- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Rep. John Murtha continues to make irresponsible accusations about an incident involving a Marine company in Haditha, Iraq, last year in which as many as two dozen Iraqi civilians were killed. Moving recklessly onward from his recent comments about how the Marines murdered the Iraqis in “cold blood,” the Pennsylvania Democrat now alleges conspiracy. “Who covered it up, why did they cover it up, why did they wait so long?” Mr. Murtha asked Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”

These are the wrong questions. Reasonable Americans without a partisan fixation on the Bush administration would probably ask: Why can’t John Murtha wait until the Pentagon completes its two-part investigation into the Nov. 19 incident he condemns the Marines and floats conspiracy theories? Are his sources inside the Pentagon so solid that he can allege that the cover-up “goes right up the chain of command,” as he did on Sunday? How could these sources speak authoritatively about an investigation that isn’t completed? We await Mr. Murtha’s answers.

The newly elected Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, reports the Wall Street Journal, might demand the extradition of Marines involved in this incident. The Bush administration should make absolutely clear that any criminal proceedings against the Marines, or any other American citizen now or in the future, similarly accused will be conducted solely by the United States. To do otherwise would set an unacceptable precedent; the U.S. military’s record in such cases is unmatched.

Time magazine recently asked Haditha residents about the investigation. One Iraqi whose relative was killed in the incident said the investigators “asked detailed questions, examined each bullet hole and burn mark, and took all sorts of measurements. In the end, they brought all the survivors to the homes and did a mock-up of the Marines’ movements. It was a very professional investigation.”

The Pentagon is investigating now whether there is any evidence of the cover-up described by Mr. Murtha. There’s no point in arguing with the congressman now, though evidence exonerating the Marines is beginning to leak from investigators. The Washington Post reports that military defense lawyers say radio traffic will show that the Marines came under small-arms fire, which would have justified a deadly response. Mr. Murtha claims the Marines were never under fire.

A responsible congressman who had been briefed on the investigation would have given the benefit of the doubt to the Marine account until the investigation is completed. If the Marines are guilty, Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says, they “have not performed their duty the way that 99.9 percent of their fellow Marines have.” If they are guilty, we can be sure that the Marines will deal with them. John Murtha, an ex-Marine, knows this, too.

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