[JURIST] A US Marine declined to enter a plea at his Tuesday arraignment [USMC press release] on charges stemming from the killings of 24 Iraqi citizens in Haditha [USMC timeline; JURIST news archive] in November 2005. Lance Cpl. Stephen B. Tatum [advocacy profile] faces a maximum of 19 years in prison if found guilty of involuntary manslaughter, reckless endangerment, and aggravated assault charges. Lt. Gen. James Mattis decided not to charge Tatum with murder in October following a recommendation [JURIST reports] by investigating officer Lt. Col. Paul Ware, who said that that Tatum fired on civilians "not to exact revenge and commit murder" but "because of his training and the circumstances he was placed in." Tatum's lawyers said he will plead not guilty at his March 28 trial. Reuters has more.
Tatum served in Haditha under Lt. Col. Jeffrey R. Chessani [JURIST news archive], who faces court-martial for dereliction of duty and violation of a lawful order based on the allegations that he failed to properly investigate shootings; he will be arraigned [USMC press release] on Friday. 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 attempting to lure Marines into shooting into homes where civilians were located. 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. Related charges [text] against four servicemen have been dropped.