June 15, 2006

John Murtha: Mortal Enemy of Military Justice

Almost a month ago I ripped into ex-Marine John Murtha for unequivocally stating that a unit of Marines had "killed innocent civilians in cold blood" after an IED blast killed a fellow Marine in Haditha, Iraq.

I stated:

First off, it is unconscionable for any legislator to accuse U.S. military personnel of multiple counts of premeditated murder before an investigation into these charges is complete. Prosecutions must proceed at their own logical pace as evidence in the case dictates. Premature accusations by a public figure in such a case imposes an artificial timeline, endangering the accuracy and thoroughness of an investigation.

At the same time, such heated rhetoric as charges of murder of "innocent civilians in cold blood" is prejudicial against the defendants, poisoning public opinion against them. This would be an explosive charge in a civilian court, but to make such charges against members of the U.S. Military when they are engaged in military operations in that country is absolutely fissionable.

An attorney for one of the Haditha Marines apparently agrees, and states that if his client is charged, he will call Murtha as a witness:

A criminal defense attorney for a Marine under investigation in the Haditha killings says he will call a senior Democratic congressman as a trial witness, if his client is charged, to find out who told the lawmaker that U.S. troops are guilty of cold-blooded murder.

Attorney Neal A. Puckett told The Washington Times that Gen. Michael Hagee, the Marine commandant, briefed Rep. John P. Murtha, Pennsylvania Democrat, on the Nov. 19 killings of 24 Iraqis in the town north of Baghdad. Mr. Murtha later told reporters that the Marines were guilty of killing the civilians in "cold blood." Mr. Murtha said he based his statement on Marine commanders, whom he did not identify.
Mr. Puckett said such public comments from a congressman via senior Marines amount to "unlawful command influence." He said potential Marine jurors could be biased by the knowledge that their commandant, the Corps' top officer, thinks the Haditha Marines are guilty.

"Unlawful command influence." Let that sink in. According to United States vs. Gore, No. 03-6003, 60 MJ 178 (and summarized here), unlawful command influence:

  • is recognized as the mortal enemy of military justice;
  • tends to deprive service members of their constitutional rights;
  • if directed against prospective defense witnesses, it transgresses the accused's right to have access to favorable evidence.

John Murtha took the extraordinary step of accusing Marines of a war crime before the investigation was complete, and perhaps has compromised justice in this process entirely. Someone should ask Murtha if his political grandstanding was worth becoming the "mortal enemy of military justice" and jeopardizing the constitutional rights of these Marines. Someone should, but they aren't likely to get an answer. According the author of the Times article, Murtha's spokesman did not return a call seeking comment.

Apparently too late, ex-Marine John Murtha has finally learned to shut up.

Posted by Confederate Yankee at June 15, 2006 12:32 PM | TrackBack

According to Paul Hackett on the O'Reilly Factor earlier this week, Murtha's office is not responding to him either.

The local lefties here in Minnesota - a definite blue state - have already judged these marines, and we have had some pretty heated exchanges in the local newspaper opinion pages forum.

What a bunch of weasels. You can review some of the exchanges on this subject and others at Echo Press

Posted by: Retired Spy at June 15, 2006 02:06 PM

Everyone concerned about the treatment of the Marines and Sailor alleged to have committed the Haditha 'massacre' and at the pending charges against Cpl. Josh Belile please write your representatives in Congress as well as the Commandant of the Marine Corps expressing your objections. You can get the Commandant's email address at Allahpundit in the article about the above or at HOTAIR (MM's site). gives the email addresses of all reps in Congress and is easy to use. If we all express ourselves we can help these brave young warriors.

Posted by: Jim P at June 15, 2006 04:08 PM

Too many times "undue command influence" or "unlawful command influence" is a direct result of a congressional inquiry. You cannot believe the hoops the military will jump through for the congress. After all, they hold the purse strings that fund (or don't) the necessary and desired programs of the military. I've seen it too many times.

Murtha being an ex-Marine, and a retired Colonel should be fully aware of the undue pressure his comments would place on the Navy (NCIS) and USMC command chain involved in investigating and potentially prosecuting this incident. There can be but one reason to blatantly disregard the influence his comments would yield - political posturing. What a guy. Semper fi!

