In the days after a squad of Marines was accused in 2006 of killing about two dozen non-combatants in Iraq, Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) said they had overreacted and “killed innocent civilians in cold blood.” The congressman also alleged the incident was covered up repeatedly, adding to the furor.
The story emerged in May 2006, about six months after the Nov. 19, 2005, deaths in Haditha, a city in western Iraq. Murtha’s remarks were widely reported, and quickly panned by supporters of the Marines who believed he convicted the Marines in the press before a Pentagon investigation had reached any conclusions. One of the Marines, then-Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich, sued Murtha a few months later for defamation.
[From The Post’s archives: In Haditha, memories of a massacre]
On Saturday, that situation is sure to be recalled again as the Navy christens its newest ship, the USS John P. Murtha. The ceremony will occur at the Ingalls Shipbuilding facility in Pascagoula, Miss., with appearances by Murtha’s widow, Joyce, Navy leaders and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D.-Calif.), the House minority leader. Murtha died in 2010 at age 77 due to complications from gall bladder surgery.
The christening will occur nearly five years after Navy Secretary Ray Mabus announced the ship would be named after Murtha, a few months after his death. The news prompted outrage at the time: As this 2010 Navy Times story notes, some felt that Murtha had “betrayed the brotherhood” with his comments and didn’t deserve to have a ship named after him, even though he had served in the Marine Corps for 37 years and was wounded twice in combat.
Charges initially were filed against eight Marines in the case. One was acquitted, and the charges were dropped against six others. Wuterich eventually pleaded guilty to dereliction of duty in 2012, but more serious charges against him also were dropped.
Naming the ship for Murtha also stoked some anger because it defied convention: Each of the previous nine vessels in the San Antonio class had been named after a city (others have been christened the New York, the Green Bay, the New Orleans and the Anchorage).
Admirers of Murtha note his long record as a key leader of the House appropriations defense subcommittee, where he worked closely with the military to fund projects and advocate for the troops. In 2010, for example, Murtha prodded Army Secretary John McHugh to adopt a new camouflage pattern known as MultiCam for soldiers in Afghanistan after hearing complaints that the old pattern did not blend in well there.