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Marine colonel faulted in killings of 24 Iraqis

SAN DIEGO - A military panel found that a Marine officer displayed substandard performance in his response to the deaths of 24 Iraqis but said he should maintain his rank.

The board of inquiry's recommendation is a mixed result for Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani, 43, of Rangely, Colo., who was accused of failing to investigate the November, 2005, killings in the town of Haditha. He has since retired. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus must decide whether to accept the finding or order Colonel Chessani retired at a lesser rank.

The panel found Colonel Chessani failed to provide a report that was as detailed and accurate as he could have, but that the shortcomings did not merit a reduction in rank.

The killings occurred after a roadside bomb killed a Marine and wounded two others, leading to the biggest criminal case against U.S. troops in the Iraq war.

Investigators said Marines shot five men by a car at the scene. The squad leader, Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich of Meriden, Conn., allegedly ordered men into several houses, where they cleared rooms with grenades and gunfire, killing more Iraqis, including women and children.

Eight Marines were charged with murder or failing to properly report or investigate the killings. Charges were dismissed against six and one was acquitted. The remaining defendant is Sergeant Wuterich.

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