A Victory for Marine LtCol Chessani
ANN ARBOR, MI – Late this morning, the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals sitting in Washington DC, released their unanimous decision upholding the dismissal of charges against Marine Lt. Col Jeffrey Chessani on the grounds of apparent Unlawful Command Influence. But the case may not be over yet.
For the last four years, LtCol Chessani has been investigated and prosecuted for his involvement in the so called “Haditha Massacre”, a massacre that never happened. A 22-year veteran, Chessani has served three tours of duty in Iraq. He served in the First Persian Gulf War and in Panama. At the time of the November 19, 2005 Haditha incident, he was the Battalion Commander of 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines (“The Thundering Third”), one of the most decorated units in the history of the Marine Corps.
Richard Thompson, President and Chief Counsel of the Thomas More Law Center, observed, “LtCol Chessani, one of the most effective combat commanders we had in Iraq, was made political scapegoat by the civilians in the Pentagon to appease the antiwar politicians and a liberal media. In fact, we now know that the story of the ‘massacre’ that prompted the Haditha prosecutions was a headline in a Time news article instigated by insurgent propaganda operatives.”
Continued Thompson, “This nation has come to the point where we can’t call terrorists captured on the battlefield ‘enemy combatants.’ We release the terrorists out of Guantanamo and prosecute the military our country placed in harms’ way to defend us.”
Robert Muise, an attorney with the Law Center, a national public interest law firm, based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, argued the case on behalf of LtCol Chessani. The Law Center has been defending LtCol Chessani throughout his prosecution alongside his detailed Marine lawyers, LtCol John Shelburne and Captain Jeff King. Captain Kyle Kilian, a Marine appellate defense lawyer, also assisted in the appeal.
LtCol Chessani is the highest ranking officer facing criminal charges as a result of the much-publicized and ill-described “Haditha massacre.” The criminal charges against him stem from a legitimate combat action taken by four enlisted Marines in his command after they were ambushed by insurgents in Haditha, Iraq, on November 19, 2005. Their actions resulted in the deaths of several ambushing insurgents.
Unfortunately and tragically, several civilians were also killed in the house-clearing operation.
Even though LtCol Chessani wasn’t present during the incident, he was criminally charged with failing to launch a full investigation into the incident. If convicted, he faces 2 ½ years imprisonment, dismissal from the Corps, and loss of all of his retirement pay.
The essential holding of the military appellate court was as follows: “We are convinced the Government failed to meet its burden of demonstrating, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the proceedings were untainted by the appearance of UCI (Unlawful Command Influence). We are similarly convinced that an objective, disinterested observer, fully informed of all the facts and circumstances, would harbor significant doubt about the fairness of this proceeding.”
Another of Rep. Murtha's accusations was that the Marine officers, supposedly including Lt. Col. Chessani, covered the incident up. The NMCCCA upheld the dismissal of charges against Lt. Col. Chessani.
A day after Rep. Murtha made his accusations, he was asked where he got his information from. Here's Rep. Murtha's reply:
“All the information I get, it comes from the commanders, it comes from people who know what they’re talking about.”
Another red flag incident for me was Murtha's accusation of a cover-up:
GIBSON: Jonathan just mentioned, there’s no charges yet filed against any of the Marines that were in this outfit, but Jonathan mentioned a moment ago, defense lawyers are already saying, well, there’s drone video and there is actual radio traffic to higher-ups that will give a different picture than you have been talking about of this incident. What do you know about that?
MURTHA: I can only tell you this, Charles. This is what the Marine Corps told me at the highest level. The Commandant of the Marine Corps was in my office just last week, so you know, I know there was a cover-up someplace. They knew about this a few days afterwards and there’s no question the chain of command tried to stifle the story. I can understand why, but that doesn’t excuse it. Something like this has to be brought out to the public, and the people have to be punished.
Should all the appeals for Lt. Col. Chessani turnout the way today's ruling did, that would leave only SSgt. Frank Wuterich with charges still pending. Considering the fact that the military has ruled that a masscre didn't happen and that the military has ruled there wasn't a cover-up, how much of a case is left against SSgt. Wuterich?
Technorati: USMC, John Murtha, Accusations, Haditha, Jeffrey Chessani, Frank Wuterich, Charges Dropped, Acquittal, Thomas More Law Center
Cross-posted at LFR.