Now, two days after I made my statement, on November 19th, we had an
incident in Haditha in Anbar province, where a Marine was killed with an
IED. Time magazine reported it, and it's kind of a puzzling report,
because they're investigating it right now. Let me tell you what the
consequences of this have been.
It's much worse than reported in Time magazine. There was no fire fight.
There was no IED that killed these innocent people. Our troops overreacted
because of the pressure on them and they killed innocent civilians in cold
blood. And that's what the report is going to tell.
Six months ago, U.S. Congressman John Murtha of Pennsylvania, a
retired Marine, came out strongly against the Bush administration in
the war in Iraq, calling for troops to come home. Today he spoke out
again. I‘m joined right now by Congressman Jack Murtha of
Mr. Murtha, let me
ask you about this accusation that you have come out with today, that
U.S. service people fighting in Iraq killed civilians in cold blood.
What evidence do you have on that now?
REP. JOHN MURTHA
(D), PENNSYLVANIA: Well, “Time Magazine”—two days after I made my
statement, a Marine was killed in Haditha, the northern part of Anbar
Province, and they overreacted. And I pointed this out today to show
the tremendous stress on these troops. Insiders have told me over and
over again what had happened, they didn‘t tell me until the “Time
Magazine” article came out.
But basically the
“Time Magazine” article was inaccurate because it was much worse than
the “Time Magazine” article showed. They‘ve been doing an
investigation now for three or four months. This is unacceptable to
me, but the big thing is the stress on these troops. They send these
troops back over and over again. These troops are in combat every day.
And when Karl Rove
says that they‘re sour on the war, how about disaffected, how about
the suffering that they‘re going through? This is not a souring. The
public is absolutely upset about this war. Every place I go, they tell
me it‘s outrageous the way they‘re handling this war. They send them
in with inadequate forces. There‘s no weapons of mass destruction, and
in the end, they send them in with inadequate equipment.
So this is
absolutely outrageous, and then the troops, you know—I don‘t excuse
them, but I understand why it happens, because the pressure is
tremendous. You remember a few years ago, we had four special forces
people come back and kill their wives. Now, this is the kind of
pressure they‘re under. They‘re under combat. And these guys that have
never been there, they don‘t understand what it‘s like.
And when he says
sour, that‘s ridiculous. That‘s understating the problem. They‘re
trying to sanitize this war, and you can‘t sanitize it. That‘s why I
keep speaking out. I feel so strongly that these troops—what they are
Chris, we have
lost 370 people since I spoke out November 17. And the oil production
is still below pre-war lever. Electricity is below pre-war level. They
have -- 30 percent have potable water and there is 60 percent
unemployment. Now how can you measure progress?
You know what
Secretary Rumsfeld said when he went to Iraq? He said well, you can
see these television aerials. They only have two and a half hours of
electricity in Baghdad, so they might have television satellite
dishes. But they don‘t have any electricity, so it‘s not gotten
increased from 500 a month in November to over 1,000 a month, so, you
know, it‘s just—a week, 500 a week to 1,000 a week. So it‘s not
getting better. We would have been better off redeploying them. They
had no plan for success, Chris. This is the thing that I‘m so
disturbed about. I see no plan. They have a paper, you open it up and
there‘s nothing in it.
Let me ask you Mr. Murtha to give us some details about that. Draw us
a picture of what happened in Haditha.
MURTHA: Well, I‘ll
tell you exactly what happened. One Marine was killed, and the Marines
just said we‘re going to take care. They don‘t know who the enemy is.
The pressure was too much on them, so they went into houses, and they
actually killed civilians. And, you know—
MATTHEWS: Was this
melee? I mean, was this a case of—when you say cold blood,
Congressman, a lot of people think you‘re basically saying you have
got some civilians sitting in a room or out in a field and they‘re
executed just on purpose...
exactly what happened.
because the Marines are scared or anybody is scared or the soldiers
MURTHA: Let me
tell you, this was not an action, this was not—at first they tried to
say it is an IED. There was no IED involved in this. This was troops
who went in—they were so stressed out, they went into houses and
killed women and children, 24 people they killed. Now, this is the
kind of stuff—this is the kind of stress they‘re under.
Listen, I don‘t
excuse it, but I understand what‘s happening. And the responsibility
goes right to the top. This is something that should not have
happened. It should have been investigated. As I understand it, they
have already relieved three commanding officers—three officers in this
whole thing, but this needs—this is the kind of stuff that stress is
going to cause these kind things. That‘s why I‘m so upset about it.
Congressman, I just want to read something from the Marine Corps to
make it official then you can continue. The Marine Corps told us today
that they‘re not going to comment today because the investigation, as
you say, is ongoing. So they‘re investigating.
Let‘s talk about
the larger policy question, Congressman. The country may be responding
well to you personally when you go around, because they know where you
stand. But the country doesn‘t seem to be up in arms against this war.
Where are the demonstrators? Where are the protests? You fought in
Vietnam. You saw them back here. If this country wants us out of Iraq,
why doesn‘t it say so to the president?
MURTHA: Well, the
people are saying this in the polls, but they don‘t have relatives in
this war. There‘s a very small segment of this population—of the
American population involved in this war. The families of the people
who are over they are suffering, they‘re sacrificing. And the people
themselves, they‘re going back four and five times. This is the reason
we have incidents like it.
Melee, the reason
we had—Abu Ghraib, the reason we had Abu Ghraib is because the
untrained people—and if you remember what I said in one of your shows,
one of the soldiers from my district, he was kept by a court order
from his family because he abused his family. And he told the Army,
and the still put in his position.
