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Senate Panel Holds Off on Haditha Inquiry

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Senate Panel Holds Off on Haditha Inquiry

Iraq

Senate Panel Holds Off on Haditha Inquiry

Senate Panel Holds Off on Haditha Inquiry

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Senate Armed Services Committee chairman John Warner (R-VA) says his committee won't investigate alleged U.S. Marine atrocities at Haditha until the Pentagon completes its own investigation. And that has lawmakers angry.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Just as it did after photos of abuse at Abu Ghraib were published, the Senate Armed Services Committee plans to hold hearings on what happened in Haditha and whether there was a cover-up. But unlike the case with Abu Ghraib, this time, the panel is waiting for the Pentagon's investigation to conclude before weighing in. More from NPR's David Welna.

DAVID WELNA reporting:

The deaths in Haditha became a much bigger news story when lawmakers were away on their Memorial Day recess. Today, on the Senate's first full day back in session, Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner vowed he will hold public hearings on Haditha.

Senator JOHN WARNER (Republican, Virginia; Chairman, Senate Armed Services Committee): I think it's in the interest of the Department of Defense, the American public, for the uniformed personnel to appear before Congress at the earliest possible date. Because right now, their public and indeed, are formulating their opinions and judgment based on a swirl of, you know, misinformation, uncorroborated facts, and the like.

WELNA: But Warner said he'd wait for two Pentagon probes into Haditha to finish before he summons Pentagon brass. He said the first officer he's likely to hear from is Army Major General Eldon Bargewell, who's investigating whether there was a cover-up of the Haditha incident. A separate probe into the actual killings is being carried out by the Navy's criminal investigative service. Carl Levin, who's the top Democrat on the Armed Services panel, said those investigations need to be wrapped up soon.

Senator CARL LEVIN (Democrat, Michigan): My belief is that they will be completed promptly because of the public concern in this matter, and because of the long delay in beginning it, which I think has further embarrassed the military and put them in a very, very untenable position that there was information available to them early on - as a matter of fact, the day of the event - which should have triggered an immediate investigation.

WELNA: In fact, an official probe into the Haditha incident was only opened three months after it occurred. Maine Republican Susan Collins says Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld should be called before the committee.

Senator SUSAN COLLINS (Republican, Maine): We need to ask how hard questions, such as when did Secretary Rumsfeld learn of the allegations and what actions did he take upon learning of the allegations?

WELNA: But other Senate Republicans on the Armed Services Panel are less convinced of the need for any hearings. Here's Missouri's Kit Bond.

Senator KIT BOND (Republican, Missouri): I think it's time for us to find out what the facts are before we jump to any conclusions about whether broader hearings are needed.

WELNA: Another panel Republican, Oklahoma's James Inhofe says there's a danger of the Haditha incident becoming politicized.

Senator JAMES INHOFE (Republican, Oklahoma): Things don't look good, and what it does is give some justification or some credibility to some of the lies that have been told by people who are just anti-war, and, you know, I think they're rejoicing in this. But oddly enough, I really haven't heard it nearly as much. I'm much more concerned myself than the expression that's come from people in Oklahoma.

WELNA: But Michigan Democrat Levin says there's no doubt Haditha is bound to affect American's view of the Iraq war.

Senator LEVIN: I think the support for the war has been declining seriously, and that this will just probably add to what already was taking place, which was a real loss of public support for the war.

WELNA: Which is why, Levin says, the probes into Haditha and then the panel's hearings should take place promptly - in a matter of weeks, he says, not months.

David Welna, NPR News, the Capital.

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