(CNSNews.com) - The parents of a U.S. Marine accused of killing three Iraqis execution-style in Haditha in late 2005 said Thursday they would ask Congress to censure Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) for saying that the Marines "overreacted" during the incident and killed civilians "in cold blood."
"It's too late for an apology," Darryl Sharratt of Canonsburg, Pa., told Cybercast News Service after the hearing officer in the case, Lt. Col. Paul Ware, released an 18-page report recommending that all charges against Sharratt's son, Lance Cpl. Justin Sharratt, be dismissed because his actions "were in accord with the rules of engagement and use of force."
Sharratt said that he, his wife Theresa and other supporters of their 22-year-old son were planning to visit Martha's office, and "we're going to ask for more than an apology."
"We need this man censured by our Congress," he said, because "he denied my son -- and the other Marines involved -- their constitutional rights to a fair trial and a presumption of innocence."
"This is what we've been fighting for in Iraq," Sharratt added. "This is what we've been fighting for -- what soldiers and Marines have been dying for -- for the past 200 years."
Sharratt's future now lies in the hands of Lt. Gen. James Mattis, commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Pendleton, who can accept, reject or modify the recommendation.
As Cybercast News Service previously reported, a roadside bomb killed a Marine on Nov. 19, 2005, in Haditha -- a terrorist stronghold in Iraq's volatile Anbar Province -- and initial press reports quoted area residents as saying that members of his squad retaliated by killing as many as 24 unarmed Iraqi men, women and children.
The following May, Murtha -- who by then was a vocal opponent of the war in Iraq -- said at a news conference that sources in the military had told him an internal investigation would expose serious misconduct.
"Our troops overreacted because of the pressure on them, and they killed innocent civilians in cold blood," Murtha said, before calling for U.S. troops to be "redeployed" out of the country.
The U.S. Marine Corps responded in a statement that three commanders in Haditha had been relieved of duty, and at least 12 Marines were being investigated regarding their actions in the incident.
The probe was carried out by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), an agency that investigates alleged crimes in the Navy and Marines Corps.
Lance Cpl. Sharratt, who was on his second combat tour in Iraq with the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment when the incident took place, was the subject of a hearing at Camp Pendleton in California last month.
Prosecutors contended that the Marine killed three unarmed Iraqi brothers execution-style with a handgun, which is rarely used in door-to-door searches for insurgents. Sharratt responded that he fired only after two of the men pointed AK-47s at him.
"I kept firing until my magazine was empty because I didn't know if they had body armor or suicide vests," he said. He added that his machine gun had jammed, so he was forced to use a 9-millimeter handgun he had borrowed from a Navy corpsman.
"We did not execute any Iraqi males," Sharratt stated. "On Nov. 19, I did exactly as I was trained to do. I will always be proud of my service in Iraq, and I will always be proud to be a Marine."
Sharratt's parents attended the inquiry and told Cybercast News Service they felt "Justin's statements and recollections of what happened were totally supported by the forensics evidence that was actually given by the NCIS."
"We had three forensics experts ready to testify, and our lawyers, Gary Myers and James Culp, didn't call them because the government's case totally supported Justin's actions," Darryl Sharratt added.
'Unsupported by independent evidence'
Ware agreed, stating in his report that "the government version is unsupported by independent evidence," and the Marine's actions "were in accord with the rules of engagement and use of force."
Further prosecution of Sharratt could set a "dangerous precedent that ... may encourage others to bear false witness against Marines as a tactic to erode public support of the Marine Corps and its mission in Iraq," Ware added. "Even more dangerous is the potential that a Marine may hesitate at the critical moment when facing the enemy."
"We were elated by the fact that finally, the truth has come out as to what actually happened in Haditha on Nov. 19, 2005," Darryl Sharratt said Thursday. "We don't want to circumvent the authority of Lt. Gen. James Mattis, who has the final say in the case [but] we hope the charges against our son are dropped."
Roger Hughes, chairman of the Presidential Watch Political Action Committee -- the umbrella organization for the "Boot Murtha" and "Expose Murtha" campaigns -- told Cybercast News Service that he -- "unlike Murtha" -- would not comment on the Haditha investigations.
He did say, however, that "Murtha's remarks about the guilt of these people having killed civilians in cold blood is very reminiscent of John Kerry's Senate testimony" in 1971, when the current senator from Massachusetts stated he'd heard Vietnam veterans say they had "randomly shot at civilians" and "razed villages in a fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan."
"That hasn't proven to be true, either," Hughes added.
"Censure is too good for Murtha on this alone," Hughes said, even without considering such things in his past as questions regarding his war hero status and involvement in the Abscam scandal.
Telephone calls to Murtha's office seeking comment for this article were not returned by press time.
The Sharratt investigation isn't the first time the Pennsylvania Democrat has faced problems stemming from his remarks on Haditha.
Last August, Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich filed a lawsuit in federal court claiming that Murtha had defamed him while discussing the incident.
In response, the congressman released a statement in which he said: "I don't blame the staff sergeant for lashing out. When I spoke up about Haditha, my intention was to draw attention to the horrendous pressure put on our troops in Iraq and to the cover-up of the incident."
The war in Iraq "cannot be won militarily," he added. "Our troops are caught in the middle of a civil war. It's well beyond the time to redeploy from Iraq."
Wuterich and Sharratt are among seven Marines under investigation over the Haditha episode. The investigating officer in the case of Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani, the highest-ranking of the seven, has recommended that Chessani be court-martialed.
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