updated 9/23/2008 8:41:46 PM ET 2008-09-24T00:41:46

Federal prosecutors have moved to drop contempt proceedings against two Marines who refused to testify against their former squad leader in his trial on charges he killed four unarmed Iraqi detainees.

U.S. Attorney Thomas O'Brien filed the motion Monday, asking U.S. District Judge Stephen Larson to drop the charges against Sgt. Ryan Weemer and Sgt. Jermaine Nelson.

"The punitive effects of further contempt proceedings with a trial regarding contempt would not be in the interests of justice," O'Brien wrote. "While the actions of the witnesses were unlawful ... the government submits that proceeding with a trial regarding contempt would not be in the interests of justice."

U.S. attorney's office spokesman Thom Mrozek declined to comment further on Tuesday, saying the motion spoke for itself.

Weemer and Nelson still face criminal trials in military court at Camp Pendleton on charges of unpremeditated murder and dereliction of duty. Both maintain their innocence.

The Marines refused to testify in the civilian trial of former Marine Jose Luis Nazario Jr., who was found not guilty of charges that he killed or caused others to kill four unarmed detainees on Nov. 9, 2004, in Fallujah, Iraq.

Nazario's prosecution marked the first time a civilian jury determined whether the alleged actions of a former military service member in combat violated the law of war. Jurors said they acquitted Nazario because of a lack of evidence.

'Phantom Fury'
The men invoked their constitutional rights against self-incrimination after they were called to testify at Nazario's trial in Riverside, east of Los Angeles.

The three men belonged to a squad involved in vicious house-to-house fighting in Fallujah during "Operation Phantom Fury." Prosecutors allege that the Iraqis were slain after being captured in a house.

Nazario's attorney, Kevin McDermott, said the federal prosecutors moved to drop contempt proceedings because the public did not have the stomach to see former Marines being tried in civilian court.

"They looked at the public response that has taken place over the past month and it seems to be overwhelmingly in favor of letting these kids go," McDermott said.

The Marines were part of Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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