In his first public comments on the allegations that Marines killed about two dozen unarmed Iraqis in the western city of Haditha last November, President Bush said today that “he was troubled by allegations that U.S. Marines had killed unarmed Iraqi civilians and that, ‘If in fact laws were broken, there will be punishment.'”
Bush said he had discussed Haditha with Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “He’s a proud Marine. And nobody is more concerned about these allegations than the Marine Corps. The Marine Corps is full of honorable people who understand the rules of war.”
“If in fact these allegations are true,” Bush said, “the Marine Corps will work hard to make sure that that culture _ that proud culture _ will be reinforced. And that those who violated the law, if they did, will be punished.”
Residents of Haditha have said that Marines “went into nearby houses and shot members of two families, including a 3-year-old girl” after “a bomb rocked a military convoy on Nov. 19, killing a Marine.”
At first, the U.S. military described what happened as an ambush on a joint U.S.-Iraqi patrol, with a roadside bombing and subsequent firefight killing 15 civilians, eight insurgents and a U.S. Marine. The statement said the 15 civilians were killed by the blast, a claim the residents strongly denied.
Military investigators have evidence that points toward unprovoked murders by Marines, a senior defense official said last week.
If confirmed as unjustified killings, the episode could be the most serious case of criminal misconduct by U.S. troops during three years of combat in Iraq. Until now the most infamous occurrence was the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse involving Army soldiers, which came to light in April 2004 and which Bush said he considered to be the worst U.S. mistake of the entire war.
Also in the news today, regarding the Haditha incident is this story: “Iraqi ambassador claims US Marines ‘intentionally’ killed cousin.”
The new Iraqi ambassador to the United States has accused US Marines of “intentionally” killing a cousin in the Iraqi town of Haditha last year.
Speaking only hours after presenting his credentials to President George W Bush at the White House, Ambassador Samir al-Sumaidaie said his relative was shot dead five months before the killing of 24 civilians in the town in November that is now the subject of a controversial inquiry.
The ambassador told how Mohammed al-Sumaidaie, a 21-year-old engineering student, was killed after opening the door of the family house to US Marines on June 25.
“I believe he was killed intentionally. I believe he was killed unnecessarily,” Mr Sumaidaie said on CNN television.
“The Marines were doing house-to-house searches, and they went into the house of my cousin. He opened the door for them. His mother, his siblings were there. He let them into the bedroom of his father, and there he was shot.”
At the time, Mr Sumaidaie was the ambassador to the United Nations and the US military agreed to investigate the death after he released a statement.