On Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, host Sean Hannity and Swift Boat Veterans for Truth co-founder John E. O'Neill attacked Rep. Jack Murtha (D-PA) for saying that a pending military report will show that U.S. Marines deliberately killed innocent Iraqi citizens during a November 2005 raid in Haditha. Murtha served in the Marines for 37 years prior to joining the United States Congress. Yet, while condemning Murtha for discussing the Haditha incident, Hannity did not similarly fault Fox chief White House correspondent Brett Baier, who earlier that day also noted the pending report.
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During the May 18 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, host Sean Hannity and Swift Boat Veterans for Truth co-founder John E. O'Neill attacked Rep. John P. Murtha (D-PA) for saying that a pending military report will show that U.S. Marines deliberately killed innocent Iraqi citizens during a November 2005 raid in Haditha, Iraq. Both accused Murtha of, as Hannity stated, allegedly "accus[ing] our troops ... of killing innocent civilians in cold blood" without giving the Marines "the presumption of innocence." O'Neill asserted that, by giving such a report during a press conference, Murtha was "gloating," and Hannity declared Murtha's remarks to be "a disgrace to the men and women that are serving and putting their lives on the line." Yet, while condemning Murtha for discussing the Haditha incident, Hannity did not similarly fault Fox News and its chief White House correspondent Brett Baier, who -- as guest and Democratic strategist Bob Beckel pointed out -- had earlier that day also noted the pending report.
Murtha served in the Marines for 37 years prior to his election to Congress.
On March 27, Time magazine first raised the possibility that the Haditha incident could have involved the intentional killing of civilians. As Time reported:
The incident seemed like so many others from this war, the kind of tragedy that has become numbingly routine amid the daily reports of violence in Iraq. On the morning of Nov. 19, 2005, a roadside bomb struck a humvee carrying Marines from Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines, on a road near Haditha, a restive town in western Iraq. The bomb killed Lance Corporal Miguel (T.J.) Terrazas, 20, from El Paso, Texas. The next day a Marine communiqué from Camp Blue Diamond in Ramadi reported that Terrazas and 15 Iraqi civilians were killed by the blast and that "gunmen attacked the convoy with small-arms fire," prompting the Marines to return fire, killing eight insurgents and wounding one other. The Marines from Kilo Company held a memorial service for Terrazas at their camp in Haditha. They wrote messages like "T.J., you were a great friend. I'm going to miss seeing you around" on smooth stones and piled them in a funeral mound. And the war moved on.
But the details of what happened that morning in Haditha are more disturbing, disputed and horrific than the military initially reported. According to eyewitnesses and local officials interviewed over the past 10 weeks, the civilians who died in Haditha on Nov. 19 were killed not by a roadside bomb but by the Marines themselves, who went on a rampage in the village after the attack, killing 15 unarmed Iraqis in their homes, including seven women and three children. Human-rights activists say that if the accusations are true, the incident ranks as the worst case of deliberate killing of Iraqi civilians by U.S. service members since the war began.
In his May 17 press conference, Murtha stated:
It's much worse than reported in Time magazine. There was no firefight. There was no IED that killed these innocent people. Our troops overreacted because of the pressure on them and they killed innocent civilians in cold blood. And that's what the report is going to tell.
And now I understand the investigation shows that in fact there was no firefight, there was no explosion that killed the civilians in a bus. There was no bus. There was no shrapnel. There was only bullet holes inside the house where the Marines had gone in.
So it's a very serious incident, unfortunately. It shows the tremendous pressure that these guys are under every day when they're out in combat.
I'm basing it on information that I've gotten from -- all the information I get. It comes from the commanders. It comes from people who know what they're talking about.
I feel that the tremendous pressure and the redeployment over and over again is a big part of this. These guys are under tremendous strain, more strain than I can conceive of. And this strain has caused them to crack in situations like this.
Yet, Hannity and O'Neill condemned Murtha for making such a report on "an ongoing criminal investigation," despite Fox News' own reporting of the findings earlier in the day. During the May 18 edition of Special Report with Brit Hume, Baier reported on Murtha's remarks:
BAIER: Wednesday, Democratic Representative Jack Murtha, a decorated Marine veteran and vocal war critic, used a November 2005 incident where Marines were accused of killing Iraqi civilians as a reason why, he said, U.S. troops need to leave Iraq as soon as possible, saying the incident was much worse than first reported.
MURTHA: There was no firefight. There was no IED that killed these innocent people. Our troops overreacted because of the pressure on them. And they killed innocent civilians in cold blood. That's what the report is going to tell.
