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Attorney: Investigator doubts Haditha charge

Charges against a Marine officer accused of failing to investigate the killings of 24 Iraqis in the town of Haditha should be dismissed, the investigating officer in the case has recommended.
/ Source: The Associated Press

An investigating officer has recommended dismissing charges against a Marine lawyer accused of failing to probe the killings of 24 Iraqis in the town of Haditha, the defense attorney said Saturday.

Capt. Randy W. Stone, 34, was charged with failing to report and investigate the deaths of the men, women and children in a deadly sweep on a chaotic day of battle in the village.

His attorney, Charles Gittins, said investigating officer Maj. Thomas McCann concluded in a report to the commanding general overseeing the case that Stone should not face court-martial and the matter should be handled administratively.

At Stone’s preliminary hearing last month at Camp Pendleton, he argued that he never ordered an investigation into the killings because he believed the deaths resulted from lawful combat.

“I have never lied and have worked at all times to assist as best I could to shed light on what I knew and when I knew it,” Stone, from Dunkirk, Md., said at his hearing.

The investigator’s recommendation is nonbinding. A final decision will be made by Lt. Gen. James Mattis, the commanding general overseeing the case.

If convicted, Stone faces up to 2½ years in prison and dismissal.

Camp Pendleton spokesman Lt. Col. Sean Gibson declined to comment until Mattis issues his decision.

‘Hindsight is 20/20’
Also Saturday, Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani made an unsworn statement in preliminary hearings to determine whether he should face trial on charges of dereliction of duty and violating a lawful order for failing to investigate the deaths in Haditha.

Chessani said he believes he broke no laws.

“Hindsight is 20/20,” he said. “I did not believe that my actions and my decisions were criminal.”

Chessani, 43, of Rangely, Colo., is the most senior Marine of seven charged in the case, and the highest-ranking Marine officer charged since the start of the Iraq war. He faces up to three years in prison if convicted.

Chessani, whose wife is expecting a sixth child in December, stood in desert fatigues and with his hands clasped behind his back. He said the day he was relieved of his command was “the single most devastating day” of his life.

“I bear full responsibility for my decisions,” he said. “I understand that.”

His statements came during his Article 32 hearing, a preliminary proceeding that is expected to conclude on Monday.

Chessani’s attorney, Brian Rooney, said he was pleased to hear about the recommendation in Stone’s case.

“It shows that combat veterans like McCann understand the combat environment and understand that decisions are made using the best available information at that time,” Rooney said.

Chessani and Stone are among four officers charged with dereliction of duty. Three enlisted Marines are charged with murder. All belonged to the Camp Pendleton-based 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment.