May 28, 2006 — -- Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., told "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" in an exclusive appearance that reports a group of U.S. Marines may have killed 24 Iraqi civilians following an IED explosion in Haditha, Iraq, was "worse than Abu Ghraib," calling their actions war crimes committed "in cold blood."
Murtha, a Marine veteran who six months ago called for the complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, added, "There has to have been a cover-up. … There's no question about it."
Time magazine reported this week that the Marines in question attacked men, women and children in the Iraqi town of Haditha after an improvised explosive device, or IED, killed Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas, 20, of El Paso, Texas. According to the report, only one of the Iraqi civilians was armed, and the U.S. military has opened a criminal investigation into the incident.
But for Murtha, the ranking Democrat on the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee in the House, the damage to U.S. interests in Iraq may already be done.
"This is the kind of war [in which] you have to win the hearts and mind of the people," Murtha said.
"I will not excuse murder and that what's happened," Murtha told ABC News chief Washington correspondent George Stephanopoulos. "This investigation should have been over two or three weeks after the incident."
Sen. John Warner, R-Va., voiced a less aggressive tone on "This Week."
"I respect my friend John Murtha [but] we've got to let the uniformed code of military justice proceed before we reach any conclusions on this matter," Warner said. "This is very serious, but the military are looking at it equally seriously. … There is this question of what happened, when did it happen and what was the reaction of the Marine Corps when it happened?"
Warner, chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the former Secretary of the Navy, said the Senate will proceed with its own investigation and hearings into the Haditha killings if and when they can do so without interfering with the military's formal inquiry.
"I will do exactly what we did with Abu Ghraib," Warner said.
But Murtha said, "There's no question about what happened. … The problem is: Who covered it up, why did they cover it up and why did it take so long?"
"We cannot allow something like this to fester," said Murtha, a decorated veteran of the Marines. "[The military has] got to put the blame where it goes."
Murtha contends photographic evidence of the incident proves beyond a doubt that the Marines at Haditha committed war crimes, making it critical the military take prompt action.
"These kind of things have to be brought out immediately," he told "This Week," "because if the Marines got away with it, other Marines might think it's okay."
The congressman doesn't know how far the blame will go.
"That's what we're trying to find out," he said. "It goes right up the chain of command right up to General Pace. … Did he know about it? Did he cover it up? I'm sure he didn't, but we need to find out."
Warner pleaded for a "sense of calmness" as the military conducts their investigation, but Murtha contended, "I understand what happened, but I don't excuse what happened."
Describing the scene in Haditha, Murtha said, "I hear that one of them was even in English asking for mercy."
Warner refused to detail his briefings on the situation.
"I think we should be calm and re-assuring to the American people that the men and women of our armed forces are [acting] admirably and respectfully."
"We've already lost the direction in this war," Murtha said. "It's an isolated incident, but that's why it's so important to get it out."
George Stephanopoulos's entire interviews with Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., and Senator John Warner, R-Va., can be viewed at 'This Week's' Web page at www.abcnews.com.