Haditha charges against Tatum dropped as trial began

AP:

The Marine Corps is dropping all charges against a lance corporal who was accused of involuntary manslaughter in a squad's killing of 24 Iraqis in Haditha in 2005.

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The charges were dropped just as jury selection began. Earlier a judge had ordered Tatum to testify against Sgt. Wuterich another defendant. Tatum had been resisting that order. With the charges dropped it will be harder for him to not testify.

This report in the North County Times appears to confirm my speculation on the reason for dropping the charges.

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"This was done in order to continue to pursue the truth-seeking process into the Haditha incident," the Marine Corps said in a prepared statement.

Tatum's court-martial on two counts of involuntary manslaughter, reckless endangerment and aggravated assault was scheduled to start this morning.

The dismissal of charges against Tatum, a 27-year-old native of Edmond, Okla., appears to be part of an effort to compel him to testify against Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, who led the Kilo Company squad from Camp Pendleton's 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment.

Jack Zimmerman, Tatum's attorney, said in a prepared statement that there was no deal with prosecutors leading to the dismissal.

"We emphasize that Lance Cpl. Tatum will testify truthfully if called as a witness, but there is no deal for his testimony," Zimmerman wrote. "It became clear to the experienced prosecution team that the right thing to do was to dismiss all charges.

"We believe the evidence shows that Lance Cpl. Tatum reacted to an enemy attack the way he was trained to do."

The dismissal leaves Wuterich as the only man facing homicide charges in the incident, in which 24 Iraqi civilians were killed following a roadside bombing on the morning of Nov. 19, 2005.

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Two officers at Haditha when the incident occurred, Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani and 1st Lt. Andrew Grayson, also face court-martial later this year on charges of failing to order a full-scale investigation into the killings.

Brian Rooney, an attorney for Chessani, said the dismissal of charges against Tatum was great news.

"He followed the rules of engagement as he was trained to," Rooney asserted. "For the government to drop charges on the day his trial was supposed to start, after putting him and his family through this ordeal, is outrageous."

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Wuterich's attorney suggest it shows a lack of evidence against his client. If the government cannot get a conviction against Wuterich, its case against the two remaining officers will also collapse.

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