A prominent Republican lawmaker says he will hold a hearing on an incident last November in which U.S. soldiers are alleged to have killed innocent civilians in the Iraqi town of Haditha. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter discussed the incident, and military investigations underway, with reporters.
Congressman Hunter says two military investigations have been underway, one criminal and one administrative, into the events in Haditha last year.
The U.S. military has said 15 civilians died in the incident on November 19, which reports said occurred as an insurgent bomb called an Improvised Explosive Device exploded, killing a U.S. Marine.
According to a Time magazine investigative report in March, Iraqi eyewitnesses and local officials said in interviews that U.S. soldiers retaliated, shooting civilians in nearby houses. Time said U.S. Marines originally claimed the civilians were killed as a result of the explosion.
Earlier this week, Democratic Congressman John Murtha, a key Iraq war critic, told reporters information he had indicated the incident was much worse than reported in the Time magazine article.
Murtha says U.S. soldiers appear to have over-reacted and killed innocent Iraqis, adding he believes the intense pressure on U.S. military forces in Iraq was a major factor.
Congressman Hunter spoke by telephone Friday with Lieutenant General Peter Chiarelli, Commander of Multinational Forces in Iraq, who was also asked about the investigations in a separate video news conference Friday with Pentagon news reporters.
Congressman Hunter says the report based on an investigation overseen by Major General Eldon Bargewell should be delivered next week to General Chiarelli, who will review it and make recommendations before sending it up the military chain of command.
Hunter says House and Senate lawmakers have delivered this message to the military regarding the investigations:
"Let the chips fall where they may. If there were problems in the chain of command, if there was a cover-up, if anything was not reported, let the chips fall where they may but don't presume anything. Those reports aren't finished yet, [but] the reports and investigations are being pursued with great integrity," he said.
Congressman Hunter says he has not seen specifics of any preliminary report, but describes it as extremely voluminous and complicated. He said he believes the civilian death toll from the incident is about 20, although the Time magazine report in March put the figure at 24.
"Hunter had this reaction when asked about Congressman Murtha's contention that the Haditha incident demonstrates that U.S. forces have been pushed past their limit in Iraq," he said.
"I would just reject, and I think the American people should reject, any attempt to define America's troops, especially before the report comes out but even after a report comes out, based on the activities of one person, or one squad, on one morning," he said.
The Marines have said three officers who were involved in the Haditha incident have been relieved of command duties pending results of the criminal investigation.
Congressman Hunter says he will schedule a hearing of his House Armed Services Committee once the investigation results are sent to Capitol Hill.
There should be no question, he adds, of any political interference in the investigations.