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Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani
A Marine officer on trial for failing to investigate alleged war crimes in Haditha is getting support on two fronts.
Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani did, in fact, brief his higher-ups on the pitched battle that pitted U.S. Marines against terrorists in the Iraqi village Nov. 19, 2005, said Maj. Gen. Richard Huck in a military version of a preliminary hearing in the case.
Chessani was brought up on military charges after Time magazine accused Marines of “massacring” civilians in the firefight in Haditha. Later, Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., publicly accused Marine officers of a “cover-up.”
Officials with the Thomas More Law Center of Ann Arbor, Mich., are representing Chessani, and spokesman Brian Rooney told WND Chessani now is awaiting a ruling from a hearing officer on his case.
“We’re done with the evidence part of the hearing and we’re waiting for the hearing officers to render his recommendation,” Rooney told WND. “We were able to put all the events of Nov. 19 into context with the before, during and after of what the town of Haditha was like.”
He said the area was known for its violence because of the high number of Marines who already had been attacked and killed there.
“They also had intelligence reports just before Nov. 19 that they were going to be attacked within 48 hours,” he said.
On that day, Rooney said, Marines came under an attack that included both gunfire and explosives. One Marine in a Humvee was killed and two more were injured, and the resulting house-to-house battle between the outnumbered 4-man Marine “fire team” and the insurgents resulted in 24 Iraqi deaths, including 15 civilians.
After the attack, two insurgents were tracked by aerial drones. One of those insurgents was followed to another part of town, where he took part in another battle with Marines, the testimony said.
“This was a real battle, there wasn’t some phantom menace,” Rooney said. “There were real terrorists in that town.’
He said the second suspect monitored by the Marines fled from the first confrontation, and went into a home. A short time later he came out, with different clothing and carrying a baby.
Rooney said the testimony also included confirmation from Huck that he was briefed immediately on the firefights and bombings that left some civilians dead along with the insurgents. Such civilian deaths sometimes are inevitable, especially in locations such as Haditha, where terrorists had set up bases in a school, a mosque, and a hospital to be used to attack U.S. forces, testimony said.
“We were able to show that the Marines reacted the way they were trained, the way they were supposed to react,” Rooney said.
Eight Marines were originally accused in connection with the battle. Charges filed against Capt. Randy Stone have already been dismissed. Prosecutors said the government did not meet the burden of probable cause in his case.
Another defendant, Lance Cpl. Justin Sharratt, also has had his Article 32 hearing, the military’s version of a preliminary hearing, at which the judge noted the prosecution’s arguments didn’t seem to be supported by the evidence, even though he has not made a formal determination.
Rooney said such conclusions could have a huge impact on his client’s case, as well as others that may come in the future. The officers were accused of failing to investigate and report of a “war crime,” but if the determination that there was no war crime would stand, then no one could be facing charges for not investigating the “non-crime.”
The tragedy, Rooney said, is that Chessani has been sidelined from his work in the war against terror by the allegations, at a time when his leadership could be used well in the battle.
“The terrorists are laughing in their caves,” Rooney said. “The enemy knows our rules of engagement as well as we do. They know how to use propaganda better than we do. The whole trial is the result of propaganda.”
The Thomas More Law Center, a national public interest law firm from Ann Arbor, Mich., is defending Chessani and believes he is being sacrificed for the sake of “placating anti-war critics.”
Richard Thompson, president of the center said, “Because of them [terrorists] one of the most effective Marine combat commanders in Iraq has been eliminated by his own government.”
The Thomas More Law Center said Chessani is described by fellow officers as a focused, hands-on commander who followed the Law of War and was sympathetic to the plight of innocent Iraqis. He is a committed Christian with a wife and five children, and has served his nation honorably for more than 19 years with tours of duty in Panama, the first Persian Gulf War and three tours in Iraq.
Cases still are pending against Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich; Sgt. Sanick P Dela Cruz; Lance Cpl. Stephen Tatum; 1st Lt. Andrew Grayson and Capt. Lucas McConnell.
Thomas More Law Center officials are still raising funds for their battles on Chessani’s behalf. They say the reasonable costs of the case – to date – have reached about $325,000 and almost $200,000 has been donated for the cause. A big bump in support came when radio talk-show host Michael Savage added his voice to those concerned about justice.
On his website, he’s linked a Charlotte Conservative News report detailing how the “Time” article was based on information from known insurgents.
There, writer Michael Kraft said the Time sources “were known insurgent propagandists and it was [that report] that created the Haditha massacre hoax.”
Rooney said not only had Savage personally contributed money but had his audience, adding significantly to the resources available.
Savage told his listening audience Monday he would devote whatever time and resources are necessary to clearing Chessani and then pursuing those who have “persecuted” him. He pledged Tuesday to hold a fund-raiser for the Chessani family once he is cleared.
“We have come a long way from the scandalous remarks of Congressman John Murtha and the yellow journalism of Tim McGirk and Time Magazine,” said the law center’s recent update on the case. “The truth of November 19, 2005, is finally coming out. The support of people like yourselves has in no small way allowed this to occur. We at the Thomas More Law Center have been able to put forward such a robust case because of prayers and contributions you have given to us for Lt. Col. Chessani.”
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