BAIER: Marine commanders say that a criminal investigation is continuing into the incident that occurred seven months ago in the Iraqi town of Haditha, west of Baghdad. At issue, the deaths of at least 15 Iraqis, including women and children, killed, the Marines said at first, after a firefight following a roadside bomb attack that left one Marine dead. Witnesses said the Marines responded by indiscriminately firing on unarmed civilians. Marine commanders say they can't comment on an ongoing criminal investigation. They confirm three Marines have been relieved of their command as the investigation has continued, and they don't expect a report to be released for at least another week. But privately, senior commanders and Pentagon officials tell Fox it appears that Marines did not follow the rules of engagement in the incident. And according to one official, the report is going to be, quote, "ugly."
While O'Neill said it was "extremely unfair" for Murtha to "gloat" about the incident during his press conference, and Hannity asserted that "[w]hat Murtha did is a disgrace to the men and women that are serving and putting their lives on the line," neither of them noted or criticized similar information in Baier's Fox News report.
O'Neill is a Vietnam War veteran with strong Republican connections who spearheaded a series of unsubstantiated and discredited attacks on Sen. John F. Kerry's (D-MA) Vietnam War record during the 2004 presidential election.
From the May 18 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes:
HANNITY: And welcome back to Hannity & Colmes. I'm Sean Hannity, reporting tonight from Dayton, Ohio. Pennsylvania Congressman Jack Murtha had this to say yesterday about an ongoing criminal investigation into the deaths of at least 15 Iraqi civilians in November 2005 in the Iraqi town of Haditha.
MURTHA [video clip]: There was no -- there was no firefight. There was no IED that killed these innocent people. Our troops overreacted because of the pressure on them. And they killed innocent civilians in cold blood. That's what the report is going to tell.
HANNITY: Murtha's charges reminded many people of John Kerry's Senate testimony about Vietnam 35 years ago.
KERRY [audio clip of 1971 Senate Foreign Relations Committee testimony]: They relieved the absolute horror of what this country, in a sense, made them do. They told the stories of times that they had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in a fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan.
HANNITY: Joining us now is a spokesman for the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, John O'Neill, and Democratic strategist, Fox News contributor Bob Beckel. Bob Beckel, are you going to turn -- defend Jack Murtha saying our troops killed innocent civilians in cold blood without a trial? Are you going to defend that?
BECKEL: That's right, defend my own network here, Fox. They confirmed the same story today. I mean, Murtha was told by the Pentagon these are accurate stories. And there have been three officers who were relieved of their duty there. And I think --
HANNITY: He said our troops overreacted, and they killed innocent civilians in cold blood.
HANNITY: John, here's what we know. He accused our troops, who deserve more than anybody the presumption of innocence, he accused them of killing innocent civilians in cold blood. Here's what is bothering me, John. [Sen.] Barack Obama [D-IL] said, quote, "We are helping the insurgency," unquote. John Kerry himself said American soldiers need not be getting -- going into the homes of Iraqis terrorizing women and children. [Senate Democratic Leader] Harry Reid [D-NV] said our presence is a problem. We're an occupying force. This is almost now coming out on a daily basis, these attacks against our brave men and women.
O'NEILL: Sean, it ought to be possible to oppose a war without trying to vilify the people that were sent to fight it. Each of the people you mentioned, including Murtha, voted to send those kids over there. If there are things they do wrong, they should be properly investigated --
HANNITY: I agree.
O'NEILL: -- but to hold a press conference highlighting them, gloating them, that's immediately reported all over the Arab world, is extremely unfair to the people involved who can't respond and generally to all of our kids there.
HANNITY: For a congressman to say they have killed innocent men, innocent civilians in cold blood without any trial --
BECKEL: And if they did, Sean --
HANNITY: -- I don't care what party you're in, you should condemn it as a disgrace.
BECKEL: And I -- and I would contend, before you exonerate those Duke players, Sean --
HANNITY: What Murtha did is a disgrace to the men and women that are serving and putting their lives on the line. I'm sorry.
BECKEL: -- maybe you want to think about it.
HANNITY: Sir, I'm looking for the truth. Bob --
BECKEL: So am I.
HANNITY: -- are you looking for the truth?
BECKEL: So am I.
HANNITY: You're the one that's supporting and defending Murtha --
BECKEL: So am I.
HANNITY: -- so you're wrong here.
O'NEILL: Bob, it may be good politics for a minute --
HANNITY: Coming up next --
O'NEILL: -- but it's bad politics.