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ARLINGTON, Va. — Three senior Marines are receiving administrative punishments for their roles in the reporting and the investigation of the deaths of 24 Iraqi citizens in Haditha, Iraq, on Nov. 19, 2005, Marine officials announced Wednesday.

Maj. Gen. Richard Huck, former commanding general of the 2nd Marine Division; Col. Stephen Davis, former commanding officer of the 2nd Marines’ Regimental Combat Team 2; and Col. Robert Sokoloski, former chief of staff of the 2nd Marines (Forward), all received letters of censure from Secretary of the Navy Donald Winter for their roles in the incident.

The letters were issued after Marine Lt. Gen. James Mattis, appointed to oversee the case, did not find any evidence that the officers intended to cover up the incident, the release said.

Instead, after considering witness statements and physical evidence, Mattis determined that the actions or inaction of the three officers “demonstrated a lack of due diligence on the part of senior commanders and staff,” the release said.

Maj. Gen. Stephen T. Johnson, former commanding general of the II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward), meanwhile, has been “fully exonerated of any culpability” related to the Haditha killings, the release said.

The Iraqis killed in Haditha, in Anbar province, included at least 15 noncombatant civilians, according to reports from the ongoing court proceedings against Marines charged in their deaths.

Some of the witnesses have alleged that their deaths were in retribution for an earlier attack against a Marine convoy with an improvised explosive device that killed Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas.

The letters will become part of the officers’ official military records, according to a senior Marine official who spoke to reporters at the Pentagon Wednesday about the censure.

Such letters are at the far end of a range of noncriminal punishments issued to military members that range from verbal counseling by a superior, at the least significant, to “nonpunitive letters of counseling,” which aren’t part of official records, to this: a secretarial letter of censure.

Only service secretaries can sign such letters, and are the most severe punishment that can be issued to a military officer, short of criminal punishment, the officer said.

“It’s very unusual” for such letters to be issued, the officer said.

The officer would not confirm definitely that the letters would actually end the careers of the three officers — “career-ending is a difficult word to define,” he said — but suggested this might be the case, “given the competitive nature of promotions.”

Moreover, the officer said, the letters might potentially affect each of the officers at retirement by triggering a grade determination review that could lead to a reduction in rank, and thus a reduction in retirement pension.

However, the contents of the letters themselves are not releasable, the officer said. The missives are “private communications between the secretary and the officer,” and protected under the Privacy Act from public release.

Huck is currently serving at Quantico Marine Corps Base in Virginia as deputy assistant commandant for plans, policy and operations.

Davis and Sokoloski are both at Camp Lejeune, N.C., where they are serving with the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force. Sokoloski is staff judge advocate for the MEF, and Davis is 2nd MEF’s chief of staff.

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