

* U.S. Marines who shot civilians in Afghanistan violated international law, report says, Associated Press, April 14, 2007.

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