So we have
untrained people, unsupervised people, and they are stretched too
thin. That is the point I am making. It is a terrible tragedy, but the
point is that after you keep putting them under that stress day after
day, when they see their friends killed, they see there is tremendous
pressure on them, they see combat conditions, people blown apart, they
are going to crack.
Congressman Murtha, you are a very passionate advocate for taking a
different direction in the war in Iraq, but your passion doesn‘t work
with your party because 80 percent of the Democrats think it was a
mistake to go to war in Iraq and you know it because a lot of them are
probably in your district.
stands out there as a defender of the war to this day, Chuck Schumer,
the chairman of the Senate campaign committee, stands out there today
as a defender of the war. The big names in your party are still
hedging on this war. Well, they‘re opportunists perhaps, hoping that
the same thing will had happen to them that happened to Bill Clinton
when he played both sides of this issue back in 1990-1991. How can you
convince your party leadership, the probable nominee of your party, to
oppose this war?
MURTHA: I‘ve been
talking to a—a lot of the senators have called me and I told them
there‘s only two positions: President Bush‘s position, which is stay
the course, which is not a position at all, it‘s open-ended and my
position which is redeploy as quickly as possible. The other position
is, there‘s all kinds of other positions.
Clinton is with the president.
there‘s a lot of members—I don‘t know why they‘re with the
president—well I‘ll tell you why they say that, Chris. They say
there‘s big chaos when we leave. There‘s chaos now. It‘s gotten worse
since November 17, it‘s gotten worse. And the pressure that this
incident shows you how much pressures there‘s on the troops and the
families. The pressure is tremendous on these families when these guys
go back, men and women go back time after time, so they‘ve got to come
around. They‘ve got to understand that they cannot continue to support
this president, if they want to be elected president.
Congressman, we only have a couple seconds here, if a voter is
watching right now and if they‘re against the war, they‘re very
impressed want to go out and vote your position, but everybody
watching right now, it‘s not going to happen, the country is split,
but if three quarters of the country go out and do exactly what you
you say, vote against this war, they vote for Demorats, this war is
not going to end, is it? Even if the Congress goes Democrat, because
people like Hillary Clinton at the top are playing it safe.
MURTHA: Let me
tell you something, Chris. This war is going to end.
MATTHEWS: When are
the Democrats going to seize the leadership of the Congress, win the
votes, take over Congress and end the war? Are they going to do it?
MURTHA: I‘ve said,
Chris, over and over again, this is not a Democrat or Republican war.
When I go by the cemetery, it doesn‘t say Democrat or Republican. It
says American. We have to convince Democrats and Republicans that this
war has to end.
Click at the
link for a transcript of the complete segment.
(SPEAKING TO GUEST, CONGRESSMAN MURTHA): There's an
investigation of what happened at Haditha. As you well know, U.S.
marines were involved in an incident, civilians were killed. The
chairman of the house armed services committee Duncan Hunter says,
there's been no resolution, this investigation continues. I want to
play for you what he said today. Duncan Hunter.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. DUNCAN HUNTER, (R) ARMED SERVICES CHAIRMAN: If there were
problems in the chain of command, if there was a cover-up, if anything
wasn't reported, let the chips fall where they may. But don't presume
anything. Those reports aren't finished yet. But the reports and the
investigations are being pursued with great integrity.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: He was responding in part to you, because you've suggested
this week that there in effect was a massacre.
MURTHA: Well there was. There's no question about it. I know, in
talking to a number of people, and the information, I've never given
you bad information yet. I talked to about it, in the context of the
fact that these troops are under such tremendous pressure and that's
what happens when they're under tremendous pressure. When this thing's
all over, you're going to see exactly what I've said to be true. That,
there was an IED attack, it killed one marine, and then they
overreacted and killed a number of civilians without anybody firing at
them. That's what you're going to find out.
But my whole point is, I -- I understand what happened. I don't excuse
what happened, but I understand it because the pressure. Going out
every day, they miss an IED explosive device, they find IEDs, somebody
gets killed with an IED. They don't know who the enemy is, the
pressure is tremendous. So when you find something like that, you're
BLITZER: The marines say they're still investigating. They don't know
what happened yet. The pentagon says the same thing. How do you know
MURTHA: Wolf, you read the "Time" magazine articles. There are
pictures, there are photos. You don't have to talk to the military
about the proof. But you will see when the investigation is done that
this was an overreaction by our troops, and this is the type thing
that hurts us so badly. We're trying to win the hearts and minds of
the people. Abu Ghraib was another example where they had inadequate
forces, untrained people, undisciplined people in a prison. Had one
person in a prison who had a court order against him, he couldn't see
his family. He told the army that, and they still put him in a prison.
So here we are with troops untrained, inadequate forces. They go out
every day and there's tremendous stress and this is the kind of things
BLITZER: Congressman John Murtha, thanks very much for joining us.
ABC News This Week with George Stephanopoulos, May
STEPHANOPOULOS: Good morning, everyone. We begin with that
investigation into possible war crimes by US Marines in Iraq. Two
separate military panels are poised to conclude that on November 19th,
2005, after a roadside bomb hit a convoy of Marines in the town of
Haditha, killing Lance Corporal Miguel Terrazas, several Marines went
on a rampage, killing 24 Iraqis, all but one unarmed including
children and the women trying to protect them. Investigators are also
compiling evidence of a cover-up. And Pentagon officials tell ABC News
that at least seven Marines could face criminal charges, ranging from
dereliction of duty to murder. Key members of the House and Senate
have been briefed on the investigation, including our headliners,
Senator John Warner and Congressman John Murtha, who is our first
guest. Welcome back, sir.
