[JURIST] Two US Marines were ordered Friday to face court-martial hearings for their actions in connection with the killings of 24 Iraqi citizens in Haditha [USMC timeline; JURIST news archive] in November 2005. Lt. Col. Jeffrey R. Chessani [JURIST news archive] is charged with dereliction of duty and violation of a lawful order based on the allegations that he failed to properly investigate shootings. He is said to be highest-ranking US officer to be court-martialed for a combat-related action since the Vietnam War. One of Chessani's men, Lance Cpl. Stephen B. Tatum [advocacy profile] is charged with involuntary manslaughter, reckless endangerment, and aggravated assault. Lt. Gen. James Mattis decided not charge Tatum with murder following a recommendation [JURIST report] by investigating officer Lt. Col. Paul Ware.
Chessani, the former commander of the Third Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment [official website] did not order an immediate investigation into the deaths because he did not suspect any wrongdoing. In a sworn statement made to military investigators, Chessani said that he did not see any cause for alarm and that he believed at the time that killings followed a complex attack by insurgents involving a roadside bomb and an attempt to lure Marines to shoot into homes where civilians were located. Instead, it has been alleged that the civilians were murdered in cold blood [JURIST report], but Chessani said that when he first learned of allegations that the civilians were killed intentionally he thought that the claims were baseless. AP has more.