Col. Jeffrey Chessani
After more than four years of fighting claims of murder for a firefight by his soldiers for which his commanders originally commended him, Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani is retiring from the U.S. Marines, with his last day in the service officially Sept. 30.
Chessani defended the U.S. for more than 23 years, but his last fight was to defend himself against claims generated by an article reportedly planted by an al-Qaida operative and published in Time magazine before being echoed across the land by the late Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa.
Chessani was the highest-ranking officer to face charges over the so-called “Haditha massacre” in Iraq in which insurgents used civilians as shields as they ambushed a team of U.S. soldiers, according to the Thomas More Law Center, which worked on his case.
His last active duty day was July 16.
The incident, used by activists as an anti-war icon, developed when four of the Marines under Chessani’s command were ambushed by insurgents in Haditha Nov. 19, 2005.
A roadside bomb went off, destroying a Marine Humvee and killing one Marine and injuring two others. The Marines immediately came under fire from insurgents, who were shooting from nearby civilian-occupied homes, the law center documented.
The Marines responded as they were trained, going through the area to clear out insurgents, killing eight. But 15 civilians also died and Chessani reported the incident to his superiors, who commended him for a job well done.
It wasn’t until months later, when the apparently planted article appeared and was pounced on by Murtha, a leading anti-war critic, that Chessani heard there were allegations against his behavior.
Murtha charged the Marines were “cold-blooded” murderers and officers were covering up.
The government spent millions of dollars assembling the case against Chessani, employing more than 65 Naval Criminal Investigative Service agents – the largest investigation in the agency’s history – to try to obtain a conviction.
However, investigating officer Lt. Col. Paul Ware blasted the credibility of the government’s case, and it ultimately was dismissed on the grounds of unlawful command influence.
Having lost an appeal of that dismissal, the government changed course and demanded a Board of Inquiry into his actions. As a result, he was cleared of charges and scheduled for retirement.
Several other Marines also were charged. 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.
Talk-radio icon Michael Savage has been integral in raising the public’s awareness of the Chessani case, as well as raising significant support for the team working on his defense.