Military court drops charges in Haditha killings
A US military judge on Tuesday dropped
charges against the top officer implicated in the notorious 2005 Haditha
killings, in which US Marines were accused of killing 24 Iraqis after one of
their platoon was killed by a roadside bomb, dpa
Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Chessani, 44, was the most senior officer to be charged in the case and the sixth marine to have charges dropped.
A seventh marine, Lieutenant Andrew Grayson, was acquitted after facing a court martial, while an eighth marine - Sergant Frank Wuterich - still faces nine manslaughter charges in connection to the incident.
The charges against Chessani were thrown out after the judge ruled that a four-star general who oversaw the investigation was improperly influenced by an investigator who later became his adviser.
"Unlawful command influence is the mortal enemy of military justice," said the judge, Colonel Steven Folsom, reading aloud from previous case law.
He gave prosecutors 72 hours to decide whether they wish to refile the case.
"We are grateful for the judge's ruling today. He was truly the last sentinel to guard against unlawful command influence," said Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Law Centre, which is representing Chessani.
The case stemmed from a November 2005 roadside bombing in Haditha, in which one marine died. Wuterlich is alleged to have opened fire on a nearby vehicle, killing five men, and then ordering his men to clear nearby houses with grenades and machine-gun fire, killing another 19 civilians.
Defence attorneys claim that the civilians were caught in the crossfire between the marines and insurgents.