2 Marines to Face Courts-Martial in Haditha Killings

By Chelsea J. Carter
Associated Press
Saturday, October 20, 2007

SAN DIEGO, Oct. 19 -- Two Marines were ordered Friday to face courts-martial for their roles in the killings of Iraqi civilians in Haditha.

Lt. Col. Jeffrey R. Chessani faces charges of dereliction of duty and violation of a lawful order for allegedly failing to accurately report and investigate the Nov. 19, 2005, killings of 24 Iraqis.

He is the most senior U.S. serviceman since the Vietnam War to face a court-martial for actions or decisions made in combat, said Gary D. Solis, a former Marine Corps prosecutor and judge who teaches at Georgetown University Law Center.

Lt. Gen. James N. Mattis also sent Lance Cpl. Stephen B. Tatum to court-martial on charges of involuntary manslaughter, reckless endangerment and aggravated assault. Mattis overruled his investigating officer, who said last month that the evidence was too weak to prosecute Tatum.

Tatum shot and killed civilians, Lt. Col. Paul J. Ware wrote in a report last month, but "he did so because of his training and the circumstances he was placed in, not to exact revenge and commit murder."

Mattis dismissed a murder charge against Tatum.

"We are very disappointed that [Mattis] did not follow the recommendation to withdraw and dismiss all charges, made by the experienced trial judge who heard all the evidence. . . .," said Tatum's lawyers, Kyle R. Sampson and Jack B. Zimmermann. "However, Lance Corporal Tatum did not commit any crime, and we will take the fight to the courtroom."

Col. Christopher Conlin, the presiding officer at Chessani's preliminary hearing, said Chessani "failed to thoroughly and accurately report and investigate a combat engagement that clearly needed scrutiny."

Chessani and Tatum are the first Marines ordered to court-martial in the case, out of eight initial defendants. Charges are pending against Lt. Andrew A. Grayson and Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich.

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