"Murtha on Haditha: ‘I Know There Was a Cover-up … The Chain of Command Tried to Stifle the Story’"
Last November, a group of U.S. Marines apparently went on “the worst rampage by U.S. service members in the Iraq war, killing as many as 24 civilians in cold blood.” Today on ABC, Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) said that U.S. officials learned of the alleged massacre in Haditha “a few days” after it happened and organized a cover-up:
MURTHA: This is what the Marine Corps told me at the highest level. The Commandant of the Marine Corps was in my office just last week, so you know. I know there was a cover-up someplace. They knew about this a few days afterwards and there’s no question the chain of command tried to stifle the story. I can understand why, but that doesn’t excuse it. Something like this has to be brought out to the public, and the people have to be punished.
Murtha was also asked whether he thought the alleged massacre would have been made public if not for the Time magazine investigation published in March (read Time’s new follow-up report) His response: “No, I do not think it would have come out, and it’s unfortunate because this is how you lose the Iraqi people.”
Full transcript below:
GIBSON: I heard you tell George Stephanopoulos on Sunday that you believe this is murder, followed by a cover-up and I’ve heard you also say that what happened is well-known in Marine circles. Why are you so sure it was murder?
MURTHA: Charles, I started hearing about this probably right before the Time Magazine article and then I heard officially about it about two months ago. And there’s no question in my mind, when they pay people, as they did right after the incident – a team went into to investigate this immediately afterward. I mean it breaks my heart to think that Marines would do this. Hopefully, this is an isolated incident. But, you know, we’re supposed to be selling ideas of America, ideals of America, and we’re losing that war.
The reason we’ve lost the hearts and mind is these troops are under tremendous stress. Day after day these explosive devices go off, and if they don’t kill them that day, they hurt somebody, they wound somebody. And I see them at the hospitals. I see – they don’t know who the enemy is, they don’t know who they’re fighting, Iraq – and then they kill innocent people. There’s no question in my mind about what happened here. There was no gunfire. They killed four people in a taxi and then in addition to that, they went into the rooms and killed them. And I don’t know how many were involved in it, but it’s something that we cannot excuse. I can understand it, but it can’t be excused.
GIBSON: Jonathan just mentioned, there’s no charges yet filed against any of the Marines that were in this outfit, but Jonathan mentioned a moment ago, defense lawyers are already saying, well, there’s drone video and there is actual radio traffic to higher-ups that will give a different picture than you have been talking about of this incident. What do you know about that?
MURTHA: I can only tell you this, Charles. This is what the Marine Corps told me at the highest level. The Commandant of the Marine Corps was in my office just last week, so you know, I know there was a cover-up someplace. They knew about this a few days afterwards and there’s no question the chain of command tried to stifle the story. I can understand why, but that doesn’t excuse it. Something like this has to be brought out to the public, and the people have to be punished.
GIBSON: The commandant told you that this was a case of murder?
MURTHA: Charlie, don’t mince words here. The commandant said it was a very serious incident. He was not going to tell me it was murder, but everything looked to him just like it looks to me. He didn’t say that in so many words, but he told me exactly what happened.
GIBSON: In terms of a cover-up, do you think this ever would have come to light if Time Magazine hadn’t pursued this so relentlessly using the video form this human rights organization?
MURTHA: No, I do not think it would have come out, and it’s unfortunate because this is how you lose the Iraqi people. If you’re going to win a war like this, you got to promote the ideals and ideas of American democracy, and there’s no question in my mind that we’re losing it.