LTC Jeffrey Chessani and Lance Corporal Stephen Tatum are to stand trial in accordance to the Uniform Code of Military Justice for their roles in the killings of twenty-four Iraqi civilians in Haditha back in 2005. LTC Chessani is charged for the crimes of dereliction of duty and failing to report and investigate the deaths of the civilians. He is the highest ranking officer charged for the slaughter.
In the case of Lance Corporal Stephen Tatum, he is accused on the charges of involuntary manslaughter, reckless endangerment, and aggravated assault. His initial charge was unpremeditated murder. The two of them are going to be tried in the biggest civilian death toll case regarding what is going on in Iraq. This could possibly rival the events going on surrounding the private security firm Blackwater USA as they are accused of firing on civilians.
The prosecution accuses that the Marines shot civilians whom were not armed. They add that this seemed to be revenge for a roadside bomb that killed a fellow Marine. LTC Chessani will be the most recent senior United States serviceman to face a court martial for crimes committed in combat. The last time that happened was decades ago during the Vietnam War.
Those two are the only soldiers out of the eight initially charged. Charges against the other soldiers were dropped. Murder charges against Lance Corporal Justin Sharratt were dropped because there was insufficient evidence for support. Charges against Sergeant Sanick Dela Cruz were dropped in exchange for testimony against the others.
Sergeant Frank Wuterich who was suspected of being the leader of the killing had murder charges dropped. However, he is going to be tried for negligent homicide.
Four officers were initially charged for the same crimes that LTC Chessani is being tried for. Captains Randy Stone and Lucas M McConnell were dismissed. First Lieutenant Andrew A Grayson is awaiting a hearing.
But the case isn’t without its contradictions. It says that the twenty-four civilians that died were three women, seven children, and several elderly men. However, the military reported that the improvised explosive device that killed Lance Corporal Miguel Terrazas had also killed the civilians. They also stated they might’ve died in a gunfight against the insurgency.
But Iraqi witnesses say otherwise. They said that the troops killed five unarmed men in a car for approaching the scene of the bombing. They claim that the five men were simply riding in a taxi.
All eight Marines were charged in December. However, only two are standing trial for these charges. This is a story to keep track of as this is the first time since the Vietnam War that a high ranking senior officer will stand on trial for actions in combat.