By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 15, 2006
A Republican congressman apologized yesterday to the Marines under investigation in the killings of two dozen civilians in Haditha, Iraq, last November, saying that statements he made about the case were taken out of context and that he did not mean to imply the Marines were guilty of wrongdoing.
Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.) issued the apology as part of an agreement with lawyers for Marine Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich, who alleged that Kline had damaged Wuterich's reputation.
Wuterich, through his lawyers, has denied any wrongdoing in the Haditha case. None of the Marines involved has been charged.
Wuterich took the unusual step earlier this month of filing a federal lawsuit against Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), alleging that statements Murtha made about the Haditha deaths were libelous. Murtha said after the lawsuit was filed that he did not mean to prejudge Wuterich, but the representative has not responded to a settlement offer that seeks a similar public apology, according to Wuterich's attorneys, Mark S. Zaid and Neal A. Puckett. The lawyers set last Friday as a deadline for Murtha's response.
Wuterich had threatened to sue Kline as well. But Zaid said yesterday that Kline responded to a settlement request within an hour of its arrival Aug. 4. Kline wrote that news outlets used incomplete statements that gave the false impression that he had concluded the Marines broke the law.
"I am, of course, very concerned regarding any allegations surrounding misconduct by U.S. troops in Iraq," Kline wrote in his statement. "Such allegations must be taken seriously, but we should never rush to judgment before all the facts are known and the military criminal justice process is completed."
Kline, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said he was briefed on Haditha by Marine Brig. Gen. John F. Kelly, the legislative assistant to the Marine commandant. At the time of the briefings, the official investigations were not complete, and Kline emphasized that "conclusions have not been reached."
"As a retired Colonel in the U.S. Marines, I am especially proud of the sacrifices our men and women make day in and day out, especially in combat situations," Kline wrote. "And as a Marine officer, I would never want to publicly insinuate, implicitly or explicitly, that I have prejudged what took place that day on the battlefield or afterwards."