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Marine Corps Clears Company Commander
at Haditha of All Charges

September 18, 2007

Camp Pendleton, CA - Capt. Lucas M. McConnell, the company commander charged with dereliction of duty for his role in the alleged Haditha “massacre” in November 2005 has been cleared of all charges, the Marine Corps announced Tuesday in a press release. The decision, reached by Lt. Gen. James Mattis on September 12, was communicated to McConnell and his attorney Monday night.

A Grant of Immunity and Order to Cooperate with All Parties were issued to McConnell in order to further the fact finding process into the incident.

McConnell is the second officer and fourth Marine of the seven infantrymen from 3/1 charged with crimes who have been exonerated by Mattis, the commanding general of U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Central Command and the Consolidated Disposition Authority for cases related to the Haditha incident. The command is headquartered at Camp Pendleton, CA.

LCpl Justin L Sharratt, an enlisted Marine rifleman charged with multiple counts of murder and Capt. Randy Stone, a legal officer charged with dereliction of duty, have already been cleared of any wrong doing. A second Marine rifleman, LCpl Stephen Tatum, also charged with multiple counts of murder and assault, is still waiting to discover whether he will be charged with any offenses. Three other Marines, including the battalion commander and a squad leader charged with 17 counts of murder, are still awaiting their fates.

Brian Rooney, a former Marine legal officer and civilian attorney representing former battalion commander Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani, said he was “happy” to hear the news. Chessani is the highest ranking Marine to be charge d with a crime in the matter. Three of Chessani’s superiors – including the division commanding general - were issued letters of censure by the Secretary of the Navy upon Mattis’ recommendations.

“Just like every other Marine who has been exonerated, the way Capt. McConnell acted on November 19 was in accordance with his duties and responsibilities. Being granted immunity and ordered to cooperate is good news as well for Lt. Col Chessani. Capt. McConnell can only help by testifying that how Lt Col Chessani acted was completely proper and in accordance with his duties. Capt McConnell is a fine Marine officer who can now hopefully get on with his career,” Rooney said.

McConnell was the commander of Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines when a squad of 12 Marines he commanded was involved in an ambush and firefight at Haditha on November 19, 2005 that left 24 Iraqis and one Marine dead and two others wounded. Before the day was over nine more Kilo company Marines would be wounded in the insurgent’s city-wide complex attack.

McConnell was relieved of his command in April 2006 for "failure to investigate," according to Kevin B. McDermott, McConnell’s civilian lawyer. Despite reporting the high number of civilian deaths to the 3rd Battalion executive officer that afternoon he was charged with the crime, McDermott said.

The Tustin, California attorney also represents Jose L. Nazario; a Kilo Company enlisted Marine charged two counts of voluntary manslaughter in U.S. District Court for an unrelated incident at Fallujah, Iraq in November 2004

On December 21, 2006 McConnell was charged with dereliction of duty for allegedly failing to ensure the incident was reported accurately to higher headquarters and for failing to ensure the incident was immediately investigated, the Marine Corps said.

The Annapolis graduate’s charges followed an inflammatory and highly inaccurate report in Time magazine that fueled a media frenzy of yellow journalism. In a matter of days highly respected journals all over the world were claiming Kilo’s Marines had committed crimes as heinous as the infamous “My Lai Massacre” of the Vietnam War.

By the time politicians led by Pennsylvania Congressman John Murtha (D- Pa) finished trumpeting the Marines’ alleged “war crimes” in receptive newspapers and magazines eight Marines were charged with massacring 24 innocent civilians and then covering it up. Despite strong evidence to the contrary the cases went forward anyway.

To date neither Time magazine or Tim McGirk, the reporter who wrote the specious story, has either corrected or retracted any part of their account.


Nathaniel R. Helms
Defend Our Marines
18 September 2007

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Note: Nat Helms is a Contributing Editor to Defend Our Marines. He is a Vietnam vet, journalist, combat reporter, and, most recently, author of My Men Are My Heroes: The Brad Kasal Story (Meredith Books, 2007).

© Nathaniel R. Helms 2007

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