You can say that again.
A Pentagon probe into the death of Iraqi civilians last November in the Iraqi city of Haditha will show that U.S. Marines “killed innocent civilians in cold blood,” a U.S. lawmaker said Wednesday.
From the beginning, Iraqis in the town of Haditha said U.S. Marines deliberately killed 15 unarmed Iraqi civilians, including seven women and three children.
One young Iraqi girl said the Marines killed six members of her family, including her parents. “The Americans came into the room where my father was praying,” she said, “and shot him.”
On Wednesday, Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., said the accounts are true.
Military officials told NBC News that the Marine Corps’ own evidence appears to show Murtha is right.
On Nov. 20, U.S. Marines spokesman Capt. Jeffrey Pool issued a statement saying that on the previous day a roadside bomb had killed 15 civilians and a Marine. In a later gunbattle, U.S. and Iraqi troops killed eight insurgents, he said.
U.S. military officials later confirmed that the version of events was wrong.
Murtha, a vocal opponent of the war in Iraq, said at a news conference Wednesday that sources within the military have told him that an internal investigation will show that “there was no firefight, there was no IED (improvised explosive device) that killed these innocent people. Our troops overreacted because of the pressure on them, and they killed innocent civilians in cold blood.”
Military officials say Marine Corps photos taken immediately after the incident show many of the victims were shot at close range, in the head and chest, execution-style. One photo shows a mother and young child bent over on the floor as if in prayer, shot dead, said the officials, who spoke to NBC News on condition of anonymity because the investigation hasn’t been completed.
One military official says it appears the civilians were deliberately killed by the Marines, who were outraged at the death of their fellow Marine.
“This one is ugly,” one official told NBC News.
Three Marine officers — commanders in Haditha — have been relieved of duty, and at least 12 Marines in all are under investigation for what would be the worst single incident involving the deliberate killing of civilians by U.S. military in Iraq.
The Marine Corps issued a statement in response to Murtha’s remarks:
“There is an ongoing investigation; therefore, any comment at this time would be inappropriate and could undermine the investigatory and possible legal process. As soon as the facts are known and decisions on future actions are made, we will make that information available to the public to the fullest extent allowable.”
Note that last official quote: it’s a virtual confirmation.
Note also that Murtha’s call for more or less immediate withdrawal from Iraq doesn’t seem to have dried up his information sources inside the military. That suggests that he’s speaking for at least a significant chunk of senior-officer opinion.
The good news: It looks as if heads are going to roll, and at least some way up the chain of command. That’s a strong contrast with Abu Ghraib.