August 15, 2006

Congressman makes apology to Haditha marines

By Will Dunham

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. lawmaker apologized on
Tuesday to U.S. Marines under investigation in the deaths of
two dozen Iraqi civilians in Haditha in a statement his office
said spared him from a libel lawsuit.

Minnesota Republican Rep. John Kline, a retired Marine
Corps colonel, issued a three-paragraph statement under a deal
with lawyers for Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, one of the Marines
under investigation.

Wuterich's lawyers filed a libel lawsuit against another
congressman, Democratic Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania, on
August 2 following his comments on the case.

"Some news outlets have promoted incomplete statements
attributed to me that gave the false impression that I have
concluded those involved committed unlawful acts," Kline said
in the statement provided by his office.

"I am, of course, very concerned regarding any allegations
surrounding misconduct by U.S. troops in Iraq. Such allegations
must be taken seriously, but we should never rush to judgment
before all the facts are known and the military criminal
justice process is completed," Kline said.

Kline added, "I want to express my sincere apology" to the
Marines in the unit that was in Haditha last November 19.

Wuterich and several other Marines are suspected, but have
not been charged, in the killing of two dozen unarmed civilians
in Haditha, one of a series of incidents in which U.S. troops
are suspected of killing Iraqi civilians.

Troy Young, Kline's spokesman, said the statement stemmed
from an agreement avoiding a libel suit by Wuterich. Mark Zaid,
a lawyer for Wuterich, said "we are completely satisfied" with
Kline's statement.

Kline has been quoted as saying the allegations indicated
the killings were "not an accident. This was direct fire by
Marines at civilians." But Young said Kline "never accused
these Marines of being guilty in this incident."

Murtha, a decorated Vietnam War veteran and leading Iraq
war critic, said in May of the Haditha incident: "Our troops
overreacted because of the pressure on them and they killed
innocent civilians in cold blood."

Lt. Gen. James Mattis, the new top Marine general in U.S.
Central Command, is expected to decide whether to bring
criminal charges against any of the Marines under