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IRAQ: General denies being influenced in war crimes cases

June 2, 2008 |  1:34 pm

Mattis_hi_2A four-star general Monday repeatedly denied being influenced by any outside forces in bringing charges against Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani resulting from the 2005 killing of 24 Iraqis in Haditha.

Under questioning from Chessani's defense attorney, Gen. James Mattis (pictured) said he was never contacted by anyone from the Pentagon, Congress, the secretary of the Navy's office or Marine headquarters about the Haditha case.

Mattis said he was unconcerned that he might be criticized in the press for his handling of the case.

"I've already been drawn and quartered in enough newspaper articles that I was uninterested in that sort of thing," he said at a motions hearing for Chessani.

Chessani, who was the battalion commander, is charged with dereliction of duty for not ordering a more thorough examination after the Nov. 19, 2005, killings. The military started an investigation only after an expose in Time magazine.

Defense lawyers want the case dropped because of "undue command influence" -- arguing, in effect, that Mattis was pressured into bringing charges to mollify critics of the Iraq war in Congress and the press.

Col. Steven Folsom, the trial judge, delayed making a decision until later in the week. Chessani's trial is set to begin June 16 at Camp Pendleton. He is the highest-ranking Marine to face charges of misconduct in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Under questioning from defense attorney Robert Muise, Mattis also denied there was anything improper about permitting a Marine lawyer involved in the initial investigation into the Haditha killings to attend meetings in his office where the case was discussed before the preliminary hearing.

The lawyer, Col. John Ewers, attended the meetings because he was involved in other cases and never spoke about the Haditha case, Mattis testified. Ewers, following Mattis on the stand, said the same thing.

Mattis was commanding general of the Marine Forces Central Command when he brought charges in late 2006 against Chessani and seven other Marines. He is now commander of a joint forces command and also NATO supreme allied commander for transformation.

Mattis testified that he spent more time on the Haditha case than any other matter during his tenure  as c.g. of Marine Forces Central Command, including reading 9,000 pages from a Naval Criminal Investigative Service report.

"I did not make any decision where I did not feel I had intellectual dominance over the material," he said.

— Tony Perry at Camp Pendleton

Photo: Gen. James Mattis. Credit: U.S Marine Corps

P.S. The Los Angeles Times issues a free daily newsletter with the latest headlines from the Middle East. You can subscribe by registering at the website here, logging in here and clicking on the World: Mideast newsletter box here.

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