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Marine commander believed Haditha killings not unusual, no need for probe

[JURIST] Lt. Col. Jeffrey R. Chessani, the US Marines commander in charge of the battalion implicated in the death of 24 civilians in Haditha [JURIST news archive] last November, did not order an immediate investigation into the deaths because he did not suspect any wrongdoing, according to a report in Saturday's Washington Post. The Post obtained a copy of the sworn statement Chessani made to military investigators, where Chessani said that he "did not see any cause for alarm" and that he believed at the time that killings followed a "complex attack" by insurgents involving a roadside bomb and an attempt to lure Marines to shoot into homes where civilians were located. Instead, it has been alleged that the civilians were murdered in cold blood [JURIST report], but Chessani said that when he first learned of allegations that the civilians were killed intentionally he thought that the claims were "baseless." Chessani could be charged with dereliction of duty, but there have been no charges filed in the case yet. Defense lawyers for others involved in the investigation say that charges could be brought next month.

In addition to the criminal inquiry being conducted by the Naval Criminal Investigation Service [official website], US Army Major General Eldon Bargewell [Wikipedia profile] led an investigation into decisions made by Marine leadership, including Chessani. Bargewell's report [JURIST report] has not yet been released, but officials briefed on the investigation said that there was evidence that soldiers concealed and destroyed evidence [JURIST report] relating to the incident and were reluctant to hand over evidence. The Washington Post has more.

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