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Marines platoon leader charged with murder in Haditha Iraqi civilian killings

[JURIST] US Marines Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich was charged Thursday with 13 counts of murder in connection with the deaths of 24 Iraqi civilians in Haditha [JURIST report] last November, according to Wuterich's lawyer. Officials at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton [official website] are expected to announce charges against several other military personnel later Thursday. Wuterich, commander of the platoon implicated in the Haditha incident [JURIST news archive] said earlier this year that his unit followed the rules of engagement [JURIST report] and did not purposefully attack civilians. In August, Wuterich filed a defamation and invasion of privacy lawsuit [complaint, PDF] against Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) [official website], alleging that Murtha falsely accused him of war crimes during press conferences where Murtha discussed [JURIST report] the Haditha killings. AP has more.

The 24 deaths prompted two separate military investigations: one conducted by the Naval Criminal Investigation Service (NCIS) [official website], aimed at determining whether to prosecute the soldiers involved, and an investigation into decisions made by Marine leadership led by US Army Major General Eldon Bargewell [Wikipedia profile]. An anonymous US official familiar with the NCIS investigation, speaking in May, suggested the Marines murdered in cold blood [JURIST report], and the probe concluded in August that evidence exists [JURIST report] to support murder allegations. 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.

4:44 PM ET - Marine Corps officials have announced that eight Marines have been charged [list of charges and specifications] in connection with the Haditha killings:

Based on the findings of the investigations, various charges have been preferred against four Marines relating to the deaths of the Iraqi civilians on 19 November 2005. Also, charges have been preferred against four Marines for failure to properly report and/or investigate the deaths of the Iraqi civilians. These charges include murder, dereliction of duty, false official statement and obstruction of justice.
Read the full statement [text].

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