REPRESENTATIVE JOHN MURTHA (DEMOCRAT): Thanks
George, you've come a long ways.
STEPHANOPOULOS: (Off-camera) Thank you, sir. You
have been briefed several times on this incident on November 19th. And
you've said that the evidence shows that Marines killed innocent
civilians in cold blood. From what you know, what happened?
MURTHA: Well, there's no question in my mind,
what happened was an IED went off. And you gotta put this into
perspective. Every day they go out, an IED goes off. And I sanitize
when I say IED. I'm talking about explosive device goes off. It
doesn't - hurts somebody one day, the next day it kills somebody. The
next day, it maims somebody. And I see those people in the hospital
all the time. So the pressure builds every time they go out. So this
particular case, an IED exploded. It killed one Marine. And then a
taxi drives up. When the taxi comes up, there's four or five people in
it. And they shoot; shoot those four or five people, unarmed. And then
they go on a rampage throughout the houses and kill people. One woman,
as I understand it, in talking to the officials in the Marine Corps,
was bending over a child pleading for mercy and they shot her in cold
blood. That's the thing that's so disturbing. And even more disturbing
is the fact that, we know the Iraqis knew about it because they made
payments to the Iraqis for accidental deaths or for salacious deaths,
whatever you want to call it. And then in addition to that, they had -
there has to have been a cover-up of this thing.
STEPHANOPOULOS: (Off-camera) So you believe
there was a cover-up?
MURTHA: No question about it. First of all, they
first tried to say that the IED is what killed these people. The next
day, there was a team out there investigating, as they always do. And
then nothing happens. Nobody hears about it. They don't tell anybody.
Until March, when "Time" magazine broke the news, nobody realized or
recognized what happened. These kind of things have to be brought out
immediately. Because, the Marines, if they did get away with it, then
other Marines would say, well, I'll do the same thing. As a matter of
fact, we have another incident which is very similar to this, George.
An incident where a Marine - or some Marines pulled somebody out of a
house, put them next to an IED thing, fired some AKAs so they'd have
cartridges there. And then tried to cover that up.
STEPHANOPOULOS: (Off-camera) April 26th in
Hamindiyah. And several Marines have been put into custody for that,
as well. Let me stay on Haditha for a second. We've read that there is
evidence, photographic evidence of what happened. Is that true?
MURTHA: Yeah, that's exactly true. And it's a
combination of the people that did the investigation and Iraqis took -
took the evidence itself. There's no question about what happened. And
the problem is, who covered it up? And why did they cover it up? Why
did they wait so long? It's been six months since this happened. It's
very simple. They went out the next day, they knew there was something
wrong. Two or three days later, they decided that this - these people
STEPHANOPOULOS: (Off-camera) So who do you blame
for the cover-up?
MURTHA: Well, that's what we're trying to figure
out. We don't know how far it goes. I mean, it goes right up the chain
of command. Right up to General Pace. When did he know about it? Did
he order the cover-up? Who ordered the cover-up? I'm sure he didn't.
But what - who said, we're not going to publicize this thing? We're
not even going to investigate it. Until March, there was no serious
investigation. There was an investigation right afterwards but then it
was stifled. So we need to know what happened. And the point is, the
pressure, the tremendous pressure on these guys, every day when they
go out with an explosive device. Second is, the Marines knew about it.
And so, this gets around the Marine community, as I'd heard rumors
about it. Then, third is, the Iraqis all knew about it. You can bet.
STEPHANOPOULOS: (Off-camera) Three commanders
have been relieved to their duty. Is that connected to this?
MURTHA: Well, they tell me it's not connected.
They tell me this is dereliction of duty. But we cannot allow
something like this to fester. We can't allow it to happen. They've
got to put the blame where it goes and they gotta get this over with.
They gotta make sure that - we're celebrating Memorial Day. And on
Memorial Day, the freedom and democracy of this great country and the
people that fight for it. And we memorialize the people that have died
and the ones that have fought for the country and the family. And here
we are with something like this. We gotta make sure the world knows
this is not something that our troops do. We can't, we can't allow
something like this.
(Off-camera) And are you absolutely sure, though, that this wasn't
something that happened in the fog of war? It was confusing. That they
thought there was fire coming from the houses and they thought they
were responding to enemy fire from insurgents?
MURTHA: The reports that I have, from the
highest level, no firing at all. No interaction. No, no military
action at all in this particular incident. It was an explosive device
which killed a Marine. From then on, it was purely shooting people
inside the houses and a taxi.
STEPHANOPOULOS: (Off-camera) "Time" magazine
reports this morning they also have a photo that shows a Marine - it
was taken by a Marine with a cell phone, showing Iraqis kneeling
before they were shot. Is that true?
Note from Defend Our Marines: Time magazine
later admitted that
this story of kneeling and executed Iraqis was fabricated.
MURTHA: Well, I hear that one of them was even
in English asking for mercy. And so I haven't heard that. I saw that
in "Time" magazine, sitting on your table out there. That's the first
I knew about that. But, but I've heard rumors like that the whole
time. The point is, 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. But the worst thing is, the Iraqis all knew
about it. And then they made payments to the families. And that
doesn't happen at the lowest level. That happens at the highest level
before they make a decision to make payments to the families.
