Johnstown — The final years of John Murtha’s life were stained by a controversy over comments he made concerning actions by U.S. Marines in late 2005 in Haditha, Iraq.
He was sued by soldiers for slander and chastised by political foes.
And the echoes of that debate followed Murtha to his grave years after he said Marines killed innocent civilians “in cold blood.”
But a powerful new investigative report by The New York Times seems to support assertions by the late congressman that Marines – stressed to the breaking point by the nature of that conflict – killed 24 people, including women and children, on Nov. 19, 2005.
A Times reporter found in a junkyard near Baghdad numerous pieces of evidence from the investigation into the Haditha incident.
Michael S. Schmidt wrote that some 400 pages of top-secret interviews and interrogations which were to be destroyed as the last American troops pulled out of Iraq were instead casually discarded. The junkyard also held additional classified information such as maps of helicopter routes.
Schmidt wrote: “An attendant was burning them as fuel to cook a dinner of smoked carp.”
Schmidt’s in-depth story charts both the atrocities committed at Haditha, as described in testimony by Marines who were involved, and the intense stress those military personnel faced each day from the threat of suicide bombings and roadside explosive devices.
He wrote: “Troops, traumatized by the rising violence and feeling constantly under siege, grew increasingly twitchy, killing more and more civilians in accidental encounters. Others became so desensitized and inured to the killing that they fired on Iraqi civilians deliberately while their fellow soldiers snapped pictures, and were court-martialed. The bodies piled up at a time when the war had gone horribly wrong.”
As has been reported, eight Marines were charged after the Haditha incident. Charges against six were eventually dropped, while one was acquitted and the eighth may face a trial for voluntary manslaughter in 2012.