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Military Investigation into ’05 Haditha Killings Raises Questions

The Marine Corps announced this week that two Marines would be court-martialed for their involvement in a 2005 incident in Haditha, Iraq, that saw 24 Iraqi civilians killed. A retired Army lawyer and a former Iraqi U.N. representative examine the probe of the killings.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    And finally tonight, military justice and Haditha. Ray Suarez has our story.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    These are the scenes from what has been called the Haditha massacre: blood on the floor; walls and ceiling of one family's home in Haditha, in Anbar province, Iraq, where, on November 19, 2005, 24 Iraqi civilians were killed by U.S. Marines.

    It began after a roadside IED bomb attack on the Marines killed 20-year-old Lance Corporal Miguel Terrazas. Allegedly, his squad then went on a rampage, killing men, women and children, five people in a taxicab, and 19 others in their homes nearby.

    When the details of that day came to light through media reports, a firestorm erupted, and several investigations were launched. Four enlisted Marines were charged with murder. Four officers were accused of participating in a cover-up or of not fully investigating what happened.

    But now, after the military equivalent of grand juries and decisions by top commanders, only two Marines face courts martial for lesser charges. Two officers also face courts martial.

    Earlier this week, Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich, the squad leader originally charged with murder, had his charges reduced. The Marine Corps said Wuterich would face a court martial for voluntary manslaughter, aggravated assault, reckless endangerment, dereliction of duty, and obstruction of justice.

    In April, Sergeant Sanick Dela Cruz was given immunity for his testimony, and all charges against him were dropped. Lance Corporal Justin Sharratt had his murder charges dropped in August.

    Lance Corporal Stephen Tatum had murder charges dropped, but is still facing court martial for involuntary manslaughter, reckless endangerment, and aggravated assault.

    Of the four officers investigated for their roles in an alleged cover-up, two captains have been cleared. Two others are facing court martial, including Battalion Commander Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Chessani, the highest-ranking U.S. serviceman to face court martial involving combat in Iraq. He's charged with willful dereliction of duty and violation of a lawful order in reporting and investigating the Haditha incident.