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Marine Corps Head Urges Patience in Haditha Investigations

In his first public comments since allegations concerning Iraqi civilian deaths in Haditha and Hamdaniya, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Michael Hagee took responsibility for the training of troops in Iraq, but said he would not resign. Two former Central Command Marine Corps generals analyze the accusations and reaction.

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    For the first time since allegations surfaced of Marine atrocities in Iraq, the commandant of the Marine Corps today publicly addressed the controversy.

    General Michael Hagee told reporters that, until the investigations are complete, he couldn't comment directly on allegations that Marines murdered Iraqi civilians in two towns and then covered up what happened.

    But during a 14-minute Pentagon news conference, General Hagee did stress the importance of Marines living up to certain basic values.

  • GEN. MICHAEL HAGEE, Commandant, U.S. Marine Corps:

    Our recruits are taught and it is constantly reinforced that an important part of being a Marine is accomplishing a mission while adhering to our core values of honor, courage and commitment.

    While Marines are proud of our high standards, they also know that, if they violate these tenets, they will be held accountable. Without accountability, standards would be nothing more than goals.

    Where compliance with our standards is in question, we use well-established processes to determine as accurately and expeditiously as possible what happened and why. But make no mistake: A Marine who has been found to have violated our standards will be held accountable.

    It is an important part of who we are, and all Marines expect it. High standards and accountability define Marines.

    As commandant, I am gravely concerned about the serious allegations concerning actions of some Marines at Haditha and Hamandiyah. I can assure you that the Marine Corps takes them seriously.

    We are committed to fully supporting the investigations of both incidents. We want to ensure the investigations are complete, with respect to what actually happened on the ground and actions taken or not taken by the chain of command.


    I'm wondering, given the gravity of what's come to light thus far in the two cases that you cited, why shouldn't you resign as an acknowledgment of failure of leadership?


    I serve at the pleasure of the president, and I have not submitted any resignation — Jim?


    General, Congressman Murtha said that the allegations of these reported incidents are a sign, a further sign that the Marines and soldiers in Iraq are under tremendous combat stress. Is that the case? If these allegations prove to be true, is that a contributing factor?


    I visit Iraq about once every two months, and I can only report on what I have seen in my interaction with the Marines and with the soldiers over there.

    And I can tell that their morale is really quite high. The operational tempo is also high. They are very proud in what they're doing. They know they're well-equipped; they know they're well-trained; and they know that they are making a difference.


    And they know right from wrong, General?


    They absolutely know right from wrong.


    General, as far as I know, all that we have, officially, on the record, from the military on the Haditha incident is that 15 civilians were killed by a roadside bomb. Can you now correct for the record that statement and tell us if that statement was inaccurate?


    Jonathan, as I've said several times, I cannot comment on anything that has happened in either one of those two incidences until the investigations are complete.


    I know when you were in Iraq, besides talking to the Marines, you were listening, as well. What did they tell you about their thoughts on these allegations, what they're thinking about them, and how it may be impacting their ability to do their jobs?


    First off, I would tell you that they are focused on what they're doing and focused on their mission. But I think the best way that I can capture the feeling over there is, in Al Assad (ph), I believe it was, I had — an NCO stood up and said, "Sir, that's not what we do. That's not what we're about."

    And he said, "I want to know what senior leadership is doing, and I want to know what we can do about that." And I told him what he can — what they could do about that is continue to do what they are doing right now, and they are doing really a magnificent job.