Marine Corps Exonerates Captain in Iraq Killings

By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 19, 2007

A U.S. Marine company commander who led the unit that killed as many as 24 Iraqi civilians in Haditha, Iraq, has had all criminal charges against him dismissed nearly two years after the shootings occurred.

Marine Corps officials announced yesterday that Capt. Lucas M. McConnell no longer faces two counts of dereliction of duty in allegedly not investigating the Nov. 19, 2005, shootings and not reporting up his chain of command. Three senior officers above McConnell received administrative punishments this month for their own actions and inactions after the incident.

McConnell, who was not at the scene of the killings, has long maintained that he and the Marines of Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, reported the incident to higher authorities and that he thought the shootings were part of an appropriate response to a complex insurgent attack. In the incident, a Marine squad killed a group of Iraqis on a roadside immediately after a huge bomb killed a member of their unit, and members of the squad then raided nearby homes, killing women and children as they hunted for the enemy.

The dismissal of the charges, officially dated Sept. 12, amounts to a full exoneration for McConnell, who was one of four officers charged with crimes related to the aftermath of the shootings.

"It's long overdue," said Kevin McDermott, McConnell's civilian attorney. "It is clear that everything these guys knew went up the chain of command."

Another captain -- a battalion lawyer -- was also cleared. Two officers, including the battalion commander, Lt. Col. Jeffrey R. Chessani, still face charges. Murder charges are outstanding against two Marines who killed people in Haditha, but an investigating officer has recommended that one of the cases be dropped.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company