Tags: Prosecutors | Say | Officers | Ignored | Haditha | Reality

Prosecutors Say Officers Ignored Haditha Reality

Monday, 11 June 2007 12:00 AM

CAMP PENDLETON, California -- U.S. commanders' belief in their Marines blinded them to the reality of events that led to the deaths of 24 Iraqi civilians in Haditha in November 2005, military prosecutors said on Monday.

"This is a classic case of things gone wrong. You want to believe in your Marine, but sometimes things go wrong," Lt. Col. Sean Sullivan, the lead prosecutor, told a military hearing. "There was an absolute failure of the obligation to investigate the death of these civilians."

Prosecutors made the argument at the end of a 2-week-long evidentiary hearing against Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani, one of four officers and three enlisted men charged in the killings that sparked international anger.

Chessani, 43, is charged with two counts of dereliction of duty and a count of making a false report. Prosecutors argued that battalion commander Chessani should have immediately investigated the killings.

"There was a mind-set that was established at the Kilo Company base that this is partly the Iraqis' fault," Sullivan told the military proceedings. "No one said, 'Let's ask the hard questions, let's find the answers, let's quietly take a look at what happened out there and learn the hard lessons.'"

The officers are charged with failing to investigate the killings, while three Marines are charged with the actual killings.

Another courtroom on the Marine base heard testimony on Monday in the court-martial of Lance Corp. Justin Sharratt, charged with three counts of murder at Haditha.

Sharratt's attorney, Gary Myers, told the court that forensic evidence would clear Sharratt. "He is not a murderer, he is in fact an extremely brave Marine," Myers said.

The evidentiary hearing for another officer, Capt. Randy Stone, ended two weeks ago. On Monday, his attorney confirmed that Stone's hearing officer recommended the charges against him be dismissed and that Stone should face punishment within the Marines.

The recommendation will be reviewed by Gen. James Mattis, who makes the final decision on all the Haditha cases.

FAITH IN HIS MEN

Chessani, 43, was relieved of his command in April 2006 after a Time magazine story detailed the November 19, 2005, killings that followed a bomb attack that killed a popular young Marine and wounded two others.

According to testimony, surviving Marines killed five unarmed men after ordering them out of a car, then, on orders, swept through four houses, killing 19 more people.

Chessani passed on a letter from the Haditha town council asking for a probe of the killings but did not begin an investigation.

Defense attorney Brian Rooney argued the charges amounted to second-guessing Chessani -- and making a past decision criminal.

"It's entirely possible that the Marines who did the shooting will be cleared for their part, but Colonel Chessani will not only lose his career but could spend time in the brig for having faith in his men," Rooney told reporters.

© reuters 2007. All Rights Reserved.

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CAMP PENDLETON, California -- U.S. commanders' belief in their Marines blinded them to the reality of events that led to the deaths of 24 Iraqi civilians in Haditha in November 2005, military prosecutors said on Monday. "This is a classic case of things gone wrong. You...
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2007-00-11
Monday, 11 June 2007 12:00 AM
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