(Off-camera) You know, a Marine who was accused last year of
committing war crimes, Lieutenant Ilario Pantano, has written a letter
to "The Washington Post" this morning saying you're rushing to
judgment. And saying, that, as he wrote in 'The Post," 'members of the
US military serving in Iraq need more than Mr. Murtha's
pseudo-sympathy. Let the courts decide if these Marines are guilty.
They haven't even been charged with a crime yet, so it's premature to
presume their guilt unless that presumption is tied to a political
MURTHA: George, I can understand - anybody
that's been over there, I can understand anybody that feels that
you're denigrating the troops. What I'm saying is, there's nobody done
more for the troops than I have. Nobody's worked harder than I have,
in trying to make sure the troops have what they need. But I will not
excuse murder. And this is what happened. There's no question in my
mind about it. This investigation should have been over two or three
weeks afterwards. And it should have been made public. And people
should - should've been held responsible for it.
STEPHANOPOULOS: (Off-camera) The commandant of
the Marine Corps, Michael Hagee, has been in Iraq for the last several
days talking to the troops. Not about this incident, he says, but
reminding them of their duties under the laws of war. Do you believe
the Marine Corps is doing what it takes to fix whatever happened here?
MURTHA: Yeah. And you got to remember that
General Hagee is not in the chain of command in this particular
incident. Because this goes through the chain of command up to General
Casey, to General Abizaid and then to General Pace. So, technically
he's in the chain of command when it comes to the punishment. Now,
he's acting very quickly now, going out and telling the troops 'we
cannot do something like this." It erodes - this is the kind of war
you have to win the hearts and minds of the people. We can't win this
militarily. It's now got to be a political victory. And we're set back
every time something like this happens. This is worse than Abu Ghraib.
STEPHANOPOULOS: (Off-camera) Well, we've already
read that al Qaeda in Iraq is sending video to mosques in Jordan, and
Saudi Arabia, Syria, trying to recruit new insurgents to Iraq. How
worried are you - how much damage do you believe this is going to do
to the US relations with the Muslim world? And will it become a
recruiting tool for terrorists?
George, we've already lost the direction in this war. We've diverted
ourselves from the real war against terrorism into Iraq. We made a
mistake by going to Iraq. I've said this over and over again. And we
can't win it militarily. This is the problem we have. Now, the
political successes that they talk about are rhetorical successes,
almost. Sure, we've got a government formed now, but the two biggest
ministries aren't completed, interior and defense. So when you look at
this whole thing, you say to yourself, what progress has been made?
All the type things I measure, sewage all over the streets, water,
only one hour a day do they get water. They have to turn their water
on in the middle of the night. Electricity below pre-war level. Oil
production below pre-war level. That's how I measure success. And only
the Iraqis should handle this. This is the thing I've been saying. Our
American troops are caught in a civil war. I understand what happened.
I don't excuse what happened. But I understand what happened.
STEPHANOPOULOS: (Off-camera) More than a million
US service people have served in Iraq honorably. Are you convinced
that this is an isolated incident?
MURTHA: Well, I hope it's an isolated incident.
I would expect we'll find out that there are very few incidents like
this. But when you get pressure that they're under every day. When
they go out, and there's an explosion and it doesn't kill somebody,
explosion then kills somebody, explosion blows somebody apart, and I
see the results of those explosions in the hospital when I go out
there every week. You begin to recognize that - that the pressure
could cause it. But we have so few people - less than 1% of the people
in the United States involved in this war. And so they go back over
and over again. Some have been back four and five times. I got a
letter from a 10-year-old child. And the child says to me, 'I
appreciate the support of your troops. Don't let my dad be deployed
for the fourth time." And another woman sitting beside her son who's
been in the hospital for over a year, hit by an IED, his brain shaken.
He's been in a coma. He can only move his eyeballs. This is the type
thing that I see that we can't - we don't need to put up with. It's
the Iraqis can only settle this themselves. They don't want our
advice, Sistani didn't even open a letter to the President. So, on
Memorial Day, we want to be confident that most of our soldiers would
not do something like this. It's an isolated incident. But that's why
it's so important to get it out in the open and get the punishment at
the appropriate places.
STEPHANOPOULOS: (Off-camera) Congressman Murtha,
we have to end it there. Thank you very much.
ABC Good Morning America with Charles Gibson, May
CHARLES GIBSON (ABC News): 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 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... There’s no question in my mind
about what happened here. There was no gunfire. They killed four
people in 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: 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 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
GIBSON: The commandant told you that this was a case of
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. A taxi pulled up, they killed them in cold blood. They went
into the houses and killed...He didn’t say it was murder...but what is
it , Charles?
You have talked--well, that is what the investigation hopefully will
prove. You have talked about this---
MURTHA: Charlie, this has been going on for six months!
They covered--they knew days afterwards! Don’t make excuses for the
military! This thing has been going on for six months!
GIBSON: I’m not trying to excuses for the military I’m
just trying to find out for certain what you were told about, that was
Click at the
link for a transcript
of the complete segment.
BLITZER: Welcome back to THE SITUATION ROOM. I'm Wolf Blitzer in
Washington. Back now to our top story, the war in Iraq. Can democracy
prevail with insurgents on the attack, and now a new uproar over an
alleged massacre by United States Marines? Let's turn to our senior
political analyst Bill Schneider. He is watching the story for us as
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, the news from
Iraq is bad, but also good. What does it add up to?
SCHNEIDER: Americans are getting mixed signals from Iraq. Good news,
Iraq finally has a new government.
