Congressman John Murtha dead at 77.
In 1974, Marine Colonel John Murtha became the first Vietnam War combat veteran elected to Congress. Considered one of Congress' most hawkish Democrats, in 2002 Murtha voted to authorize President George W. Bush to use military force in Iraq.
By November 2005, however, it became politically expedient to join the growing number of Democrats criticizing the administration's handling of the war. In calling for an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops, Murtha said, "The war in Iraq is not going as advertised. It is a flawed policy wrapped in illusion."
In 2006 Murtha's criticism of the Iraq war morphed into emotional accusations when he exclaimed Marines murdered Iraqi civilians "in cold blood" at Haditha, Iraq, after one Marine died and two were wounded by a roadside bomb. On December 21, 2006, eight Marines from 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines were charged in connection with the incident.
Murtha unfairly held the Marines responsible before an investigation was concluded and fueled enemy retaliation. Latching onto defeatist liberal sentiments of the day, Murtha said the war couldn't be won militarily and such incidents dimmed the prospect for a political solution.
"This is the kind of war you have to win the hearts and minds of the people," Murtha said. "And we're set back every time something like this happens." Murtha's strident accusations against the Haditha Marines helped the Democrats gain a majority in the House of Representatives.
Murtha's disgraceful accusations against fellow Marines were reminiscent of another Vietnam veteran's ungrounded claims of US servicemen's conduct in an earlier conflict.
Charges against seven of the eight Marines were ultimately dropped, and murder charges against the eighth were reduced to negligent homicide. In the course of the Haditha Marines' Article 32 hearings, the investigating officer told the prosecution so far, "The account you want me to believe does not support unpremeditated murder."
John Murtha's conduct throughout this incident was considered shameful by my Marine brothers. Murtha played the incident for maximum media coverage; it was impossible to avoid the subject as his face dominated television screens in mess halls, orderly rooms and other gathering places throughout the military.
I have always admired the Marine Corps; probably the finest fighting force ever to ever march across a battlefield. I have served alongside Marines, in training and operationally, overseas. My only regret of my entire military career is that it did not include a hitch in the Marine Corps. To this day I count Marines amongst my truest friends.
During the time of John Murtha's betrayal, more than one Marine I know looked down, shook his head and said, "He's not one of us. He's not a Marine anymore." For a Marine to say such a thing of another Marine is bad enough; for a Marine to say such a thing in front of a non-Marine, in the company of other Marines, is unheard of.
Murtha joined the Marines in 1952, served in the 2nd Marine Division, and did a stint as a drill instructor at Parris Island, South Carolina. He served as an intelligence officer in Vietnam from 1966 to 1967 and received a Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts.
Murtha routinely drew the attention of ethical watchdogs for off-the-floor activities, and his entanglement in the Abscam corruption probe three decades ago.
In the 1980 Abscam corruption probe, the FBI caught Murtha on videotape turning down a $50,000 bribe offer while holding out the possibility that he might take money in the future. "We do business for a while, maybe I'll be interested and maybe I won't," Murtha said on the tape. Six congressmen and one senator were convicted in that case. Murtha was not charged, but the government named him as an unindicted co-conspirator and he testified against two other congressmen.
More recently, Murtha drew scrutiny for the connection between special-interest spending known as earmarks and the raising of cash for campaigns.
He will not be missed.