Col. Jeffrey Chessani
The government has decided to give up on an existing case that had subjected a Marine commander to a criminal trial for his supervision of a team attacked by insurgents in Haditha, Iraq, in 2005.
But the case could be re-filed against Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani, according to lawyers with the Thomas More Law Center, which has been working on his defense.
As WND reported, the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals denied without comment the government’s motion to reconsider the case against Chessani. The decision followed a ruling from a three-judge panel that unanimously endorsed a decision by Col. Steven A. Folsom dismissing the case against the officer.
Now the law firm said it has been notified that the government will not file an appeal with any higher courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court.
“Lt. Col. Chessani devoted over 20 years of his life to his country and the corps he loved. His reward: criminal prosecution and ridicule by the mainstream media,” said Richard Thompson, chief counsel for the firm.
“Sadly, insurgents, with the complicity of the media, were able to remove one of our most effective combat commanders in Iraq by unfounded allegations of a ‘massacre,” said Thompson. “The immeasurable damage to America by the prosecution of this loyal and patriotic Marine officer can never be rectified. Nevertheless the decision not to engage in any further appeals is welcome news. We hope that the commandant will now say ‘enough is enough’ and allow Lt. Col. Chessani, his wife, and six children get on with their lives.”
The government could have pursued the case to the civilian Court of Appeals of the Armed Forces and then the Supreme Court. However, because the dismissal of the charges came without prejudice, the government could restart the case from the beginning, the law firm said.
If that is to happen, the Marine Corps must appoint a new convening authority that was not involved in the earlier case, since Folsom’s ruling was based on “Unlawful Command Influence,” which would remain an obstacle to the case should any of the same prosecutors be involved.
In dismissing the charges against Chessani, Folsom described “Unlawful Command Influence” as the “the mortal enemy of military justice.”
Eight Marines ultimately were charged, but in every case that has been resolved there have been no convictions. Chessani is the senior-most officer charged criminally for the so-called “Haditha massacre.”
Thompson has described the case as a “vendetta” against the officer.
“We must also remember the sacrifices made by his wife and children while he left them to defend us during three tours of duty in Iraq, and during the First Persian Gulf War, and in the Panama Canal,” he said.
The foundation for the case was the fierce house-to-house, room-by-room combat action taken by four of his Marines after being ambushed by insurgents in Haditha, Iraq, on Nov. 19, 2005. In the battle, nine insurgents and 15 civilians were killed.
Chessani was the battalion commander of the four Marines involved in the action. Every officer in his chain of command, including his reviewing general, approved and commended him for his actions until the publication of a Time magazine article months later charging the Marines with committing a massacre. The claims have since been proven untrue, the law center said.
A military investigation of the Haditha firefight found “no indication” that the Marines had “intentionally targeted, engaged and killed noncombatants.”
As WND reported, the case against Chessani was originally dismissed when Folsom ruled the charges were tainted because of improper closed-door meetings with investigators that gave credence to the defense’s argument that Chessani was made a “political scapegoat” for the highly publicized Haditha incident.
The government had accused Chessani, who wasn’t present at Haditha, of improperly investigating actions of Marines under his command and covering up details of the firefight.
Defense lawyers have reported the insurgents deliberately attacked the Marines from hiding places, where they surrounded themselves with civilians to use as shields. They introduced evidence that Chessani’s performance repeatedly had been praised by his commanding officers.
Eventually eight Marines were charged, but cases against Lance Cpls. Stephen Tatum and Justin Sharratt, Capts. Randy Stone and Lucas McConnell and Sgt. Sanick P. Dela Cruz were dropped. First Lt. Andrew Grayson was acquitted, leaving only the Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich case pending and Lt. Col. Chessani’s case in appeals.
The enlisted Marines were charged with murder and the officers accused of failing to investigate the deaths.
The case developed only after U.S. Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., publicly accused troops of “killing innocent civilians in cold blood.”
Radio talk show host Michael Savage has supported Chessani and the Thomas More Law Center’s work on the case.