updated 8/23/2007 8:25:43 PM ET 2007-08-24T00:25:43

An investigating officer recommended Thursday dismissing all charges against a Marine accused of murdering two girls in an assault that killed 24 civilians in the Iraqi town of Haditha.

Lance Cpl. Stephen B. Tatum, 26, is charged with unpremeditated murder of two girls and negligent homicide on suspicion that he unlawfully killed two men, a woman and a boy. He is also accused of assaulting another boy and a girl.

Investigating officer Lt. Col. Paul Ware said the evidence was too weak for a court-martial. Tatum shot and killed civilians, but “he did so because of his training and the circumstances he was placed in, not to exact revenge and commit murder,” Ware wrote.

“I believe (Lance Cpl.) Tatum’s real life experience and training on how to clear a room took over and his body instinctively began firing while his head tried to grasp at what and why he was firing,” Ware wrote. “By the time he could recognize that he was shooting at children, his body had already acted.”

Ware’s recommendation is nonbinding. Lt. Gen. James Mattis, the commanding general overseeing the case, has final say about whether Tatum will be court-martialed.

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