By: MARK WALKER --- Staff Writer | Friday, October 19, 2007 3:54 PM PDT ∞
PENDLETON ---- A Marine officer and an enlisted man have been ordered to trial for their roles in the slayings of 24 Iraqi civilians in Haditha in 2004 and its aftermath, Marine Corps officials announced Friday afternoon.
Lt. Gen. James Mattis ordered Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani and Lance Cpl. Stephen Tatum to trial by court-martial.
Chessani will be tried for dereliction of duty and violation of a lawful order. Tatum faces trial on charges of involuntary manslaughter, reckless endangerment and aggravated assault.
"Lt. Gen. Mattis made his decision after consideration of information developed from investigations by Marine, Army and Naval Criminal Investigative Service investigators as well as evidence produced during an Article 32 investigation hearing," said a written statement issued late Friday afternoon.
Both men can ask for a military jury that consists of one-third of their peers or trial by judge.
The Haditha case is one of the largest prosecutions of U.S. troops since the March 2003 invasion of Iraq. Chessani and Tatum are the first two of eight men originally charged in the case to be ordered to trial.
The Iraqis were killed after a roadside bomb destroyed a Humvee, killing one Marine and injuring two others on the morning of Nov. 19, 2005.
Several children and women were among those who died that day.
Chessani and three other officers in the chain of command at Haditha were charged with dereliction of duty and related offenses for failing to order an immediate full-scale investigation into the killings.
Two of the officers, Capts. Randy Stone and Lucas McConnell, subsequently had their charges dismissed. A hearing for the remaining officer, 1st Lt. Andrew Grayson, is pending.
The killings occurred as Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich led his Kilo Company squad from the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment in an assault in response to the bombing in the early morning hours of Nov. 19, 2005.
Nineteen Iraqis were killed inside or near three homes Wuterich and his men stormed in search of the bomber and other insurgents.
Five Iraqi men who emerged from a car that drove up moments after the bombing were killed by Wuterich and another man originally charged in the case, Sgt. Sanick Dela Cruz.
Wuterich later told authorities he believed the Iraqis in the car were tied to the attack and presented a threat.
Wuterich was charged with 17 of the deaths. An investigating officer in his case is recommending 10 of the murder charges be dropped and that he be tried on seven counts of negligent homicide in the deaths of five children and two women.
The investigating officer has said that even if Wuterich is ordered to trial, he doubts a military jury will see or hear evidence sufficient to convict him. A decision on what will happen to Wuterich has not been made.
The Haditha incident has mixed domestic war politics with the fog of war and the rules of engagement. It spawned two massive investigations and a series of hearings at Camp Pendleton over the last several months.
In April, charges against Dela Cruz were withdrawn in exchange for his testimony.
Charges against Sharratt were dropped by Mattis in August, who issued a lengthy statement at the time saying there was insufficient evidence and that Sharratt had done his best in trying to determine friend from foe at Haditha.
Sharratt, who was charged with three counts of murder, told authorities he believed the men he killed were preparing to fire at him.
Mattis has been the convening authority over the Haditha case in his role as head of Marine Corps forces in the Middle East, a role he is about to relinquish for a new assignment and promotion to four-star general.
His replacement, Lt. Gen.-nominee Samuel Helland, will assume the role of convening authority, a sweeping power granted commanding officers under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
See more on this story in Saturday's North County Times.
Contact staff writer Mark Walker at (760) 740-3529 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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[-] wrote on Oct 19, 2007 5:04 PM:We have officially lost the war folks!
[-] wrote on Oct 19, 2007 5:41 PM:Great, we lost, now can we all go home
I don't believe.
[-] wrote on Oct 19, 2007 5:55 PM:ANY Marine would kill civilians. Unless he/she made a fog of War mistake. Face it. It happens. Move on. That is not the issue. Put the suits in jail who put us there. Do it now before any more have to die.
[-] wrote on Oct 19, 2007 6:08 PM:We officially lost the war? We can all go home? What, you guys all of a sudden turned into sniveling little liberals who america? That's not the way to support the remaining troops, is it? You guys sound like fair weather fans! If Mattis can free them, he can try them too, so there must be something there.
[-] wrote on Oct 19, 2007 7:15 PM:Thomas Ricks' book, FIASCO, provides an excellent context of why the events at Haditha occured. Tim McGirk's TIME magazine account on the other hand approached the story from a very narrow angle. Long before the 'Haditha Marines' boarded planes for a long and lonely flight to war, and long before Mr. Murtha infamously labeled them all 'cold-blooded murderers', the foundation had been laid for something like this to have happened. Instead of allowing these Marines to twist in the wind for doing our bidding, while we fret about tee times and dinner reservations here at home, perhaps we should ask our president, generals, congressmen and senators to lead from the front as a pre-requisite to going to war. On second thought, that's a bad idea. Doing that requires courage.
COMMENT by . . .
[-] wrote on Oct 19, 2007 7:52 PM:
You can not win a war eating your own. False charges, trumpted up by the enemy and buzz in Time and here we are with our warriors "time" and energy going into defending themselves. Instead of doing what they should be doing, fighting the bad guys. I am so sorry that those in charge are playing politics with our men's lives on the line. Drop the charges. ...