Rep. John Murtha: Pentagon Tried to Hide Haditha

Alex Chadwick talks to Rep. John Murtha, (D-PA), about his charge that the Pentagon tried to cover up the killing of unarmed civilians by Marines in Haditha, Iraq. Murtha, a former Marine and longtime supporter of the military as a legislator, has been an outspoken critic of the Bush administration's occupation of Iraq.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

And I'm Alex Chadwick.

Coming up, a Supreme Court decision makes it tougher to be a government whistle blower.

BRAND: First, allegations that U.S. Marines murdered Iraqi civilians last November. Military investigators are looking into the killings that took place in the city of Haditha. The Pentagon says the official findings are several weeks off.

CHADWICK: A second investigation is looking into why top Pentagon officials didn't know about the alleged incident sooner. Congressman John Murtha, Democrat of Pennsylvania, believes there's been a cover up. We spoke earlier.

Congressman Murtha, these are the details that we've seen reported in November of last year: a roadside bomb went off in the town of Haditha, one Marine was killed. Other members of his unit then shot several unarmed Iraqis in a nearby taxi, and then went into two houses and shot others including women and children - 24 Iraqis killed in all, murdered. You have been briefed by military investigators. Are these details correct?

Representative JOHN MURTHA (Democrat, Pennsylvania): Well, not by military investigators, I've been briefed by the Commandant of the Marine Corps and the people at the highest level, and that's exactly right, that's accurate.

CHADWICK: You said this week that there has been not just a crime here, but also a cover up by Marine officers. How do you know that, and how far up do you think it goes?

Rep. MURTHA: They knew that the original explanation, that an IED caused the casualties, was not true the day afterwards.

The Marine Corp knew it - and you've got to remember, the chain of command in Iraq is not to the Commandant of the Marine Corps. The chain of command is through General Casey to General Abizaid. And two months ago I told General Abizaid, General, you've got to get this out in the public. You have to get this investigation over with.

They just told me a week ago it would take two more months. This happened six months ago. It's unconscionable that it would take this long to have an investigation. I heard a Lance Corporal on one of the stations this morning say he was there, the next day he carried out the body of a young child that was shot through the head. So the next day, they knew that it wasn't an IED that killed them. They knew that it wasn't an explosive device, there was no shrapnel, there was no firefight. This is what worries me.

Who in the chain of command stopped the investigation? Who tried to cover this up? Because not only the Marines knew it, the Iraqis knew about it because they paid the victims of this thing - if it had been an explosive device by the Iraqis, they wouldn't have paid them.

It breaks my heart that Marines would be involved in something like this, but you can't let it go. But the point is, first of all, it should never have happened. The stress is tremendous on these young people going out, even if it's the first tour.

CHADWICK: You're a Marine combat veteran from Vietnam?

Rep. MURTHA: Yeah, and every time they go out, there's a chance of these explosive devices going off and somebody gets wounded, somebody loses an arm. I go to the hospitals almost every week to see the results of these explosive devices. And the other thing about it, Alex, that things have not improved since I spoke out just two days before this incident. I said we ought to redeploy out of Iraq. There's no plan. It's open-ended. Incidents have increased from 500 a week to 1,000.

CHADWICK: Haditha, Congressman, is in Anbar Province in northwest Iraq. This is an insurgent stronghold, there are a lot of them there. The American command has just ordered 3,500 American reserves from Kuwait into Anbar Province to try to secure things a little bit better there. Even though you are famously for a troop pullout by the end of this year, doesn't it sound as though these reserves may be needed?

Rep. MURTHA: The commander there - I was in Anbar Province in August, and the commander said I don't have enough troops to secure the border and to keep things under control. The commander obviously requested more troops. I don't know what's happened on the ground since then, but obviously it's gotten a lot worse.

When we first went into Iraq, the people in Iraq liked us, they thought it was wonderful. We overthrew Saddam Hussein, then all those promises about democracy and American ideals were lost in some of the incidents. Abu Ghraib was the first one - the president finally admitted that Abu Ghraib was a tremendous mistake, and why did it happen? Untrained troops, undisciplined troops, unsupervised in the prison. And in this particular case, discipline obviously broke down.

CHADWICK: Congressman John Murtha of Pennsylvania. Congressman, thank you for speaking with us.

Rep. MURTHA: Nice talking to you, Alex.

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