Monday, May 29, 2006

Haditha War Crimes Coverup Alleged

A Congressman who is known to be among the lawmakers closest to the military alleged yesterday that there was a concerted coverup in the case of the unprovoked murders by Marines in Haditha.

A powerful member of Congress alleged yesterday that there has been a conscious effort by Marine commanders to cover up the facts of a November incident in which rampaging Marines allegedly killed 24 Iraqi civilians.

"There has to have been a coverup of this thing," Rep. John P. Murtha (Pa.), ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, charged in an interview on ABC's "This Week." "No question about it."

John W. Warner (R-Va.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, also raised the issue of whether the military chain of command reacted properly and legally.

"There is this serious question . . . of what happened and when it happened, and what was the immediate reaction of the senior officers in the Marine Corps when they began to gain knowledge of it," he said on the same program. He added, "That is seriously a question that is going to be examined."...

Murtha, who like Warner is a former Marine, said that there was a preliminary investigation by the military but that "it was stifled."...

Murtha said he understands the stress being put on Marines fighting in western Iraq's turbulent Anbar province: "The pressure builds every time they go out," with roadside bombs exploding "every day they go out."

But, he said, "I will not excuse murder, and this is what has happened," adding that there is "no question in my mind about it." He reiterated a previous statement that shootings of women and children occurred "in cold blood" and that there was no firefight in which civilians were killed in a crossfire, as some Marines asserted after the event.

"This is worse than Abu Ghraib," he said, referring to the abuse of Iraqi detainees by U.S. soldiers at a prison west of Baghdad that, when revealed in spring 2004, became a major setback for the U.S. effort in Iraq.

Murtha was most emphatic in discussing his belief that senior Marine officers acted to prevent the facts of the case from emerging. "The problem is, who covered up? And why did they cover it up?" he asked...

"We don't know how far it goes," Murtha said of the alleged coverup. "The Marines knew about it all this time. Somebody in the chain of command decided not to allow this to happen. How far up it went, I don't know."

Payments from the U.S. military to the families of the innocent victims in Haditha are under scrutiny in the investigations according to "a United States defense official, who declined to be identified because details of the investigation are not supposed to be revealed," the New York Times is reporting today.

The United States defense official said the payments were also a focus of investigators trying to determine whether the killings were improperly covered up. On "This Week," Representative Murtha suggested that the decision to make payments was strong evidence that Marine officers up the chain of command had knowledge of the events. "That doesn't happen at the lowest level," he said. "That happens at the highest level before they make a decision to make payments to the families."

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