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Apology wrong, general says

Times Staff Writer

The Marine Corps’ top general said Thursday that a senior Army officer was wrong to apologize to the families of 19 Afghan civilians killed and 50 injured by Marines in March because investigators had yet to determine whether any wrongdoing occurred.

Gen. James T. Conway, commandant of the Marine Corps, said he believed Army Col. John Nicholson should not have issued the apology last week, particularly because he is a brigade commander in Afghanistan. As such, Nicholson is in the chain of command that eventually may be asked to decide whether charges should be brought against the Marines.

At a Pentagon news conference, Conway said he felt it was proper to make condolence, or “solatia,” payments to the families. But he said the apology, in which Nicholson said he was “deeply, deeply ashamed” by the “terrible, terrible mistake” made by the Marines, went too far.

“He’s not wrong to make solatia payments,” Conway said, referring to the $2,000 disbursed for each death. “But I would just as soon that no one at this point, in any chain of command, apologize or talk about ‘terrible, terrible mistakes’ or those types of wrongdoings. I think it’s just premature.”

An Army spokesman could not be reached for comment on Nicholson’s response. Nicholson issued the apology to the Afghan families two months after the March 4 incident, in which a Marine special forces unit reportedly opened fire on a group of Afghans after the Marines’ convoy was bombed.

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Shortly after the incident, the unit was ordered to leave the country and Army Maj. Gen. Frank H. Kearney III, the head of special operations in the Middle East, ordered a criminal investigation of the incident, which is continuing.

Nicholson said he made the apology because keeping civilians on the side of the U.S.-led coalition was essential to fighting the insurgency in Afghanistan.


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