The Marine Corps has decided not to seek to reinstate criminal charges against a former battalion commander for a 2005 incident in which his troops killed 24 civilians in Haditha, Iraq.

Instead, the Marine Corps will convene a Board of Inquiry to hear testimony and recommend whether Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani should be demoted to major for purposes of retirement.

Even if such a recommendation is made and then accepted by the Secretary of the Navy, Chessani's retirement pay would still be based on being a lieutenant colonel.

The Marine Corps had sought to try Chessani for dereliction of duty for not ordering a war-crimes investigation when his Marines killed the 24, including three women and seven children. Chessani, who was not present during the killings, reported to his superiors that the deaths, while tragic, were the result of fighting between Marines and insurgents.

A court-martial judge threw out the charges after ruling that it was improper for a Marine lawyer who investigated the Haditha shootings to sit in on meetings with the general who decided to bring the charges.

-- Tony Perry

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