Murtha: Marines Murdered 15 Unarmed Iraqi Civilians
Rep. Jack Murtha, who came on our radar screen as a “hawk” (although always an opponent of the Iraq War) who called for rapid pullout of troops from Iraq on the basis that our mission has failed, has told the press that the Marines have killed Iraqi innocents in cold blood.
A Pentagon probe into the death of Iraqi civilians last November in the Iraqi city of Haditha will show that U.S. Marines “killed innocent civilians in cold blood,” a U.S. lawmaker said Wednesday. From the beginning, Iraqis in the town of Haditha said U.S. Marines deliberately killed 15 unarmed Iraqi civilians, including seven women and three children. One young Iraqi girl said the Marines killed six members of her family, including her parents. “The Americans came into the room where my father was praying,” she said, “and shot him.”
On Wednesday, Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., said the accounts are true. Military officials told NBC News that the Marine Corps’ own evidence appears to show Murtha is right.
A videotape taken by an Iraqi showed the aftermath of the alleged attack: a blood-smeared bedroom floor and bits of what appear to be human flesh and bullet holes on the walls. The video, obtained by Time magazine, was broadcast a day after town residents told The Associated Press that American troops entered homes on Nov. 19 and shot dead 15 members of two families, including a 3-year-old girl, after a roadside bomb killed a U.S. Marine. On Nov. 20, U.S. Marines spokesman Capt. Jeffrey Pool issued a statement saying that on the previous day a roadside bomb had killed 15 civilians and a Marine. In a later gunbattle, U.S. and Iraqi troops killed eight insurgents, he said.
U.S. military officials later confirmed that the version of events was wrong. 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.”
“It’s much worse than was reported in Time magazine,” Murtha, a Democrat, former Marine colonel and Vietnam war veteran, told reporters on Capitol Hill. “There was no firefight. There was no [bomb] that killed those innocent people,” Murtha explained, adding there were “about twice as many” Iraqis killed than Time had reported.
No official investigation report has been released by the Pentagon and a spokesman for Murtha was unable to add to the congressman’s remarks. “I do not know where Rep. Murtha is obtaining is information,” said Lt. Col. Sean Gibson, a spokesman for Marine Corps Forces Central Command in Tampa, Fla. “Thoroughness will drive the investigation.”
Gary Gross calls Murtha a “traitor.”
Frankly, this is the actions of a traitor or a sellout. He deserves to be ridiculed, excoriated and frog-marched off Capitol Hill, then remanded to jail. No bail. Doesn’t this idiot know the type of damage this inflicts on the Marines? Or is it that he’s so intoxicated with the thought of becoming the next chairman of the House Armed Services Committee that he’ll say anything?
The problem is that Murtha is a retired Marine colonel and a decorated veteran of two wars. Whatever one might think of his policy preferences vis-a-vis Iraq, suddenly becoming a turncoat is incredibly out of character for someone with that background. Furthermore, this is a factually falsifiable statement that will either soon be authenticated or proved false. If the latter, it would certainly not advance his political career. I think we can wait for the frogmarching until then.
Furthermore, ” Military officials told NBC News that the Marine Corps’ own evidence appears to show Murtha is right.” Who these “officials” are is unclear, as is whether their confirmation will jibe with the results of the final report. Again, though, we’ll soon see.
Morrissey concedes that,
. . . the investigation might support Murtha’s conclusions; just because he has tried to smear the Marines with this conclusion doesn’t mean it may not later be proven correct. However, his knee-jerk reaction to assume their guilt and then to exploit it for his own political ends is shameful and egregious.
That Murtha would be in a rush to paint his fellow Marines (THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS AN EX-MARINE) as mass murderers in unfathomable. Murtha is a senior member of the Armed Forces Committee and privy to much more information than those of us in the blogosphere. My reading of his statement is that it’s based on his understanding fo the investigation as it’s proceeding.
That all said, Cori Dauber is right to note that, “the military can’t respond to Murtha in any kind of substantive way because the investigation is ongoing. Which means Murtha is making incendiary charges at a time when he knows the military cannot respond, not even to provide any context, or to balance any hyperbole (not that I would ever suggest Murtha might be prone to hyperbole.)” Further, while I strongly disagree with Bob Owens‘ characterization of Murtha as “Dishonorable John,” I agree that,
[I]t is unconscionable for any legislator to accuse U.S. military personnel of multiple counts of premeditated murder before an investigation into these charges is complete. Prosecutions must proceed at their own logical pace as evidence in the case dictates. Premature accusations by a public figure in such a case imposes an artificial timeline, endangering the accuracy and thoroughness of an investigation.
At the same time, such heated rhetoric as charges of murder of “innocent civilians in cold blood” is prejudicial against the defendants, poisoning public opinion against them. This would be an explosive charge in a civilian court, but to make such charges against members of the U.S. Military when they are engaged in military operations in that country is absolutely fissionable.
For politicians, let alone those with influence over the budget of the military, to weigh in on matters where the individual liberty of servicemembers are in doubt is quite dangerous. I dissent, though, from the implications of this:
To make such strong charges while our soldiers are in that combat theater of operations is to unnecessarily inflame Iraqi public opinion against our soldiers and place the lives of U.S. servicemen and women in danger of reprisal attacks based upon Murtha’s claims, which to date, are unsupported.
While probably true in an objective sense–our enemies will undoubtedly seize upon this for propaganda value–our leaders have a duty to conduct investigations into misconduct on the part of our troops and to share the results with the American people, consequences be damned. Should we have covered up the Mai Lai massacre? Surely not.
I hope Murtha’s conclusions are premature. Soldiers in combat zones make mistakes and sometimes kill innocents when their instinct of self-preservation overrides their training. My hope is that’s all that happened. Murtha is saying something much more than that, though. But American soldiers have in fact committed horrible attrocities in past wars and in this one. It’s an inevitable consequence of putting large numbers of people in harm’s way and giving them power to kill. It’s a sad but inescapable reality of war. Pretending that it doesn’t happen, though, does not serve us in the long run. Nor does dubbing those who speak out “traitors.”