A military judge dismissed charges Tuesday against a Marine officer accused of failing to investigate the killings of 24 Iraqis.
Col. Steven Folsom dismissed charges against Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani after finding that a four-star general overseeing the case was improperly influenced by an investigator probing the November 2005 shootings by a Marine squad in Haditha.
“Unlawful command influence is the mortal enemy of military justice,” said Folsom, reading aloud from previous case law.
Then, turning to the courtroom, he said: “In order to restore the public confidence, we need to take it back. We need to turn the clock back.”
Chessani, of Rangely, Colo., was the highest-ranking officer to face a combat-related court-martial since the Vietnam War.
The charges were dismissed without prejudice, meaning they can be refiled, but Folsom barred Marine Forces Central Command from future involvement in the case.
The judge gave the prosecution 72 hours to file a notice of intent to appeal.
Of eight Marines originally charged in the case, only one is still facing prosecution in the biggest U.S. criminal prosecution involving Iraqi deaths to come out of the war.
The incident occurred after one Marine was killed and two others were wounded by a roadside bomb.
Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, who faces voluntary manslaughter charges, and a squad member shot five men by a car at the scene. Investigators say Wuterich then ordered his men to clear several houses with grenades and gunfire, leaving women and children among the dead.
Wuterich has pleaded not guilty.