Haditha Massacre Charges Imminent

In an indication there will soon be criminal charges in the alleged Haditha massacre, ABC News has obtained an order from a top Marine general authorizing the appointment of military defense lawyers to any Marines brought up on charges in connection with the case.

The order from Lt. Gen. James Mattis is dated Dec. 12, 2006, and authorizes the appointment of "one detailed defense counsel per accused" in "cases arising out of alleged misconduct in Haditha."

Military sources tell ABC News that eight Marines will face criminal charges in connection with the alleged murder of 24 civilians in the Iraqi town of Haditha on Nov. 19, 2005.

The most serious charges are expected to be filed against six Marines who were on the scene of the killings, including squad leader Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich.

The sources would not specify what charges the Marines would face, but they are expected to be either murder or manslaughter.

Two senior Marine officers who were not on the scene at the time of the killings will also be charged, according to sources familiar with the case.

The most likely charges for officers up the chain of command, sources say, is "dereliction of duty," which carries a maximum penalty of six months in prison.

The Haditha killings happened after a roadside bomb hit a Marine convoy, killing Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas.

After the bomb exploded, the Marines allegedly killed five unarmed men in a nearby vehicle and then raided a nearby cluster of houses, killing a total of 24 civilians, including 15 women and children.

Although the killings in Haditha took place in November 2005, the details were not made public until Time Magazine broke the story in March 2006.

Until then, the military had said that 15 civilians had been killed by a roadside bomb planted by insurgents.

Military officials later acknowledged that the death toll was higher and that none of the civilians were killed by the roadside bomb.

In addition to the criminal charges, the military has conducted an extensive investigation into whether there was a cover-up.

The sources said it was still unclear when the results of that investigation would be made public.