A Call for Senate Hearings on Haditha

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He may be known as a courtly Virginia gentleman, but Sen. John Warner, the powerful chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, is playing hardball. The 79-year-old Republican Senator has just ratcheted up the pressure on the Defense Department to come clean on what happened at Haditha. On Tuesday Warner fired off a stern letter to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, announcing that he wanted to hold hearings on the attack last Nov. 19, in which members of a Marine company are accused of gunning down two dozen innocent civilians in the village northwest of Baghdad. The first witness Warner wants before his panel is Army Maj. Gen. Eldon Bargewell, who has just completed an investigation into whether senior officers in Iraq looked the other way when news of killings trickled up the chain of command or tried to cover it up.

Warner, a former Marine and an ex-Navy Secretary, put Rumsfeld on notice that he expects the incident to "be addressed expeditiously" and that the Pentagon not drag its feet in airing the facts in the case as it did in the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal. "Congress and the American people are entitled to a timely disclosure of the official findings," the Virginia Republican wrote pointedly in his letter. "Delays in getting out the official findings of fact due to a protracted review process will mean a mixture of information, misinformation and unconfirmed facts will continue to spiral in the public domain."

Bargewell's report on his findings is likely to be delivered soon to Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the second-ranking U.S. general in Iraq, and then passed on to Rumsfeld in Washington. A separate criminal investigation by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service will take longer to complete. Warner, however, says in his letter he wants to "hold a series of hearings" on Haditha and he wants the Pentagon to come forward with its findings quickly, and not wait for all the probes to be completed.

This isnít the first time Warner has taken on Rumsfeld and the Pentagon. After he held hearings on prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib, many Republicans privately chastised Warner. They complained that the hearings became a forum for Democrats to attack Rumsfeld, the President and the war. By contrast, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter largely ducked any public probe of the prison abuses. But the courtly Warner seems willing to anger his GOP colleagues once more and shine a public spotlight on another Pentagon scandal.