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Two Stories, One Congressman: Murtha’s Accusations

Sunday, June 11, 2006  |  posted by Hugh Hewitt
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The Los Angeles Times runs a story which carries Haditha in its title, “Parents Fear Marine’s Case Tainted by Haditha Killings,”
but which is not about Haditha at all, but instead details a separate investigation into allegations that a Marine murdered an Iraqi in the town of Hamandiya. The father of the Marine reports that he visited his son in the Camp Pendelton brig and the son was in shackles. “Six other Marines and a Navy corpsman, all part of the 3rd Battalion, 5th Regiment, 1st Marine Division, are also being held at Camp Pendleton. Charges are expected to include murder, kidnapping and conspiracy,” the report continues.

Then the article jumps to Haditha, and notes that “investigators believe the Iraqis were killed by Marines without provocation, some execution-style. But the Marines in the Haditha case are not in the brig.” No source is given for the assertion concerning “investigators.”

John Murtha is quoted as a source for details on the Hamandiya investigation, which would make the second instance in which the retired Marine colonel turned Congressman would have been providing details to the press on investiations underway against Marines.

The Washington Post story is about Haditha, and begins with these graphs:

A sergeant who led a squad of Marines during the incident in Haditha, Iraq, that left as many as 24 civilians dead said his unit did not intentionally target any civilians, followed military rules of engagement and never tried to cover up the shootings, his attorney said.

Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich, 26, told his attorney that several civilians were killed Nov. 19 when his squad went after insurgents who were firing at them from inside a house. The Marine said there was no vengeful massacre, but he described a house-to-house hunt that went tragically awry in the middle of a chaotic battlefield.

“It will forever be his position that everything they did that day was following their rules of engagement and to protect the lives of Marines,” said Neal A. Puckett, who represents Wuterich in the ongoing investigations into the incident. “He’s really upset that people believe that he and his Marines are even capable of intentionally killing innocent civilians.”

Deep in the report are these paragraphs:

Wuterich told his attorney that he never reported that the civilians in the houses were killed by the bomb blast and maintains that he never tried to obscure the fact that civilians had been killed in the raids. Whether Wuterich gave false information to his superiors is the focus of one of the military investigations. He said the platoon leader, who was on the scene, never expressed concern about the unit’s actions and never tried to hide them.

Marine Corps public affairs officers reported that the civilians had been killed in the bomb blast, a report that Puckett believes was the result of a miscommunication.

As I noted yesterday, the public –including Congressman Murtha– has no idea what happened in Haditha, and the incredible recklessness with which Congressman Murtha launched his public campaign against the Haditha Marines was quickly copied on the left. Here’s part of the DailyKos post on the Murtha charges of May 17:

Wed May 17, 2006 at 07:14:23 PM PDT
Back in November, Iraqi residents in the town of Haditha claimed the U.S. Marines went on a civilian killing spree, leaving 15 dead, 10 of them women and children. A Marine spokesman initially denied the charge, saying that they had been killed by an IED and that in a following gun battle, eight insurgents were killed.

At a news conference today originally called to mark the six-month anniversary of his call for withdrawal from Iraq, John Murtha confirmed that the Iraqi civilian reports were indeed true and that the Marines “killed innocent civilians in cold blood.”

NBC News contacted and interviewed officials today who confirmed the story:

Murtha, a vocal opponent of the war in Iraq, said at a news conference Wednesday that sources within the military have told him that an internal investigation will show that “there was no firefight, there was no IED (improvised explosive device) that killed these innocent people. Our troops overreacted because of the pressure on them, and they killed innocent civilians in cold blood.”

Military officials say Marine Corp photos taken immediately after the incident show many of the victims were shot at close range, in the head and chest, execution-style. One photo shows a mother and young child bent over on the floor as if in prayer, shot dead, said the officials, who spoke to NBC News on condition of anonymity because the investigation hasn’t been completed.

One military official says it appears the civilians were deliberately killed by the Marines, who were outraged at the death of their fellow Marine.

“This one is ugly,” one official told NBC News.

Sgt. Wuterich’s lawyer is telling a completely different story than Congressman Murtha’s.

And now Congressman Murtha surfaces in a different story about a different investigation.

Has any other sitting Member of Congress ever done such a thing? Perhaps Congressman Murtha can give us an opinion of the guilt of William Jefferson, to whom he has much greater access and for whom he has much more responsibility as a Member of the House.

Even if charges are brought against Marines in both Haditha and Hamandiya and convictions secured, Congressman Murtha’s conduct that has prejudged these men will always remain an outrageous political intervention into the military’s criminal justice system. If any of those implicated by Murtha are not charged, or are charged and acquited, Murtha’s conduct will be revealed as disgraceful.

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