June 6, 2006 -- Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner is not frustrated with the time it took for all the members of his powerful Senate committee to get a full briefing on the military inquest into a possible massacre in Haditha, Iraq.
"I have been in the Senate for 28 years and at the Pentagon for five years before that," Warner told ABC News. "Add it up to 33 years. I don't get frustrated. I deal with facts."
The facts are these, according to Warner: A Marine officer involved in the official military inquest into Haditha had a phone conversation with a Warner aide back in March and told the staffer, who no longer works for Warner, about the inquest.
That official notification of the inquest took place shortly before Time Magazine initially reported on the alleged massacre on March 19, and around the same time President Bush received his first briefing on the subject.
Warner said the Pentagon official told his staffer everything he knew up to that point and promised to keep the committee informed, and Warner said the Pentagon did just that.
But that phone conversation was also the only mention of the inquest to the Senate Armed Services Committee until May 18, when senators on the committee received a closed briefing by Marine Brigadier Gen. John Kelley.
Warner had also been briefed by the commandant of the Marine Corps, Commandant Michael Hagee, two months after the initial call to Warner's office and White House briefing.
An ABC News.com report earlier today reported that the committee had no notification of the Haditha inquest until that full May 18 briefing.
The Virginia Republican is moving forward with plans to hold open hearings on the military inquest into the alleged Haditha massacre of as many as 24 Iraqi civilians and warned Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld today not to delay the military investigation.
"Congress and the American people are entitled to a timely disclosure of the official findings and recommendations of these inquiries within the protections afforded by the Uniformed Code of Military Justice," Warner wrote in a letter to Rumsfeld today. "Delays in getting out the official findings of fact due to a protracted review process will mean a mixture of information, misinformation and unconfirmed facts will continue to spiral in the public domain."
Warner pledged today that the committee would make open hearings on Haditha (along with the defense spending bill) its top priority in the days to come but said the hearings must not interfere with the military inquest.
"You've got to be very careful with the Uniformed Code of Military Justice," Warner said. "We have some very serious allegations and potentially some very serious consequences."