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Marine general to testify at Haditha hearing

world Updated: Mar 19, 2010 07:48 IST
four-star general

A four-star general will testify at a pretrial hearing in the biggest criminal case against US troops to arise from the Iraq war, a Marine Corps spokesman said on Thursday.

Gen James Mattis is scheduled to address a military judge Monday on a defense motion to dismiss charges against Staff Sgt Frank Wuterich on grounds of undue command influence, said the spokesman, Lt Col David Griesmer.

The defense argues Mattis was improperly influenced by a military lawyer, Col John Ewers, who investigated the killings of 24 Iraqis in Haditha in November 2005 and later became a top aide when the general was deciding who should be charged.

Wuterich is the only remaining and perhaps the highest-profile of eight Marines who were charged in connection with the Haditha case. The eight Marines were charged with murder or with failing to properly report or investigate the killings. Charges were dismissed against six defendants and one was acquitted.

Wuterich, a squad leader during the killings, faces reduced charges of voluntary manslaughter, aggravated assault, reckless endangerment, dereliction of duty and obstruction of justice. Mattis referred charges against Wuterich when he was both commander of the Marine Corps Forces Central Command and the commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Pendleton. He was later promoted to commander of both NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Transformation and commander of US Joint Forces. A courtroom appearance is rare for such a high-ranking officer but Mattis has done it before in the Haditha case. In 2008, a military judge dismissed charges against Lt Col Jeffrey Chessani for failing to investigate the killings after deciding that Mattis had been unduly influenced by the aide. Wuterich's case is before a different judge, Lt Col David Jones.

Neal Puckett, an attorney for Wuterich, said the judge has told attorneys he will rule on the motion by the end of next week. A trial date has not been set.