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Lawsuit filed in case involving Marines charged with Iraqi deaths

December 6, 2011 |  4:24 pm

Haditha

A Michigan-based public-interest law firm that believes the criminal charges brought against eight Marines from Camp Pendleton in the killing of 24 Iraqis are politically motivated has filed a lawsuit against the State Department.

The Thomas More Law Center, which represented one of the eight Marines, filed a lawsuit in federal court in Washington to force the State Department to turn over what the center says is an investigation by the Iraqi government into the Nov. 19, 2005, incident in Haditha.

Of the eight Marines, seven were either found not guilty or had charges dropped.

Charges against Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani, represented by More Center lawyers, were dropped because of the appearance of "undue command influence," although a board of inquiry found his performance as a battalion commander had been “substandard.” That finding forced Chessani into retirement.

The More Center has long asserted that the case was brought by the Marine Corps in response to inaccurate media coverage of the killings and to satisfy critics of the Iraq war, including the late-Rep. John Murtha (D-Pennsylvania).

The legal theory behind the lawsuit is that the Iraqi investigation would prove that the incident did not justify criminal charges. Whether such an investigation was done by the Iraqis, however, is disputed.

The killings occurred as Marines from the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment swept through several houses looking for insurgents responsible for a roadside bomb attack minutes earlier that killed one Marine and wounded two others. Among the 24 killed were three women and seven children.

The final Marine accused in the case, Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, the squad leader, is set for court martial in January at Camp Pendleton.

“Loss of civilian life was considered a tragic but not uncommon occurrence in a war against insurgents who purposely placed civilians in harm’s way,” the Thomas More Center said in a statement.

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--Tony Perry in San Diego

Photo: Some of the Iraqis killed by Marines in Haditha, Iraq, on Nov. 19, 2005. Credit: Lucian Read / Atlas Press for The Times

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