The top officer in the U.S. military pledged a thorough investigation into the alleged massacre of Iraqi citizens in Haditha by Marines, saying it is important to avoid a rush to judgment.
Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, acknowledged that the allegations involving the deaths of about two dozen Iraqis have raised concerns among Iraqi officials and in the United States.
"But you don't want to have the emotions of the day weigh into the process," Pace told the Associated Press in an interview Sunday. "We need to stick with our judicial process. We want to be sure that it moves forward without any influence."
Pace said it is not clear exactly what happened last November when as many as two dozen Iraqis were killed during a U.S. attack.
U.S. militarythat points toward unprovoked murders by the Marines, a senior U.S. defense official said last week.
Iraq said last week it was undertaking its own investigation. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki sharply criticizing the conduct of U.S. troops in Iraq and said what occurred in Haditha "appears to be a horrible crime."
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, on Face The Nation, said "I`ve talked to Prime Minister Maliki. He wants coalition forces there. He knows that Iraqis are not yet capable of dealing with these security issues themselves."
Rice told Bob Schieffer, "American forces are the solution here, not the problem" and promised that the Pentagon will "get to the bottom of" the Haditha investigations.
Over the weekend, Pace joined U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld at a conference a defense leaders in Southeast Asia. In some countries in the region with sizable Muslim populations, the war in Iraq has soured attitudes toward the U.S.
The killings in Haditha have contributed to that, leading the U.S. military on Thursday to order that the 150,000 coalition troops in Iraq, including 130,000 Americans, get special training in ethics and "the values that separate us from our enemies."
The additional instruction, Pace said, "should provide comfort to those looking to see if we are we a nation that stands on the values we hold dear."
U.S. troops should benefit from the additional training, particularly as they run through various battle scenarios, Pace said. "Emotions on the battlefield are intense," Pace said. "It's good to stop and check your moral compass."
Pace, the first Marine to serve as Joint Chiefs chairman, is no stranger to such combat emotions. To this day he keeps a photo on his desk at the Pentagon of the first Marine killed under his command when he was a platoon leader in Vietnam.
According to Barney Barnes, one of the men who served with Pace, Pace's first inclination was to call in the artillery "and bomb the heck out of that village." Barnes said that Pace kept his emotions in check and went ahead with a search of the village — ultimately in vain — for the sniper whose bullet had killed Cpl. Guido Farinaro.
Those serving in the military, Pace said, need to train for combat situations "and think about when you go in, `Who do you want to be?' If you do that, you are much better prepared for combat — to know what you're going to do."
In addition to the renewed ethics training for coalition troops in Iraq, U.S. Marine Commandant Gen. Michael W. Hagee has been talking to Marines about proper conduct on the battlefield.
Hagee last week spoke to troops about the danger of becoming "indifferent to the loss of a human life."
To Pace, "It's a very good thing to take an operational pause and talk about what we do and what we do not do in combat."
Pace has declined to talk about the specifics of the two investigations into the Haditha killings. He said Sunday he does not know when they will be completed. Both he and Rumsfeld have said they do not want to make comments that might taint the probes.
The investigation that will be finished first is the one examining whether the Marines in Haditha or their commanders tried to cover up what happened, Pace said. The second, a criminal investigation, will take longer.
The results of both investigations will be made public as soon as possible without interfering with the legal process, Pace pledged.
"Regardless of the outcome of these investigations, 99.9 percent of the servicemen and service women are doing what we expect them to do," he said.
Haditha, about 140 miles northwest of Baghdad, has been plagued by insurgents. On Nov. 19, a bomb rocked a military convoy, killing a Marine. Residents said Marines then went into nearby houses and shot members of two families, including a 3-year-old girl.
At first, the U.S. military described what happened as an ambush on a joint U.S.-Iraqi patrol, with a roadside bombing and subsequent firefight killing 15 civilians, eight insurgents and a Marine. The statement said the 15 civilians were killed by the blast, a claim the residents strongly denied.
GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who was an Air Force lawyer and is in the Air Force Reserves today, termed the allegations "unnerving" but said Sunday that "if it is true that our Marines killed innocent civilians, noncombatants, out of revenge, they will be severely dealt with."