- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 1, 2006

President Bush yesterday said if an investigation into charges that U.S. Marines killed unarmed civilians in the Iraqi town of Haditha turns up evidence of wrongdoing, those involved will punished.

“I am troubled by the initial news stories. I am mindful that there is a thorough investigation going on. If, in fact, the laws were broken, there will be punishment,” the president said in his first public comments about the accusations.

A preliminary military inquiry found evidence that Marines killed two dozen Iraqi civilians in an unprovoked attack in November, contradicting the troops’ account.

In addition, forensic evidence from those killed showed the victims had bullet wounds, despite the initial statements by Marines that the civilians were killed by a roadside bomb that also took the life of a soldier, a defense official said.

“The forensics painted a different story than what the Marines had said,” the official told the Associated Press.

“I know this: I’ve talked to Gen. Pete Pace about the subject, who is a proud Marine, and nobody is more concerned about these allegations than the Marine Corps,” Mr. Bush said. “The Marine Corps is full of men and women who are honorable people who understand rules of war.”

The killings in Haditha, 125 miles northwest of Baghdad in an area that has seen terrorist activity by Sunni insurgents, came after an improvised explosive device blew up a military convoy Nov. 19, killing a Marine. Rep. John P. Murtha, Pennsylvania Democrat, who has advocated withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Iraq, charged that Marines killed unarmed civilians in a taxi at the scene and went into two homes and shot others.

Two investigations continue in the matter: A criminal probe that might result in murder charges against Marines; and another investigation into whether Marines tried to cover up the true nature of the incident, officials said.

When the military investigation is complete, which is expected this month, a senior Marine commander in Iraq will decide whether to press charges of murder or other violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

White House press secretary Tony Snow said yesterday there is no firm date for release of the investigative report.

The new Iraqi ambassador to the United States, Samir al-Sumaidaie, who was received by Mr. Bush at the White House Tuesday, said there appeared to have been other killings of civilians by Marines in Haditha, where some of his family lives.

The ambassador told CNN that Marines fatally shot his cousin during a house-to-house search several months before the November incident.

“I believe he was killed intentionally,” said Mr. al-Sumaidaie, adding that three other unarmed youths were fatally shot by Marines in a later incident in the area.

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