SAMIR AL-SUMAIDAIE, IRAQI AMBASSADOR TO U.S.: I am honored and
privileged to serve as the ambassador of a free Iraq after 16 years of
SCHNEIDER: Bad news, there is still no agreement on key security
BARHAM SALIH, IRAQ DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: That is a difficult
challenge because in this polarized society, there are different views
about particularly the issue of security.
SCHNEIDER: Good news?
TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: A Democratic political process has
SCHNEIDER: Bad news, so has the violence, nearly 100 people killed
this week including three American soldiers and two CBS News
GEN BARRY MCCAFFREY: I think it's a terribly dangerous place for
diplomats and journalists and contractors and Iraqi mothers.
SCHNEIDER: More bad news: allegations of killings of Iraqi civilians
by U.S. Marines last November, and a possible cover-up of the
REP. JOHN MURTHA (D), PENNSYLVANIA: We're supposed to be fighting this
war for democracy, and yet something like this happens, it sets us
back. It's as bad as Abu Ghraib, if not worse.
SCHNEIDER: More bad news: anti-American rioting in Afghanistan.
SAM DEALY, GQ MAGAZINE: It's been a very violent uptick in the
insurgency and, you know, pressures are mounting.
SCHNEIDER: Including political pressures. Most Americans want to see
U.S. military forces in Iraq decreased, though not immediately
withdrawn. Ironically, the good news about Iraq's new government
increases pressure for a timetable for U.S. withdrawal, which this
month 60 percent of Americans said they favored.
SCHNEIDER: Americans have to be frustrated. The United States helped
liberate Afghanistan from the Taliban and Iraq from Saddam Hussein,
and the result is not just democracy but also insurgency and
anti-American violence -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Bill Schneider reporting. Thank you, Bill. And up next, I'll
speak live with Congressman John Murtha. He's standing by. Also, the
Pentagon investigating the allegations of a massacre by Marines in
Iraq -- how much do the claims of a cover-up hurt America's overall
mission in Iraq?
Plus, the president names a new treasury secretary. The economy
appears to be doing rather well, so why isn't the president getting a
lot of political bounce? I will ask Paul Begala and Torie Clarke --
they're standing by live -- in today's "Strategy Session." Stay with
us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Welcome back. Let's talk a little bit more now about the
Haditha incident, the alleged massacre by U.S. Marines of Iraqi
civilians, the potential fallout. Joining us, a leading critic of the
war in Iraq, Congressman John Murtha, Democrat of Pennsylvania,
himself a 37-year veteran of the United
States Marine Corps. You have suggested, Congressman, that there was a
cover-up of this incident that actually occurred back in November.
Specify what you have learned, what you have been told.
MURTHA: Well, what I worry about, Wolf, is that this happened six
months ago. And nothing -- you heard nothing about it. As a matter of
fact, the original story was that an IED killed these 15 people. It
became very confusing to the public. "TIME" magazine came out with an
article, and they still tried to cover it up. Now, there were payments
made to victims, which aren't made unless we kill them, one way or the
other. And, secondly, they knew about it the day afterwards. So,
there's no excuse for not having this be more open and know exactly
what -- and the longer it goes, the worse it is for us, because it
looks like it's the policy of our troops to do something like this.
But the Marine Corps itself told me, there were 24 people killed.
There was no other enemy action, except the one explosive device. Now,
they are under tremendous pressure, Wolf. You -- you have heard me say
this before. They are stressful. They go out every day. They see arms
blown off, legs blown off. There's inadequate number of forces. So, I
understand what happened. But you can't excuse it. And the cover-up is
inexcusable. So, the chain of command, the chain of command, somebody
in the chain of command said, we don't want to talk about this. It's
so devastating that we don't want it to be made public. Well, it's
going to be made public at someplace. The Iraqis already knew about
it. The Marines knew about it. It was going to come out. And they
should have been very open about this from the very start.
BLITZER: Here's what the chairman of the Joints Chiefs, General Peter
Pace, himself a Marine, said yesterday on CNN's "AMERICAN MORNING."
Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "AMERICAN MORNING")
GENERAL PETER PACE, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: To my
recollection, the first we knew about it back here in D.C. was around
the 10th of February. And the very next day is when the investigations
began. So, from my perspective, as soon as we found out that there
were allegations, the investigations began.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: What do you think about that, Congressman?
MURTHA: Well, I will tell you, that's a pretty flat statement there.
It seems to me something as horrendous as this should take a little
something in the statement. I mean, you know, this is a terrible
event, a tragic event. It affects the troops. It affects our morale.
It affects the ability of them to recruit against us. And just say,
well, it is going to start as soon as February, it should -- and even
that was too long a period of time. They should have known about it
before then, if they didn't know about it. It's a failure of
leadership, when they didn't know about it. When other Marines knew
about it, when the Iraqis knew about it, when they made payments about
it, and they didn't know about it in Washington? I mean, I think we
have to find that out. Senator Warner said he's going to have
hearings. And he ought to have hearings, ought to find out who knew
BLITZER: There are some who are already making comparisons between
Haditha and My Lai in Vietnam, the massacre in which hundreds of
Vietnamese civilians were killed, an incident that you well remember.
Is that a fair comparison, a fair analogy?
MURTHA: Well, I think it's a fair analogy, except for the numbers.
There was about 124, I think, in the My Lai incident. And then there
was 24 here. But it's the same thing, overstressed, these troops
going out every day. IEDs go off. Some of them have seen 30 IEDs go
off without being -- all at once, they're killed or one of their
friends is killed. So, the pressure is tremendous. It's one of those
things where we have become the enemy. The Iraq -- there's only 1,000
al Qaeda, as I have said over and over again. There's no progress.
