Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani

A trial tentatively has been scheduled April 28 for a Marine veteran who served in Iraq and was charged with failing to investigate a “crime” after anti-war congressman John Murtha publicly accused his team of Marines of covering up an incident in which civilians allegedly were killed in “cold blood.”

“The Marines defended themselves from hostile fire as they were trained and authorized. That Lt. Col. [Jeffrey] Chessani must now face a trial for their actions is both tragic and absurd,” said Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Law Center.

“He is being tried for not investigating a crime that we now know never occurred,” Thompson said.

Chessani is accused of failing to investigate and accurately report on an incident that happened in Haditha, Iraq, on Nov. 19, 2005, and has been dubbed by critics as the “Haditha massacre.”

If convicted, the 20-year veteran of three tours of duty in Iraq, as well as additional tours in Panama and the Persian Gulf War, will be dismissed from the Marines, lose his retirement and face 2? years in jail, his lawyers said.

The Thomas More lawyers are representing Chessani, along with the military attorneys appointed for his defense.

“Our own government has handed the insurgents a victory by removing one of our most effective combat leaders from the battle,” Thompson said. “This investigation has imperiled the lives of our troops who, in making split-second decisions whether to defend themselves, now have to consider that lawyers with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight will examine their actions under a legal microscope,” Thompson said.

The counts against Chessani came after – and reportedly were incited by – an inflammatory Time magazine headline accusing Marines of “massacring innocent civilians.”

The Thomas More Center said the story was planted by known terrorist propaganda operatives, and has been discredited.

But anti-war U.S. Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., in an unprecedented move, followed the Time story with public accusations against Marine officers of covering up a massacre and against enlisted Marines of killing civilians in “cold blood.”

Two separate investigations by U.S. Army officers, a colonel and a general, found no evidence either of a “massacre” or a “cover-up.” In addition, a later Article 32 Investigation by Marine Investigation Officer, Lt. Col. Ware, also found no evidence of a “massacre” or a “cover-up,” the Thomas More Center said.

The charges stemmed from the actions of four Marines who came under fire from a coordinated al-Qaida-led ambush in Haditha. It was not long after 7 a.m. when an improvised explosive device exploded under one of the four Humvees in a supply convoy, killing one Marine and injuring two others.

Simultaneously the Marines came under gunfire from nearby homes, and the four-man Marine fire team was ordered to clear the houses of insurgents, and the resulting house-to-house firefight left 15 civilians dead, the law center said.

Rep. Jack Murtha, D-Pa., confronted by Jason Mattera of Young America’s Foundation (Photo:

Murtha, however, has continued to stand by his accusations. He was confronted just weeks ago by a young activist near a Capitol Hill elevator, and was pressed on whether he would apologize for accusing U.S. Marines of murdering innocent civilians.

Jason Mattera of the Young America’s Foundation was captured on tape questioning Murtha, reported .

Now that charges have been dropped against two of the four Marines accused of murder, Mattera asked, “would you like to issue an apology for saying they killed innocent civilians in cold blood?”

“Is the trial still going on?” Murtha asked repeatedly as he made his way to the elevator.

After entering, the lawmaker made sure Mattera stayed out of the elevator.

“Do you like besmirching our troops, sir?” Mattera asked.

“Have you been in the service?” Murtha retorted. “I enlisted in Korea, and I enlisted in Vietnam …”

As the doors closed, Mattera is heard saying, “You accused them of murdering innocent civilians in cold blood. That’s something that would come from Al Jazeera, not a congressman, sir.”

But charges against two of the four men accused of murder in the case have been dropped by the Marines, and an investigating officer has recommended dropping charges against a third.

Chessani’s career had been unblemished, the Thomas More Center said. In fact, as battalion commander of the Third Battalion, First Marines – one of the most decorated Units in the Marine Corps – Chessani was not at the scene of the firefight, but later traveled there to investigate and reported to every echelon of his chain of command.

For the following three months, not a single superior officer suspected a law of war violation, and Chessani was commended on a job well done.

However, when the Time magazine article appeared and Murtha lodged his accusations, Chessani was targeted, the law center said, despite his 2006 Combat Fitness Report declaring him to be “a superb leader, who knows his men, knows the enemy, knows his business.”

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Previous commentaries:

‘Cut and Run’ Murtha goes off half-cocked

Muttering madman Murtha

What Haditha portends

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