- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 4, 2006

Both Democrats and Republicans yesterday expressed caution about the investigation of an incident last year in which U.S. Marines killed civilians in the Iraqi town of Haditha.

“I don’t have enough evidence to see how they’ve handled that particular set of charges,” said former Vice President Al Gore, a vocal critic of the Iraq war, on ABC’s “This Week.”

“I don’t think that we have enough information now to know how they have handled it.”

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she has spoken with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki about the Haditha incident.

“I’ve talked to Prime Minister Maliki,” Miss Rice said on “Fox News Sunday.” “He wants coalition forces there. He knows that Iraqis are not yet capable of dealing with these security issues themselves. We have very good cooperation with him.”

Mr. al-Maliki’s reported comment that the November killings — said to involve about two dozen Iraqi civilians — was not an isolated incident might have been taken out of context, Miss Rice said.

“Everyone’s presumed innocent, but the allegations are serious. They’re unnerving. And they’re being investigated,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, on “Fox News Sunday.”

Mr. Gore and Sen. Jack Reed, Rhode Island Democrat, were also reluctant to place blame directly on the Marines involved in the incident.

“I think the events in Haditha are an indication of the tremendous pressure that our forces are in, our Marines, our Army forces,” Mr. Reed said on “Fox News Sunday.” “These are young Marines, young soldiers. They’re in a very hostile environment.”

“I think that the situation in Iraq itself has contributed to the impossible situation our soldiers so frequently have found themselves in, and so that’s a part of it,” Mr. Gore said. “But it looks to me as if the senior officers in the chain of command appear not to have reacted quickly enough.”

Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan was more critical in his assessment.

“We were briefed a couple weeks ago. From all appearances, there is a massacre here of 24 civilians, and not accidentally,” said Mr. Levin, ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee said. “There’s finally an investigation that’s taking place, but there’s also the real possibility of a cover-up here.”

In an interview with the Associated Press, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Peter Pace also said it is too early to pass judgment about the event.

“You don’t want to have the emotions of the day weigh into the process,” Gen. Pace said during an interview from Singapore. “We need to stick with our judicial process. We want to be sure that it moves forward without any influence.”

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