By Kristin Roberts Wed Aug 2, 3:34 PM ET
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. Marine suspected in the killing of 24 civilians
in Haditha, Iraq, sued a congressman for libel on Wednesday after the lawmaker, a prominent war critic, publicly accused servicemen
A group of Marines, while suspected, have not been charged, and official
results from the military's investigation remain outstanding. A U.S. defense official said on Wednesday, however that evidence
indicates Marines deliberately shot to death unarmed civilians.
In the suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia,
attorneys for Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich said Democratic Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania made false, misleading and defamatory statements.
It said Murtha's statements in the press about the case have pressured the Pentagon to pursue charges against Wuterich and other Marines, and to use them as "scapegoats" to prove that allegations of
atrocities committed against Iraqis will be pursued, "no matter how baseless."
"Mr. Murtha has intentionally disseminated with malice his hearsay version
of the events of November 19, 2005 with knowledge of the false and libelous nature of the statements contained therein and/or
with gross negligence or reckless disregard for the truth," the lawsuit stated.
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."
He said that Wuterich, 26, was "lashing out" and that his comments were
meant to draw attention to the situation in Iraq. He did not address the specific charges in the suit.
"When I spoke up about Haditha, my intention was to draw attention to the
horrendous pressure put on our troops in Iraq and to the cover-up of the incident," Murtha said.
Wuterich's attorneys said they hope the suit will allow them to question
Murtha about his discussions with the Pentagon. Lawyers for Marines suspected in the case say they have been unable to cull
any information from the Defense Department.
Military criminal investigators have reviewed evidence indicating Marines
deliberately shot to death two dozen Iraqi civilians last November in Haditha, a defense official said. But a senior commander
still must decide on whether to bring criminal charges, officials said.
The Naval Criminal Investigative Service, responsible for cases involving
Marines, opened its investigation into the incident in March after a preliminary probe found evidence the Marines killed the
civilians, including children, in an unprovoked attack, contradicting the troops' account.
Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on Wednesday said
the criminal investigation was ongoing.
Officials said the findings of the NCIS investigators will be forwarded
to Marine Lt. Gen. John Sattler, the head of Marine forces in U.S. Central Command, to consider charges against Marines. But
that decision may fall to Marine Lt. Gen. James Mattis, due soon to replace Sattler on August 14, according to Lt. Col. Sean
Gibson, a Marine Corps spokesman.
An attorney for one of the Marines suspected in the killings said he expected
the investigation to be completed in August.
The Haditha case is one of several in which U.S. troops are suspected of
killing Iraqi civilians.
Wuterich, represented by Washington-based lawyers Mark Zaid and Neal Puckett,
is suing for damages of at least $75,000, a public apology and an injunction prohibiting publication of allegations against
DIANA IREY For US CONGRESS
She is running against Congressman Jack
Murtha is considering a run for House
Majority Leader should the Democrats retake the House of Representatives in the fall.
Murtha's replacement needs