U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says there will a full investigation into reports that American Marines last November indiscriminately shot and killed innocent civilians in the Iraqi town of Haditha. The allegations, which came to light recently, have caused some friction between the U.S. and Iraqi governments, and is stirring up heated debate in Washington.
The Iraqi town of Haditha is becoming increasingly notorious for an incident that took place last November. No one disputes that an explosive device killed a U.S. Marine. But what happened afterwards has become the focus of scrutiny. The fallen Marine's comrades allegedly shot and killed as many as 24 civilians. Why they did it, though, and under what circumstances, are some of the issues that are under investigation.
Speaking on the CBS television program Face the Nation, Secretary of State Rice was asked whether Washington will hand over its files on Haditha to the Iraqis, so they can conduct their own investigation. She said she is certain there will be full cooperation with the Iraqi government on this case. But she cautioned that the accused are innocent until proven guilty.
"Let's remember that when this happens in a democracy, there is full investigation and there will be full investigation," said Condoleezza Rice. "But there is also the right of the accused to have due process."
She said President Bush is personally concerned and has called the incident "deeply troubling." Rice added though that criminal actions by some U.S. troops in Iraq should not overshadow their main purpose there.
"The great mass of American soldiers are there, taking casualties, making sacrifices, to protect the Iraqi people," she said.
The events in Haditha were also hotly debated by U.S. lawmakers.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told Fox News Sunday there are two issues under investigation - the killings themselves and possible cover-up by officers in the U.S. Marine Corps.
"The allegations are that some Marines used deadly force inappropriately, violated the rules of engagement, the law of armed conflict, that some officers may have had direct knowledge of this activity and failed to report it, that other people in the chain of command should have known and failed to do anything about it, a dereliction of duty allegation," said Lindsey Graham.
Speaking on the same program, Senator Jack Reed, a Democrat from Rhode Island, said he thinks the events in Haditha indicate what he described as the "tremendous pressure" U.S. soldiers face in Iraq.
"These are young Marines, young soldiers," said Jack Reed. "They're in a hostile situation, where at one moment, they're trying to establish rapport with Iraqis by interacting with them. The next moment, there's an explosion they think that those culprits are among those same people. Tremendous pressure. Now, also, many of these Marines are going back for the second or third time. So, this is not an excuse for what might have happened, but it puts it into context."
He added that he believes the Haditha incident is a sign U.S. troops need to, in his words, "rapidly redeploy out" of Iraq. But Rice repeated that there are no imminent plans to reduce the number of American troops in Iraq. There are about 133,000 U.S. troops there.