Since I made my statement November 17, was two days before this
happened, and it's worse today than it was then.
There was 500 incidents in that time a week. And now there's 1,000
incidents a week. So, it has gotten worse during that period of time.
And these troops are under tremendous stress. And we ought to redeploy
as quickly as we can and let the Iraqis handle this themselves.
BLITZER: What about President Bush? While this investigation
continues, what, if anything, should he say about it?
MURTHA: The president should say that anybody that is involved in
this, if they are found guilty, ought to be punished severely, because
this helps recruit terrorists. If there's anything that is going to
recruit terrorists -- he finally admitted Abu Ghraib was a mistake. He
finally admitted he had untrained soldiers there, unsupervised, and
undisciplined. And that was a tremendous public-relations problem for
the United States.
We started to lose credibility then. We're fighting for the ideals of
democracy. We're fighting for the ideals of America. And when
something like this happens, and then you try to cover it up, it makes
it look like the United States doesn't stand for those. Wolf, even
when he signed the paper on torture and said we're going to make an
exception to torture, when both houses -- both chambers passed that --
against torture, that's the kind of stuff that hurts us and unites the
-- the Muslims against the United States.
BLITZER: John Murtha is a Democratic congressman from Pennsylvania.
Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.
MURTHA: Good to talk to you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM, we will have more on
the fallout from Haditha. Paul Begala and Torie Clarke, they are
standing by live in today's "Strategy Session." And, in the next hour,
Michael Chertoff tours New Orleans, just days before the start of
hurricane season. Our Jeanne Meserve spent some time with him earlier
today. Stay with us.
BLITZER: Welcome back. Today, in our "Strategy Session," the
investigation into the events at Haditha last November creating a huge
political outcry, likely to get worse in the days and weeks to come.
Why are some charging there was a cover-up? How much will it hurt the
U.S. mission in Iraq? Joining us now, our CNN political analysts,
Democratic strategist Paul Begala and former Pentagon spokeswoman
Torie Clarke. Torie, I will start with you. You worked at the
Pentagon. You know the Marines. You just heard Congressman Murtha say
there was a cover-up; it goes up the chain of command. What do you
make of this?
TORIE CLARKE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: With all due respect to the
congressman, it is an awful, awful tragedy, but nobody sitting in
Washington or in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, has all the facts or has all
the details. It needs to be taken very, very seriously, but we
also need to lower the emotional rhetoric here and have the
investigation be conducted, have the charges brought forward, if they
will, and then have those people, if these crimes were committed,
dealt with very, very seriously. But it's interesting. When you
were talking to him about what should the president do, anybody in
that chain of command -- and the congressman knows this -- needs to be
very careful not to say or do anything that will unduly influence the
proceedings. There are military lawyers from coast to coast who
are giving that very, very strong advice. So, as much as some people
might want to say, boy, we think some really terrible things have
happened here, we have got to get to the bottom of it, they are very,
very controlled about what they can and cannot say.
BLITZER: Congressman Marty Meehan, a Democrat of Massachusetts, said
this. He said, "Something like this" -- the incident in Haditha --
"just fuels the insurgency and makes it impossible for the United
States to ever win this militarily." What do you think?
PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it certainly is a boon for
the insurgency. And I thought Jack Murtha was very persuasive about
that in his interview with you. I don't think that he was telling the
president to prejudge this. And we will go back and look at the tape
or the transcript.
It seemed to me, he said, the president needs to say, if anyone is
later found to have been guilty here, he or perhaps even she could --
will be punished severely. The striking thing here is that what we
know about this is very little. But all that I know about it, I know
from Jack Murtha. That does suggest that the administration --
understandably, governments don't like to put out tragic news, or bad
news, or news of bad acts that happen in wartime. But we ought to be
learning about this from somebody. And it's -- thank God that Jack
Murtha at least...
BLITZER: Well... (CROSSTALK) BEGALA: ... is coming out... (CROSSTALK)
BLITZER: ... we actually learned about it from "TIME" magazine, which
broke the story, and -- several weeks ago. And they did an outstanding
job of bringing this to everyone's attention.
BEGALA: But Murtha -- for viewers who don't know Jack Murtha -- I have
known him for 20 years -- he's probably the most respected, even
revered, congressman by the military. These guys -- he was a Marine
for 37 years, as you pointed out. He's a colonel. They love him. And
he loves the Corps. And, so, this is really coming from the heart,
from a -- from a real American patriot. And I think that's the way the
military ought to be handling...
BLITZER: It goes without saying, though, that, yes, there may have
been some bad apples. But there are 130,000, 140,000 U.S. troops, or
whatever, in Iraq. And almost all of them do obey the rules of
warfare, don't get involved in this.
The question to you though, Torie, is, is the war creating this kind
of situation, where an alleged atrocity like this may be taking place,
because it beats down, on a day-by-day basis, these troops who go into
these kinds of situations?
CLARKE: Well, if the only thing they see and hear on -- on the
airwaves and coming back to them from the United States is emotional
rhetoric like we have been hearing today. And I just think this is a
time for members of Congress and others to be very, very responsible
and say, yes, it sounds very serious. It sounds awful. Let's get to
the bottom of it. But let's not add fuel to the fire, when we don't
have all the facts. We will. People can wait a few days, a few weeks.
