By Will Dunham
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A U.S. lawmaker apologized on Tuesday to U.S. Marines under investigation in the deaths of two dozen Iraqi civilians in Haditha in a statement his office said spared him from a libel lawsuit.
Minnesota Republican Rep. John Kline, a retired Marine Corps colonel, issued a three-paragraph statement under a deal with lawyers for Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, one of the Marines under investigation.
Wuterich’s lawyers filed a libel lawsuit against another congressman, Democratic Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania, on August 2 following his comments on the case.
"Some news outlets have promoted incomplete statements attributed to me that gave the false impression that I have concluded those involved committed unlawful acts," Kline said in the statement provided by his office.
"I am, of course, very concerned regarding any allegations surrounding misconduct by U.S. troops in Iraq. Such allegations must be taken seriously, but we should never rush to judgment before all the facts are known and the military criminal justice process is completed," Kline said.
Kline added, "I want to express my sincere apology" to the Marines in the unit that was in Haditha last November 19.
Wuterich and several other Marines are suspected, but have not been charged, in the killing of two dozen unarmed civilians in Haditha, one of a series of incidents in which U.S. troops are suspected of killing Iraqi civilians.
Troy Young, Kline’s spokesman, said the statement stemmed from an agreement avoiding a libel suit by Wuterich. Mark Zaid, a lawyer for Wuterich, said "we are completely satisfied" with Kline’s statement.