Called Iraq War "un-winnable" and described U.S. military as a "catalyst for violence"
Claimed that U.S. Marines committed "murder" in Haditha
Died February 8, 2010
John “Jack” Murtha, a Democrat from western Pennsylvania’s Twelfth District, was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1974 to 2010. Prior to his stint in Congress, he spent five years in the Pennsylvania legislature.
Born in June 1932, Murtha enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps at age 20. After completing his military service, he relocated to Johnstown, Pennsylvania and remained active in the Marine Corps Reserve. He attended the University of Pittsburgh on the G.I. Bill, graduating with a degree in economics in 1962. In 1966 he volunteered for service in the Vietnam War. Upon returning, he began his career in politics.
In the early 1980s, Murtha was named as an “unindicted co-conspirator” in the so-called “Abscam” investigation of legislative corruption. In that case, undercover FBI agents posed as a fictitious Arab sheikh and his retinue, and offered bribes to members of the House and Senate in exchange for political favors to a non-existent sheikh named “Kambir Abdul Rahman.” The legislators -- one of whom was Murtha -- were asked to: (a) help “Rahman” purchase asylum in the United States; (b) help him transfer his financial assets out of his country; and (c) get involved in a potentially lucrative investment scheme.
An FBI videotape captured Murtha, then a member of the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, telling the agent: “When I make a f***in’ deal I want to make sure that I know exactly what I’m doing and ... what I’m sayin’ is, a few investments in my district ...” Murtha emphasized that he wanted to give those investments the appearance of having been made “legitimately ... when I say legitimately, I'm talking about so these bastards up here can’t say to me ... ‘Jesus Christ, ah, this happened,’ then he [someone else], in order to get immunity so he doesn’t go to jail, he starts talking and fingering people and then the son of a bitch all falls apart.”
Ultimately Murtha rejected the bribe but not the possibility of future payment: “You know, we do business for a while, maybe I'll be interested, maybe I won’t,” Murtha said on the tape. Murtha himself avoided prosecution by testifying against two House colleagues targeted in the FBI sting.
This was not Murtha’s only involvement in financial chicanery. In 2004 the congressman steered more than $20 million in federal appropriations to at least ten companies represented by KSA consulting, a lobbying firm where Murtha’s brother, Robert “Kit” Murtha, is a senior partner, and where a former aide for Murtha is a top official.
After the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003, Murtha cultivated a reputation as one of Congress’ most vocal critics of the war effort. Initially (in October 2002) he voted to authorize America’s use of military force against Iraq, albeit grudgingly: “I only voted for it,” he explained, “because I [had] said to [Vice President] Cheney and the President, ‘You have to go to the U.N.,’ and when they did that, what the hell could I do?”
During the second term of the Bush administration, Murtha consistently assailed the manner in which the Iraq War was prosecuted. At a May 2004 news conference with Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Murtha asserted that the Bush administration’s strategy in Iraq had made the war “un-winnable.” At the same time, he acknowledged that “[i]t would be devastating to pull out now.”
But in a November 2005 statement, Murtha reversed his position on the matter of troop withdrawal. Describing the military as “stretched thin,” the congressman alleged that “the Army is broken”; that the “future of our military is at risk”; and that “the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq” was not only “impeding … progress” there, but was acting as a “catalyst for violence.”
In May 2006 Murtha reacted swiftly and angrily to unsubstantiated allegations that a squad of eight U.S. Marines had killed, without cause, up to two-dozen unarmed civilians in the Iraqi town of Haditha. The congressman appeared on ABC’s This Week program, where he said that the Marines had “overreacted because of the pressure on them and they killed innocent civilians in cold blood.” “There’s no question in my mind about what happened here,” declared Murtha. “There was no gunfire [from the Iraqis]. They [the American Marines] killed four people in a taxi and then in addition to that, they went into the rooms and killed them.” He further alleged that the U.S. military was trying to “cover up” what had occurred in Haditha.
In the May 17, 2006 edition of Hardball with Chris Matthews, Matthews said to Murtha: “[W]hen you say cold blood, Congressman, a lot of people think you're basically saying you have got some civilians sitting in a room or out in a field and they're executed just on purpose.” Murtha replied, “That’s exactly what happened.”
By June 2008, it had become apparent that Murtha’s allegations against the eight Marines were entirely unfounded. Charges had been dismissed against six of the eight, while a seventh had been acquitted. Moreover, two of the Marines filed defamation and slandersuits against Murtha.
In June 2006 Murtha voted NO on a congressional proposal to formally declare that Iraq was a crucial theater in the overall war on terror, and that the setting of a firm withdrawal date for U.S. troops would be unwise.
In October 2006 Murtha voted to withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq at the earliest practicable date.
In early 2007 Murtha spoke out against the Bush administration’s planned troop “surge” -- where an additional 21,500 soldiers would be deployed to Iraq in an effort to quell the insurgency there. Vowing “to stop this surge,” Murtha stated that “surges have not worked in the past” because enemy forces “disappear, and then they come back later on. To think that a surge will work is, in my estimation, false thinking.” Instead, he argued, “we have to turn this [war effort] over to the Iraqis.”
In May 2007 Murtha voted YES on beginning to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq within 90 days.
In February 2008 the taxpayer watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW), which promotes fiscal responsibility and federal earmarks reform, named Murtha as Congress’ 2007 “Porker of the Year” -- “for flouting the rules and playing games with reform, while filing spending bills with pork and arrogantly threatening anyone that challenges his authority.” According to CAGW, Murtha had secured 72 earmarks worth $149.2 million for his district in fiscal year 2007. “Rep. Jack Murtha has long been known inside the Beltway for using threats, power plays, and backroom deals to control spending decisions,” CAGW said. “There is an area of the House floor known as ‘Murtha’s corner,’ where the legendary appropriator dispenses earmarks. The overwhelming vote for Porker of the Year vote shows that his shameful behavior is attracting attention throughout the country.”
Further questions about Murtha’s ethics as regards his use (or misuse) of taxpayer money were raised by the expenses associated with the John Murtha Johnstown-Cambria County Airport in Johnstown, Pennsylvania -- the congressman's home district. This facility is equipped with a $7 million air-traffic-control tower, a $14 million hangar, and an $18 million, state-of-the-art runway. As a result of Murtha’s influence, more than $150 million in taxpayer funds were funneled to this airport between 1999 and 2009, including $800,000 (from the February 2009 stimulus bill) which was allocated for repaving an "alternate runway." Notwithstanding these massive expenditures, only 3 flights per day originate from Murtha’s airport; all 3 go to Washington, DC.
In June 2008 Murtha voted "Yes" on a resolution drawn up by congressman Dennis Kucinich to investigate the feasibility of impeaching President Bush for “high crimes and misdemeanors.”
In the 2008 Democratic primaries, Murtha endorsed Senator Hillary Clinton for President. After Mrs. Clinton lost her party’s nomination to Illinois Senator Barack Obama, Murtha voiced his support for the latter.
On October 15, 2008, Murtha courted controversy when he accused voters in his home district of Pennsylvania of being racists because, in his estimation, they were not supporting Obama’s candidacy in adequate numbers (though Obama was in fact leading in the polls). “I think Obama is going to win, but I don’t think it's going to be a runaway,” Murtha said. “There is no question that western Pennsylvania is a racist area,” he added. “The older population is more hesitant [to embrace a black candidate].”
Murtha’s remarks drew considerable media attention, and the congressman issued an ambiguous apology the next day: "It's [the racism is] better than it was a few weeks ago. It's better than it was a few months ago."
The following week, in an October 20 interview with a local news channel, Murtha sought to further clarify his remarks: “What I mean is there’s still folks that have a problem voting for someone because they are black.... This whole area, years ago, was really redneck.”
Following is an overview of Murtha’s policy positions and voting record on key pieces of legislation during his years in the House of Representatives:
Abortion and the Rights of the Unborn: Murtha largely breaks from the Democratic Party stance on the issue of abortion. In April 2000 and October 2003, he voted in favor of legislation to ban the late-term abortion procedure commonly known as partial-birth abortion. In February 2004 he voted for the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which proposed to make it an added criminal offense for someone to injure or kill a fetus while carrying out a crime against a pregnant woman.
Marriage: In July 2006 Murtha voted NO on a Constitutional Amendment defining marriage strictly as a union between one man and one woman.
Education: In November 1997 and August 1998, Murtha voted against the implementation of school voucher programs, which would have helped low-income families shoulder the cost of sending their children to private schools. Murtha has received a rating of 100% from the National Education Association (NEA), America’s largest labor union.
Crime: In April 1994 Murtha voted NO on replacing the death penalty with life imprisonment. In June 2000 he voted NO on funding for alternative sentencing instead of more prisons.
Illegal Immigration: In May 2004 Murtha voted against requiring hospitals to report illegal aliens who receive medical treatment. In September 2006 he voted against a bill authorizing the construction of 700 miles of double-layered fencing between the U.S. and Mexico. Murtha is rated 25% by the U.S. Border Control (USBC), signifying that his voting record is weak on the issue of border defense.
Fossil Fuels: In June 2000 Murtha voted YES on implementing the Kyoto Protocol climate-change treaty. In April 2005 he voted against a proposal to ban oil exploration in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). In October 2005 he voted against the construction of new oil refineries in the United States. In May 2006 he voted against an amendment calling for the continued prohibition of drilling for natural gas in the Outer Continental Shelf. In July 2008 he voted in favor of permitting oil exploration in ANWR.
Taxes: In March 2000 Murtha voted NO on $46 billion in tax cuts for small business. In July 2000 and again in April 2004, he voted against eliminating the “marriage penalty.” In April 2001 he voted NO on eliminating the “death tax.” In October 2001 he voted NO on a $99 billion economic stimulus package. In April 2002 he voted against making President Bush’s tax cuts permanent. In September 2004 he voted NO on providing tax relief and simplification measures. In December 2005 he voted against retaining reduced taxes on capital gains and dividends.
Counter-Terrorism & Homeland Security: In August 2007 Murtha voted against a bill permitting the Director of National Intelligence and the Attorney General “to authorize foreign intelligence acquisition concerning those reasonably believed to be outside of the U.S., provided that written certification is presented that the procedure does not constitute electronic surveillance under existing law, the surveillance is made with the assistance of a communications provider, and the significant purpose of the acquisition is to obtain foreign intelligence information.”