Two marines to face Haditha trial
Two U.S. marines will face court martial in connection with the killing of 24 civilians in the Iraqi town of Haditha two years ago, the military said Friday.
The US Marine Corps said in a statement that Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Chessani would stand trial for failing to properly investigate the deaths while Lance Corporal Stephen Tatum faced trial on manslaughter charges.
The two soldiers will be the first to be sent for court martial in connection with the case, the most serious allegations of war crimes made against U.S. troops Iraq in the four-year conflict.
No date for the courts martial has been set.
Prosecutors allege that the marines shot unarmed civilians in retaliation for a roadside bomb attack that killed one of their comrades.
Twenty-four Iraqi civilians, including three women, seven children and several elderly men, died at Haditha, west of Baghdad in Anbar province, on November 19, 2005.
According to Agence France-Presse, a lack of forensic evidence and witness statements made several months after the events in question have created enormous difficulty for military prosecutors in making the charges against the soldiers stick.
Two of the marines facing murder charges had the allegations dropped earlier this year, while two officers accused of failing to conduct an inquiry into the deaths were also cleared.
The U.S. military initially reported that the Iraqis had been killed by the improvised explosive device (IED) or in a subsequent gunfight with insurgents, reports the BBC.
But according to Iraqi witnesses, the U.S. troops shot dead five unarmed men in a car when they approached the scene of the bombing in a taxi.
They were then accused of killing 19 other civilians in three houses nearby over the next few hours.
Despite the accusations, it took until January 2006 for a full U.S. investigation, when video footage emerged of the aftermath taken by a local human rights activist.
A preliminary investigation was begun after an investigative report in Time magazine showed flaws in the initial marine investigation. The inquiry confirmed civilians had been shot in their homes but called the deaths ‚Äúcollateral damage.‚Ä?