Trial set for highest-ranking Marine in Haditha case

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LOS ANGELES, Nov 17 (Reuters) The highest-ranking US Marine charged in connection with the 2005 shooting deaths of two dozen unarmed men, women and children in the Iraqi town of Haditha was ordered to face court martial in April.

Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani, 43, is accused of dereliction of duty for failing to properly report and investigate the Nov.

19, 2005 incident at Haditha, which sparked international condemnation of US forces in Iraq.

The former battalion commander was ordered yesterday to stand trial beginning April 28 by a military judge sitting at Camp Pendleton base in California. If convicted, he could face more than two years behind bars.

''He's been steadfast all the way through,'' Chessani's attorney, Robert Muise, told reporters. ''He's unflappable and very focused. Its been a long process, very trying, but he's a tough man.'' Eight Marines were originally charged in the highly publicized case, in which US Marines killed 24 men, women and children after their convoy was hit by a roadside bomb that destroyed a Humvee and killed a popular comrade, Lance Cpl.

Miguel Terrazas.

Since then, charges against two officers and two enlisted men have been dismissed. Two others are awaiting a decision on whether they will face court martial.

Prosecutors say that the Marines, angry over Terrazas' death, rampaged through the village, killing five unarmed taxi passengers and 19 people in nearby houses.

Defense lawyers say the civilians died during a pitched battle with insurgents that followed the roadside bombing.

Reuters RC VP0520

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