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Two Marines to face courts martial in Haditha incident

  • Story Highlights
  • Marines charged in connection with the killing of 24 Iraqi civilians in 2005
  • Incident happened after insurgents set off a roadside bomb that killed a Marine
  • Military prosecutors: A house-to-house rampage followed the blast
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(CNN) -- Two Marines charged in connection with the killings of 24 civilians in Haditha, Iraq, will face courts martial, the commanding general overseeing the case said Friday.

Lt. Gen. James Mattis dismissed charges of murder and negligent homicide against Lance Cpl. Stephen Tatum, but sent him to courts martial on charges of involuntary manslaughter, reckless endangerment and aggravated assault.

Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani -- the commander of the battalion involved in the incident -- faces charges of dereliction of duty and violation of a lawful order for failing to accurately report and investigate the incident.

Haditha, located along the Euphrates River northwest of Baghdad, was the target of several Marine campaigns aimed at rooting out insurgents from 2004 through 2006.

The 24 civilians were killed on November 19, 2005, in what a human rights group and military prosecutors said was a house-to-house rampage by Marines after a roadside bomb killed one of their comrades, 20-year-old Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas.

A statement from the Marine Corps originally blamed the deaths on the roadside bomb, triggering a parallel investigation into how commanders handled the incident.

Originally, four Marines were charged with murder in the case.

Only Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich remains charged with murder, although an investigating officer last month recommended dropping that charge because the evidence was not strong enough to support it, he said.

Lt. Col. Paul Ware recommended a charge of negligent homicide against Wuterich. Mattis will make the final decision on what charges, if any, the sergeant will face.

Mattis has already dropped charges against Capt. Lucas McConnell, commander of the Marine company involved in the killings; Capt. Randy Stone, who had been accused of failing to properly report the facts; Maj. Gen. Stephen T. Johnson, former commanding general of II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward); and Lance Cpl. Justin I. Sharratt, one of the four Marines charged with murder.

Charges were also dropped against another Marine charged with murder -- Sgt. Sanick Dela Cruz -- in exchange for his testimony.

Mattis recommended letters of censure for Maj. Gen. Richard A. Huck, former commanding general of the 2nd Marine Division; Col. Stephen W. Davis, former commanding officer of Regimental Combat Team 2, 2nd Marine Division; and Col. Robert G. Sokoloski, former chief of staff of 2nd Marine Division (Forward).

Navy Secretary Donald Winter accepted the recommendation.

Huck's letter was "for the actions he took and failed to take in response to the circumstances" surrounding the Haditha incident, the Marine Corps said in a written statement.

Davis was sanctioned for failing to take appropriate action when informed of the incident, and Sokoloski was censured "for his unsatisfactory performance of duty."

One other officer -- 1st Lt. Andrew Grayson -- still faces charges related to his response to the killings. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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