A military appeals court has rejected an attempt by the U.S. Marine Corps to reinstate war-crime charges against a Camp Pendleton officer in connection with the 2005 killings of 21 civilians in Haditha, Iraq.

The rejection increases the chances that the case against Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani will never go to court-martial. He was charged with dereliction of duty for not launching a thorough investigation after Marines in his battalion killed the civilians, including women and children, in a futile hunt for insurgents.

Of eight Marines charged in the killings, one was acquitted and six, including Chessani, had charges dismissed.


A trial judge at Camp Pendleton tossed out the case against Chessani after finding that a Marine lawyer who investigated the incident had sat in on meetings with the general who ultimately levied the charges. A three-judge panel of the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Appeal agreed with the judge that the lawyer’s conduct tainted the case because it gave the appearance of undue command influence.

The Marine Corps appealed the panel’s ruling to the full nine-member court. But the court Tuesday night rejected the appeal without command.

-- Tony Perry