May 28, 2006 — -- After a small group of Marines stormed the Younis family home in Haditha last November, everybody inside was killed -- except one person.
ABC News has obtained an interview with the sole survivor, 12-year-old Safa Younis. The interview was done by a local Iraqi journalism student about one week after the killings on Nov. 19, 2005.
The U.S. military continues to investigate what happened in Haditha, where a total of 24 civilians died. But one congressman, Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., said today that he's convinced the incident was mass murder and that it was covered up.
"There has to have been a cover-up," Murtha told ABC News' "This Week with George Stephanopoulos." "There's no question about it."
On the new tape shot by an Iraqi journalism student and given to ABC News by the Hammurabi Human Rights Group in Iraq, Younis, soft-spoken, with rounded cheeks and a headscarf, begins by calmly telling the interviewer, "My name is Safa Younis. I'm 12 years old."
The interviewer asks, "What did the American soldiers do when they broke into the house?"
"They knocked at the door," Younis says. "My father went to open it, they shot him dead from behind the door, and then they shot him again after they opened the door."
She describes hearing the Marines go through the rest of the house, shooting and setting off a grenade before getting to the bedroom where she was with her mother and siblings.
"Then comes one American soldier and shot [at] us all," she says. "I pretended to be dead … and he did not know about me."
All of this happened after a small Marine convoy was struck by a roadside bomb, killing Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas. At first, the Marines acknowledged civilian deaths, but said they were caused by the roadside bomb. Later, they said the civilians were caught in the crossfire of a gunfight with insurgents.
Now, military investigators believe the only gunfire came from the Marines themselves.
Murtha, a former Marine, recently was briefed on the investigation by Marine Corps Commandant Michael Hagee.
"The reports that I have," Murtha said, "from the highest level: No firing at all. No interaction. No military action at all in this particular incident. It was an explosive device, which killed a Marine. From then on, it was purely shooting people."
Military investigators have collected bullet shells and other forensic evidence found in these homes and determined they came from a small number of rifles belonging to a team of Marines that included, ABC News has learned, Sgt. Frank Wuterich.
Pentagon officials are worried the allegations will severely damage America's effort to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people. The only way to minimize that damage, officials say, is to conduct a thorough investigation, hold a fair trial and to severely punish anybody found guilty.