We will have the facts and we can act accordingly. But it does not
help to add fuel to the fire.
BEGALA: OK. I think -- I don't know. I didn't even finish the Boy
Scouts, OK? So, I am speaking from pristine ignorance, but it won't
stop me. It seems to me, though, that those Marines are less stressed
out by what a politician says in an interview with Wolf Blitzer than
they are by what Jack Murtha told us, 30 IED attacks that some of
these guys had seen. There was one report that these Marines were on
already their third combat tour. Now, what are we doing to overstress
the guys? It was -- I think
Congressman Murtha was right -- a failure of leadership. And I hope
this isn't like Abu Ghraib, where one little PFC from West Virginia
and a reservist one-star take the fall, and the Rumsfelds, Wolfowitzes,
Tommy Franks of the world go on and prosper.
CLARKE: But it's just -- it is factually incorrect and also, I think,
somewhat irresponsible to make judgments about all the Marines or
everyone in the United States forces serving in Iraq or Afghanistan
based on what a few Marines may have done. The reality is, as you
said, Wolf, the overwhelming majority of the people there are
CLARKE: ... under the same tough circumstances and doing very, very
Click at the
link for a
transcript of the complete segment.
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Murder charges could be coming for several U.S.
Marines. That's what some members of Congress are being told about the
investigation into last year's suspected massacre in Haditha, Iraq.
Here's what Joint Chief Chairman General Peter Pace told Miles
yesterday on AMERICAN MORNING
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GENERAL PETER PACE, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: If the
allegations as they are being portrayed in the newspaper turn out to
be valid, then, of course, there'll be charges. But we don't know yet
what the outcome will be. It'll take its course, it will be made
public and we'll all be able to make our own judgments.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Pennsylvania Representative John Murtha spent 37
years in the Marines. He retired in 1990 as a colonel. He's been
briefed on the investigation. He's in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, this
morning. Congressman, nice to see you. Thanks for talking with us.
REP. JOHN MURTHA, (D) PENNSYLVANIA: Good morning, Soledad.
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: You have said that you believe that, in fact, there
was a cover up. How high do you think this goes, sir?
MURTHA: Well, Soledad, this is what worries me. We're fighting a war
about America's ideals and democracies ideas and something like this
happens and they try to cover it up. They knew the day after this
happened that it was not as they portrayed it. They knew that they
went into the rooms, they killed the people in the taxi. There was no
firing at all. And this comes from the highest authority in the Marine
Corps. So there's no question in my mind. And I don't know how. That's
what we have to find out.
This is the type of thing that makes it so difficult. We're supposed
to be fighting this war for democracy and yet something like this
happens that sets us back. It's as bad as Abu Ghraib, if not worse.
It's the kind of things that hearts and minds of people that 80
percent of the Iraqis want us out of there and 47 percent say it's OK
Something like this happens, they knew about it, the Iraqis knew about
it, the Americans pay them and then it goes up the chain of command
and somebody stifles it. If it hadn't been for "Time" magazine in
March, this would have never became public and it's something that
should have become public immediately. We should have said, this is
not something the Americans do.
It breaks my heart to think Marines did something like this. And when
you hear some of the stories now that are coming out, it just makes it
worse than ever.
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Yes, you know, when you listen to the reporters from
"Time" magazine, they say that they were waved off their investigation
for their reporting early on, being told that, you know, essentially
what they were hearing was propaganda, anybody who is claiming a
massacre. If "Time" had not continued to dig, do you believe that, in
fact, this may have never come out?
MURTHA: Well, I'll tell you how bad it was. The officials -- high
level officials told me just last week it will be two months before
this is over. The reason I've been speaking out is Iraqis know about
this. This has been all through Iraq. There's no question about it.
They paid people $1,500 to $2,5000. This doesn't happen unless it
comes at the highest
authority. I don't know how high . . .
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: When you say paid people, you're talking an about the
military compensating the families, the victims, is what you mean,
MURTHA: Yes. And that doesn't happen, Soledad, if it's an explosive
device. Now I understand the troops. Troops doing a tremendous job.
They carry 70 pounds of equipment. They're out there every day. An IED
goes off, it kills somebody one day, the next day.
Some of them have seen 25 and 30 of those go off and they haven't been
wounded, like the reporter that was hit. She's been out there day
after day and finally it gets to them. The pressure is tremendous. We
don't have enough troops over there and they don't know what their
mission is. Their mission is to find IEDs.
So the pressure -- I don't excuse it. There's no way you can excuse
it. But on the other hand, I understand exactly what's happening with
the troops. Think're doing everything they can do. But for the Marines
to do something like this has got to be punished as quickly as
possible so the world understands that we don't condone something like
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: There are people who have said it's -- there's a
comparison here that can be made to My Lai. Do you think that's true?
MURTHA: Well, I think it's just as bad, if not worst than that. And My
Lai, if I remember the circumstances, you're out in the field and they
killed civilians but they used the excuse that they looked like they
were the enemy. Here there was no shots fired. There was no enemy
action at all. A taxi drives up, they kill everybody in the taxi and
then they go into homes and pull the people out. And the stories keep
getting worse and worse.
And then they try to cover it up saying they were killed by an IED to
confuse the message. They're still trying to confuse the message.
There's no way you can confuse something like this. You just get the
facts out, you get them out as quickly as you can and so . . .
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: What do you mean by -- forgive me for interrupting
you, but what do you mean by they're still trying to confuse the
MURTHA: Well, just like today I was talking to Charlie Gibson at ABC
News. He said, well the military says this and the military says that.