Posted by: Old Soldier at June 15, 2006 06:10 PM

NOW YOU'RE GETTING SOMEWHERE, actually quoting CASE LAW. That has substance and a standing in LAW, as opposed to ranting.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at June 16, 2006 01:57 PM

Who is this Mike Meyer twit? Another Troll from the KOS Kiddies' Summer Camp?

Posted by: Retired Spy at June 16, 2006 03:02 PM

Murtha has tons of contacts in the military, and when he speaks out his is often giving voice to people whose voices are otherwise squelched by the GOP puppets that pass for military brass at present. If Murtha doesn't speak out and put out some kind of pressure for a serious investigation, it won't happen.

Murtha cares about the military more than all the GOP members of Congress, who use it purely to further their political and ideological ends and like to have a few soldiers or Marines on hand for their fundraisers. Sometimes caring means showing tough love, and it's a good thing we have people like Murtha who are willing to stand up to the raving crowd and voice the appropriate constructive criticism.

Posted by: Nate at June 16, 2006 04:34 PM

Murtha vs. McKain 2008

Posted by: GOP VOTER at June 17, 2006 03:02 AM


If Murtha cares for the military more than others, he is definately going about it the wrong way. He is saying the Military can't do it's job, is locked in a quagmire that it can't win (which it is winning), calling men who were on the front line "Cold Blooded Murderers" when he wasn't there, nor was his source. He started calling them that well after the investigations have begun and so far they haven't found out what Murtha has (I wonder who his REAL informant is).

Murtha is a blight to the military, ask some of the Vets that post here.

Posted by: Retired Navy at June 17, 2006 07:48 AM

a) Murtha is saying we don't belong in a Civil War, nor do should soldiers and Marines be performing an elaborate social engineering project in perhaps the least hospitable place on the planet. The US military was trained to fight, not nation-build. Conservatives used to understand this concept.

b) Murtha's exact quote is that Marines “killed innocent civilians in cold blood”. This is a statement about a specific incident, and doesn't contain any broad characterization of the Marines in question as "murderers". His quote says more about the harsh conditions in Iraq, which most reasonable people see as potentially leading to these types of incidents, than it does about the character of the Marines in question.

c) Given that you don't know who Murtha's source was, how do you know that source wasn't there, or that the source didn't have solid knowledge of what did happen?

a) Given the ideological bent of this website, the Vets that post here probably don't represent the diverse views in the US military. Vets are like the rest of us when it comes to politics.

Posted by: Nate at June 17, 2006 01:22 PM

Murtha is saying we don't belong in a Civil War

Then where was his dissent during Clinton's Balkan adventures?

Posted by: Purple Avenger at June 17, 2006 11:38 PM

I can't speak for Murtha, but I presume he would say we don't belong in a civil war that we can do nothing to stop. If we could stop it, that might be a different story. (And for the record, I disagree with Murtha's recommendation that we leave.)

Posted by: Nate at June 18, 2006 12:41 AM

but I presume he would say we don't belong in a civil war that we can do nothing to stop

How about civil wars we actively contributed to by removing peace keepers?

Think Rwanda...

Think massacre of hundreds of thousands...

Think Clinton...

But then again, big time body counts tied to democrat blunders don't count.

Posted by: Purple Avenger at June 18, 2006 06:18 PM

I think the isolationsist GOP-led Congress was just as "responsible" for Rwanda as Clinton. I put responsible in quotes because I don't think anyone is to blame for Rwanda. It's not our job to police the world.

Posted by: Nate at June 19, 2006 02:50 AM

Nate - Murtha doesn't speak for me or any vets I know. His pre-judging of these Marines, no matter what the exact quote, will prejudice any Courts Martial.
I have 30 years experience in the military and am a decorated retiree, so don't you dare question me! /

Posted by: MCPO Airdale at June 19, 2006 10:40 AM

What does your thirty years of military service have to do with my ability to question you?

Posted by: Nate at June 19, 2006 08:28 PM