August 4, 2006

Marine accused in Haditha may expand libel suit

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. Marine suspected in the
killing of 24 civilians in Haditha, Iraq, threatened to sue a
second congressman on Friday for comments the Republican made
about the case, according to a letter obtained by Reuters.

A lawyer for Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, who filed suit
against a prominent Democratic lawmaker and war critic, Rep.
John Murtha of Pennsylvania, told Republican Rep. John Kline of
Minnesota he too would be sued for libel if he did not

Attorney Mark Zaid said Kline's office had agreed to enter
confidential settlement negotiations after receiving the
letter. Kline's spokesman could not be reached for comment.

Zaid also wrote to Murtha, offering to settle the case if
the congressman would apologize for accusing the Marines
suspected in the case of being "cold-blooded" killers, among
other things.

"Regardless of what some may think, this lawsuit has
nothing to do with partisan politics," Zaid wrote to Murtha.
"We are only interested in protecting the reputation of SSgt
Wuterich and his fellow Marines."

Murtha's spokeswoman said the congressman had received the
letter, but she had no additional comment.

According to Zaid, Kline also commented publicly about the
case, saying Marines were involved in the Haditha shooting and
a cover-up of the facts.

Wuterich is among a group of Marines that is suspected, but
has not been charged, in the killing of two dozen unarmed
civilians in Haditha in November. That case, which angered the
Iraqi government, is one of a series in which U.S. servicemen
are suspected of killing Iraqi civilians.

Murtha, a decorated Vietnam War veteran, has commented
extensively about Haditha and many of those comments were
recounted in the lawsuit. He said during a news conference in
May, "Our troops overreacted because of the pressure on them
and they killed innocent civilians in cold blood."

The U.S. military has investigated the killings but not yet
released the results of its probe.