The top officer in the U.S. Marine Corps has announced that he is going to Iraq to talk to his troops about upholding their honor, in the wake of a second allegation that marines killed innocent civilians in the country. A senior U.S. senator, who was briefed on the allegations Thursday, calls them "very, very serious."
According to the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq, the new allegations involve an incident in late April in which Marines allegedly killed an Iraqi civilian near the town of Hamandiyah, west of Baghdad. A news release says local Iraqi officials complained about the incident at a meeting with coalition officers on May 1, and that a preliminary investigation found enough information to warrant a criminal probe. The release says "several" troops suspected of involvement in the incident have been removed from the operational unit and returned to the United States.
This latest investigation comes as the military appears to be close to finishing its investigation of an incident last November in the town of Haditha, in which at least 15 Iraqi civilians were killed. It has been alleged that marines killed the civilians to retaliate for the death of one of their comrades.
Members of the Senate's Armed Services Committee were briefed on that investigation Thursday. After the closed session, their chairman, Senator John Warner, declined to provide any further details of the incident, but indicated that he takes it very seriously.
"I have characterized them, based on my own experience, as very, very serious allegations," said John Warner. "And there have been facts substantiated to date to underpin those allegations."
Senator Warner said the decision by the Marine Corps Commandant, General Michael Hagee, to go to Iraq and talk with his troops on the front lines reflects the seriousness of the matter.
"He is deeply affected by this, and he is taking this matter extremely seriously," he said. "And he felt it was his duty to go over and personally look into this situation, and personally talk to those marines in country to assure them that the highest standards of the corps are to be kept by every Marine, from private to general. He expects no less, nor do the people of this country."
According to a news release by his office, General Hagee will talk to the Marines in Iraq about "ideals, values and standards." In prepared remarks, he tells them that being a Marine means "having uncompromising personal integrity and being accountable for all actions." He says Marines must have "the moral courage to do the 'right thing' in the face of danger or pressure from other Marines." And the commandant says Marines must "use lethal force only when justified, proportional and, most importantly, lawful." He urges them not to allow the deaths of their friends in combat to make them "indifferent to the loss of a human life."
In the prepared remarks, General Hagee also acknowledges the difficulties of performing up to those ideas in battle, particularly when fighting an insurgency. But he plans to tell the Marines in Iraq that they have to do so anyway.
That view was echoed Thursday by Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman.
"We hold our service members to a very high standard, and we also ask them to perform their duties in a very tough, challenging environment," said Bryan Whitman. "The military, as a body, when those standards aren't met, takes it very seriously, aggressively and thoroughly investigates incidents of alleged misconduct, and when it finds somebody has done something wrong, they take action."
All the officials who spoke Thursday stressed that the vast majority of the approximately one million U.S. troops who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years have lived up to the standards of honor and conduct the military demands. But they say if wrongdoing is proved, action will be taken to punish those responsible, and to try to ensure such conduct is not repeated by others.