The top U.S. Marine faced tough questions Wednesday about reports some of his troops killed unarmed Iraqi civilians in two Iraqi towns. Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon, General Michael Hagee said he is accountable for the organization, training and equipping of U.S. Marines around the world.
The commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps says he is very concerned about the allegations regarding the actions of some of his troops in the Iraqi towns of Haditha last November and in Hamdaniya two months ago.
Fielding questions from reporters at the Pentagon, General Michael Hagee sought to reassure the public that any U.S. Marine who committed a crime would be punished.
"Make no mistake, a Marine who has been found to have violated our standards will be held accountable," said General Hagee. "It is an important part of who we are, and all Marines expect it. High standards and accountability define Marines."
News reports say U.S. Marines may have shot and killed as many as 24 unarmed Iraqi civilians in Haditha after a bomb killed a member of their squad. Marines have said the civilians were killed by a roadside bomb. There are also allegations that officers may have lied about what occurred to cover up the killings.
The allegation in the Hamdaniyah case is that Marines pulled an unarmed Iraqi man out of his home and shot him without provocation in April. Marines say they found the man digging a hole for a bomb and killed him in a brief gun battle.
Both incidents are now under investigation by the U.S. military, and General Hagee pledged his full support.
"We want to insure the investigations are complete with respect to what actually happened on the ground and actions taken or not taken by the chain of command," he said.
The general did not say what investigators have found out so far, saying he cannot comment on any aspect of an ongoing probe. He said it is important that the investigations are thorough, and that those Marines involved receive due process and have their rights protected.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman, Republican Senator John Warner, has pledged to hold hearings on the Haditha incident as soon as the investigation is complete. He sent a letter to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld Tuesday asking him to provide witnesses for a first hearing as soon as possible.