WASHINGTON — Protesters disrupted a congressional hearing Thursday on US defense spending, with one demonstrator shouting "You are murdering people!" as police dragged him out of the room.

Eight people were arrested, said Capitol Police spokeswoman Kimberly Schneider, including seven for disruption of Congress and one for simple assault.

Stop the Machine, an anti-war coalition occupying Freedom Plaza in downtown Washington since last Thursday, said seven had been arrested, including Leah Bolger, vice president of the Veterans for Peace organization.

"We are here representing the vast majority of the American people who want the wars to end now and want our tax dollars to be spent on human needs instead of on the war machine," said Bolger on the coalition's website.

One by one, protesters stood up and voiced their opposition to US military action, forcing a grim-faced chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Buck McKeon, to repeatedly bang his gavel to suspend the proceedings.

"How many lives?" said an elderly woman clad in a pink shirt, as a police officer pulled her out of the hall. "How many lives?"

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta had to halt his opening statement several times as protesters interrupted him.

Public support for the 10-year-old war in Afghanistan -- where about 98,000 US troops are deployed -- has steadily declined but has generated no massive street protests, with most voters preoccupied with the struggling US economy.

Although the war has become unpopular, a large majority of Americans supported the rationale for the 2001 US-led invasion after the attacks of September 11.

Washington is the scene of two broadly like-minded occupations -- one at Freedom Plaza, spearheaded by veteran activists, and a more youthful Occupy DC at McPherson Square inspired by Occupy Wall Street in New York.

On Tuesday, police arrested six protesters who slipped past security guards with concealed banners to briefly occupy the atrium of the Hart building, where US senators have their offices.

Last weekend guards used pepper spray against protesters who rushed the entrance of the National Air and Space Museum, where replicas of combat drones used in Afghanistan are among the exhibits.

At the congressional hearing Thursday, Panetta said the US mission was drawing to a close in Iraq and that efforts were under way to hand over security to local forces in Afghanistan between now and 2014.