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IRAQ: Haditha prosecutions under fire

June 12, 2008 | 12:27 pm


With the court martial of Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani (pictured) approaching, the prosecution of eight Marines in the death of 24 Iraqis in Haditha is getting a lot of comment. Six of the eight have been kicked loose, including Lt. Andrew Grayson, who was found not guilty by a jury of seven officers last week at Camp Pendleton.

This from Andrew Lubin, reporter, journalism professor, author of "A Marine Artillery Battery in Iraq," and now embedded with Marines in Afghanistan:

"There was never any justification for bringing any of these spurious charges. This was rammed through by the Army in order to deflect attention from Abu Ghraib."

And from Gary Solis, former Marine, law of war expert and law professor at Georgetown, after the Grayson acquittal:

"Haditha has had a strange history. It was initially a very aggressive charging by the Marine Corps. Then it became a media-driven prosecution and finally it's become a media-driven case of honorable warriors done wrong by their too-eager-to-charge leadership. Perhaps we're merely seeing the military justice system reach the correct results."

Chessani, the battalion commander, is charged with dereliction of duty for not launching a more thorough investigation into the actions of his Marines on Nov. 19, 2005. Solis believes this is the first time since the prosecution of Army Capt. Ernest Medina for the My Lai massacre in Vietnam that a top officer has been criminally prosecuted for alleged offenses committed by subordinates.

Chessani's trial is set for July, unless a defense motion succeeds in getting the case thrown out because of undue command influence. The trial of Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, the squad leader, is on hold pending an appeals court decision on discovery matters.

Solis continues: "If Wuterich and Chessani are convicted, they will be remembered as the 'Haditha case' and the acquittals will probably fade from public memory. If both are acquitted, an ever greater possibility, it will be interesting to see what the media makes of the case."

-- Tony Perry, in San Diego

Photo: Marine Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani. Credit: Associated Press