The incident took place during the most intense period of the Iraq war – which was declared “over” just last week, as U.S. soldiers began packing up and heading home.
The Times describes how on that 2005 morning, a convoy of military vehicles was headed to an outpost in Haditha when one vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb.
One Marine died and others were injured.
Some of the remaining Marines went looking for those responsible for the bomb.
A day later, 24 Iraqis were dead – “including a 76-year-old man and children between the ages of 3 and 15 ... many inside their homes,” the Times reported.
Murtha, an ex-Marine and Vietnam War veteran, understood the horrors of combat.
He knew the circumstances those soldiers faced.
And he realized that such incidents were damaging to efforts to reconcile U.S. military actions with the Iraqi people.
Murtha had access to reports based on the same classified information uncovered – quite literally – by The New York Times.
Several months after the Haditha incident, the veteran congressman uttered the words that fueled political campaigns and led to twin slander lawsuits filed against him.
Former Murtha spokesman Matthew Mazonkey, reached by email, said Murtha’s goal was to help the public and others in government understand that soldiers in Iraq faced very challenging circumstances which sometimes led them to take actions that resulted in unnecessary civilian casualties.
“Congressman Murtha’s purpose all along was to draw attention to the high number of civilian casualties in Iraq, said Mazonkey, who is now chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Mark Critz, D-Johnstown.
“And, in many cases, it worked – civilian casualties were significantly reduced as we started focusing on winning the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people.”
In his final interview, with The Tribune-Democrat’s Randy Griffith a short time before his February 2010 death, Murtha recalled the moment when he spoke out: