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Biden: Rumsfeld should step down

Democratic senator restates call, this time over Haditha killings

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A top Democratic senator has called for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to resign.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld should step down amid an investigation into whether U.S. troops covered up the suspected intentional killings of Iraqi civilians in Haditha, Sen. Joseph Biden said Sunday.

The Delaware senator is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a potential presidential candidate in 2008.

Military investigators strongly suspect that a small number of Marines snapped after one of their own was killed by a roadside bomb November 19 in Haditha, Iraq, and went on a rampage, sources with knowledge of the investigation told CNN.

The Marines originally reported that 15 civilians died in a roadside bombing that also killed one Marine. A later report suggested the civilian victims may have been caught in a firefight.

But senior Pentagon officials said last week that the investigation tends to support allegations that the Americans carried out an unprovoked massacre.

Pentagon sources have told CNN that 24 civilians were killed.

Biden told NBC's "Meet the Press" that the accountability for Haditha and other alleged atrocities in Iraq should go all the way up to Rumsfeld. (Watch Rumsfeld's critics fueled by Haditha incident -- 2:17)

"We can't get rid of the president; he's there for two-and-a-half more years," Biden said. "There is a system of accountability. ... When you make serious mistakes, you step forward and you acknowledge them and you walk away.

"Presidents can't and shouldn't do that. Secretaries of defense can and should."

Biden said Rumsfeld "should be be gone; he shouldn't be in his office tomorrow morning."

A frequent critic of the Bush administration's policy in Iraq, Biden has previously called for Rumsfeld's resignation.

Retired Maj. Gen. John Batiste, who led the 1st Infantry Division in northern Iraq in 2004-2005, on Sunday also called for "a secretary of defense whose instinct and judgment we all trust."

Batiste told CNN's "Late Edition" he sees "a direct link between Haditha, the national embarrassment of Abu Ghraib, going on four years now of uncontrollable chaos in Iraq, with the bad judgment, poor decisions of our secretary of defense back in late 2003 and 2004."

"We went in under-resourced, overcommitted. And the strain on the force is unbelievable," Batiste said.

Batiste was one of several retired generals to publicly call for Rumsfeld's resignation in recent months. Responding to their calls, President Bush in April defended Rumsfeld, saying he was doing "a fine job." (Full story)

On Sunday, a Pentagon spokesman could not be reached for comment, but another retired general said there should not be a rush to judgment on Rumsfeld.

"It's absolutely wrong in the face of Haditha, before you know what's gone on, to call for the resignation of anybody," said retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Don Shepperd, now a CNN military analyst. "Put this in perspective. Do you fire the police chief every time one of his officers does something wrong? No."

Two investigations into the Haditha incident are being conducted, Marine Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said last week. One focuses on the killings themselves, and the second deals with "why didn't we know about it sooner."

Bush was first briefed on the matter March 11 by a national security adviser, White House spokesman Tony Snow said Friday in a press briefing.

That was a month after reporters for Time magazine asked the White House about the incident on February 10.

Four days after the Time inquiry, the commanding general of Multinational Corps in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, directed an investigation and appointed an Army colonel to look into the Haditha case, Snow said. Chiarelli received that report March 9 and directed another review, which is ongoing.

Time first published the allegations of a massacre March 19.

Snow said Bush "is allowing the chain of command to do what it's supposed to do in the Department of Defense, which is to complete an investigation."

A U.S. Marine spokesman told CNN Friday that 12 troops were under investigation in the shooting death of an Iraqi civilian in April west of Baghdad, near Hamandiya.

And on Saturday, an aide to Iraq's prime minister on Saturday said the U.S. military rushed to judgment in its exoneration of American troop conduct in the March raid in Ishaqi that killed civilians. (Full story)

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