Look, this happened six months ago. This happened November 19th. They
knew the day after what had happened. So they keep spinning it to try
to make it look like it was something that happened during action.
This is -- they keep saying well invest -- six months, Soledad, this
has been going on. We've got to get it out. We've got to get it over
with. We have to make the troops -- and I give General Hagee, the
commandant of the Marine Corp, credit. He's over there right now
telling the troops, we've got to protect non-combatants. The rules of
engagement insist that you don't fire unless you're in danger. And I
understand the pressure the troops are under, but that's not the
point. The point is, we can't let something like this go on.
And then there's another incident which is very similar to it. And
now, from what I've just heard on your program, even another one that
happened a year ago. So the troops -- a corpsman worked in or talked
to a NPR, he says, well we're fighting terrorists. We can't lower our
standards to the terrorists' level. We lose worldwide support. We've
already lost the hearts and minds of Iraqi. It's time for us to
redeploy, get our troops out of the is middle of a civil war.
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Congressman John Murtha. Thanks for joining us,
Congressman. Appreciate it.
Click at the
link for a transcript
of the complete segment (which includes an interview with the mother of LCpl Ryan Briones,
a Marine who photographed the aftermath in Haditha).
ZAHN: Congressman Murtha, thanks so much for being with us tonight.
MURTHA: Good to be here, Paula.
ZAHN: You are accusing Marines of committing murder against innocent
civilians in cold blood, even before the investigation is over. What's
MURTHA: Well, Paula, the highest level of the Marine Corps came to me
-- first, I started hearing stories in the Marine Corps. Then, March
-- in March, "TIME" magazine came out with a story which became
confused, and I think confused on purpose. This happened six months
ago. Two days later, they knew exactly what happened. They know that
there was no hostile fire. They know that -- that the IED killed a
Marine. And they know that they overreacted. So, the investigation...
ZAHN: Is there proof of that, sir?
MURTHA: Paula, you want to listen to what I'm saying?
MURTHA: I'm telling you that that is what the Marine -- commandant of
the Marine Corps told me. Now, you just wait and you will hear the --
there's nothing I have said so far that hasn't turned out to be true.
I said, there were 24 people killed. I said this a month ago --
exactly the number who have been killed.
I said there are women and children been killed, babies been killed.
That's what happened. And there was no hostile fire. So, you are
going to find out exactly -- everything I'm saying is true. The
cover-up is just as despicable and worries me just as much. They
tried to cover this up. And six months is way too long. General Pace
says he found out about this in February. This should have been over
since February. They still tied to -- to do nothing about it. This has
-- we have to find out what happened. We have to find out when the
higher level knew about it and why they tried to -- to cover this
thing up. And they will have hearings in the Senate and the House, I'm
sure, to find out the details of -- of why the cover-up.
ZAHN: In spite of what you're saying, sir, what do you make of the
report in "The Washington Post" that says investigators have seized
radio traffic messages between Marines in the field and a command
center showing, in fact, that they did take small-arms fire after the
initial roadside bomb went off? If that is true, weren't those Marines
entitled to defend themselves?
MURTHA: Well, I wouldn't say they're entitled to defend themselves
when a taxi pulls up and they kill everybody in the taxi, when they go
inside the homes and they kill women and children. We have a
responsibility in this country to defend American principles. We're
lowering ourselves to the standards of the terrorists who are acting
against us. We have a responsibility to -- to follow the rules of
engagement. That means, if you're not threatened, you don't just kill
innocent civilians. And this is what happened here. This is a tragic
thing about this whole episode, the fact that not only did it happen.
You keep asking questions like this. You will find out everything that
I have said turns out to be true.
Radio traffic doesn't mean anything, unless you know. Just because
they say something's happening on the radio doesn't mean that's what's
happening on the radio.
ZAHN: So, you discount that -- you discount that completely?
MURTHA: I'm -- I'm saying that the highest level in the Marine
Corps came to me and told me exactly what they felt had happened. And
they're over there today.
The commandant of the Marine Corps, who is not in the chain of
command, is over there talking to the troops and telling them they
have to guard against this kind of action against noncombatant. One --
one Marine carried a little baby who had been shot in the head out of
there in his arms and put it in a body bag. Why am I incensed about
this? I'm not sure the investigation would have gone on if I hadn't
said something, and I hadn't pressed them.
This thing should never have dwelled this long. It should have been
over a long time ago. It's a tragic event. It breaks my heart to think
this happened. But you can't hide it. You can't cover it up.
ZAHN: How high do you think this cover-up goes?
MURTHA: Well, that's what worries me, Paula. I don't have any idea. I
know they made payments to the families. They don't make those
payments to the families unless we kill people in the process of doing
ZAHN: Finally, tonight, Congressman Murtha, many of your critics would
say that you are making these allegations in advance of the
investigation being over, in advance of anybody being charged, because
you're politically motivated by your opposition to this war.
MURTHA: Paula, you will see that everything that I'm saying turns out
to be true. I'm the messenger. I'm not the guy that committed the
crime. The crime is what we should be focusing on, not these -- these
allegations. You folks pick up all these stuff from these people that
say you shouldn't do it before the investigation. That's just -- six
months ago, this happened, Paula. Six months ago, this thing should
have been -- should have been done in a month or so. The investigation
should be completed. It should have been open, transparent.
We should have known what the outcome was and exactly what happened.
If I hadn't spoken out, Paula, this would not have happened.
ZAHN: Congressman Murtha, thank you so much for your time tonight. We