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NATO general called to testify

May 31, 2008|From the Associated Press

Prosecutors will call a top NATO general to address a potential conflict of interest in the case of a Marine officer charged with failing to investigate the killings of 24 Iraqi men, women and children, defense attorneys said Friday.

Marine Gen. James Mattis, NATO's top commander in charge of military modernization, is scheduled to take the stand Monday during a hearing to address a military judge's finding that there was evidence of unlawful command influence in the case of Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani.

The finding means prosecutors must show at the hearing that the influence did not affect the direction of the investigation, the charges or the future of the case. The judge can take a variety of actions, from barring witnesses and evidence to throwing the case out.

The judge's finding stems from Chessani's claim that a military lawyer who investigated the November 2005 killings had a conflict of interest when he later advised Mattis and other generals overseeing the trials.

"The prosecution has a high burden to overcome to show that unlawful command influence did not affect the investigation or prosecution of the case," said Chessani's civilian attorney, Brian Rooney. He said defense lawyers would ask that the charges against Chessani be dismissed.

Chessani is the highest-ranking officer to be tried in the case stemming from the shooting deaths of 24 men, women and children in the Iraqi town of Haditha on Nov. 19, 2005.

The killings, which occurred after a roadside bomb killed one Marine and wounded two others, sparked outrage, but military prosecutors' case has been gradually eroding.

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