Warner: No Rush to Judgment Over Marine Killings

May 28, 2006 — -- In an exclusive appearance on "This Week with George Stephanopoulos," Sen. John Warner, R-Va., did not dispute reports that a group of U.S. Marines may have killed 24 Iraqi civilians following an IED explosion in Haditha, Iraq, but called for "calmness" pleading, "We've got to let the uniformed code of military justice proceed before we reach any conclusions on this matter."

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.

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.

Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., also appearing exclusively on "This Week," took a much more aggressive tone, citing the Haditha incident as "worse than Abu Ghraib" and calling the Marine's actions war crimes committed "in cold blood."

Murtha, the ranking Democrat on the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee in the House, said 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, later telling chief Washington correspondent George Stephanopoulos, "I will not excuse murder and that what's happened. … This investigation should have been over two or three weeks after the incident."

The senator disagreed with Murtha, saying, "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," and repeating, "a sense of calmness should be brought over this situation."

Murtha, a Marine veteran who six months ago called for the complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, contended, "There's has to have been a cover-up. … There's no question about it."

Warner again disputed Murtha's assessment, telling ABC News, "This is very serious but the military are looking at it equally seriously," although he did acknowledge, "There is this question of what happened, when did it happen and what was the reaction of the Marine Corps when it happened?

"Seems to me it was incumbent on the military to go back and inspect the site," he added, "and come forward with [the results] as quickly as possible."

However, Murtha argued, "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?"

Murtha, a decorated veteran of the Marines, said, "We cannot allow something like this to fester. … [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 insisted the Senate would move forward but applauded the military for doing "exactly what they're doing, doing a complete investigation" in order to blunt any impact the incident may have on the critical relationship between U.S. troops and the people of Iraq.

The Republican also advised President Bush to steer clear of being pulled into the political debate over Haditha saying, "I think the commander in chief has to be very cautious … because we do not wish to influence this situation," arguing once again to let the military investigation proceed before coming to any conclusions.

"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."

Despite the emerging investigation in Haditha and past reports of intentional civilian deaths in Iraq, Warner insisted, "We should not speculate … as to whether or not there's an overall command failure of remind Marines and soldiers every day of their oath of office and what they were taught in training about when to use force and when not to use force."

George Stephanopoulos' entire interviews with Sen. John Warner, R-Va., and Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., can be viewed at "This Week's" Web page at www.abcnews.com.