[JURIST] A military judge has ruled that US Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) [official website] cannot be forced to submit to a deposition in the court-martial of a Marine charged in connection with the killings of 24 Iraqi civilians in Haditha [USMC timeline; JURIST news archive], lawyers for Lt. Col. Jeffrey R. Chessani [JURIST news archives] said Wednesday. In 2006, Murtha said that the killings had been committed "in cold blood" [JURIST report]. Murtha's comments came after he what he said was a briefing by high-ranking military officials and Chessani's lawyers want Murtha to provide information on who briefed the congressman. Chessani's lawyers said Wednesday that the case is politically motivated [press release] and that "denying us the right to take Murtha's deposition so that we could show undue command influence, as well as denial of our request for production of documents in the possession of Lt. Col. Chessani’s superiors makes it impossible for us to render this loyal Marine officer the effective assistance of counsel he deserves." Chessani faces court-martial on April 28 for dereliction of duty and violation of a lawful order based on allegations that he failed to properly investigate the shootings at Haditha, and could serve three years in prison if convicted on all counts.
Chessani, the former commander of the Third Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment [official website], did not order an immediate investigation into the deaths because he said he did not suspect any wrongdoing. 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. US Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich [advocacy website], who is also facing charges [JURIST report] in connection with the Haditha killings, brought a defamation and invasion of privacy lawsuit [complaint, PDF; JURIST report] against Murtha in 2006, alleging that Murtha falsely accused him of war crimes in his comments on the incident. AP has more.