LtCol Jeffrey Chessani
Not Guilty of Misconduct
Chessani Not Guilty
Marine LtCol Jeffrey Chessani, the most senior of the "Haditha Marines" to face charges stemming from house-to-house combat in Iraq four years ago, was found not guilty of misconduct late Friday afternoon by a Board of Inquiry after just three hours of deliberation.
The Board's decision that Chessani is not guilty of misconduct means he will be permitted to retire at his highest attained rank of LtCol (0-5). Had the Board found misconduct, it could have recommended that Chessani be retired as a Major (0-4), a loss of rank that would have cost his family hundreds of thousands of dollars in retirement benefits over his lifetime.
Unfortunately, however, the Board's ruling produced a mixed result. Despite finding Chessani not guilty of misconduct, the Board nevertheless ruled Chessani must now retire because he displayed "substandard performance" by failing to conduct a more detailed investigation of the civilians killed as a result of the house clearing actions of four Marines after they were ambushed in Haditha, Iraq on November 19, 2005.
So EX-Marine John Murtha has his scapegoat. And an outstanding Marine officer's career is sacrificed to appease a politician. Sadly, it isn't the first time or the last time.
Considering the other possible outcomes, this was the least damaging outcome for LtCol Chessani and his family short of total exoneration, which the reported evidence seems to support. The Chessani family, which includes 6 home-schooled children and another on the way, will no doubt celebrate their merriest Christmas in four years. We will rejoice with them that their lengthy ordeal is finally over. The relentless pursuit of charges against LtCol Chessani was a travesty.
According to Richard Thompson, President and Chief Counsel of the Thomas More Law Center, "It's indicative of the weakness of the government's case that it could not prove misconduct at the Board hearing where the normal rules of evidence didn't apply and the burden of proof was lessened. We are all greatly relieved that the Board ruled LtCol Chessani was not guilty of misconduct and should not be demoted. However, I believe the overwhelming evidence supported a total and complete exoneration of LtCol Chessani."
The Thomas More Law Center has defended LtCol Chessani throughout his ordeal free of charge. It reports:
"Not one of LtCol Chessani's superiors - including top generals - who received his report of dead civilians considered such deaths unusual. Not one ordered a further investigation. Instead, they commended him for a job well done. In fact, LtCol Chessani's immediate superior told him that no investigation was needed because it was a bona fide combat action - consistent with the orders in effect at the time: no investigation of civilian deaths related to combat action. That order was changed in April, 2006, well after the Haditha incident.
"LtCol Chessani's commanding general, Major General Huck, reported up the chain of command, "I support our account and do not see the necessity for further investigation." This same commanding general was allowed to retire without going to a Board of Inquiry [or otherwise facing charges or investigation], and he was allowed to retire as a Major General.
"Consequently, not one of LtCol Chessani's superiors faced, nor will they ever face, a court-martial or a Board of Inquiry for their actions in relation to November 19, 2005."
So, despite approving Chessani's determination that existing regulations did not require investigation of the civilian casualties, none of those officers had their actions questioned. LtCol Chessani was apparently chosen to be the sacrificial lamb to "take the fall" to appease the anti-war politicians, even though his actions were consistent with Marine Corps policy and approved by his superiors.
Murtha and the press created a dark day for the Marine Corps and impugned the integrity of all Marines by calling them cold-blooded killers who deliberately killed civilians, and by accusing Marine officers of a cover-up. The relentless prosecution and persecution of the Marines involved, we believe, created an even darker day for the Corps.
We thought, of all the services, surely the United States Marine Corps would stand up to protect its officers and men - men who carried out lawful orders, and whose actions were consistent with relevant regulations and were ratified and approved up the chain of command, through the commanding general. There must have been tremendous political pressure to find someone to pin it on, in order to justify the most expensive investigation in the history of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. According to the Thomas More Law Center, NCIS conducted a multi-million dollar investigation (with your tax dollars) involving more than 65 agents, and the government appointed a special team of prosecutors to pursue the cases against the "Haditha Marines."
Thus far, the government is 0 for 7 in its prosecution of those involved in this incident. Of the eight Marines originally charged, four of whom were actually involved in the house-to-house combat, one was acquitted and charges were dismissed against six others. LtCol Chessani is the only Marine to face a Board of Inquiry after charges were dismissed. Only the squad leader in charge of the four men involved in the house-clearing operation still faces criminal charges.
In our experience, Marines as a rule are some of the finest, most disciplined men, of the highest integrity, to be found anywhere.
John Murtha owes LtCol Chessani and the other Haditha Marines a public apology. Actually, he owes an apology to every person who has ever worn the uniform of the United States Marine Corps. But don't hold your breath waiting for it.
For more details about the case against LtCol Chessani, and a link to use to contribute to his legal defense fund, please see:
Haditha Marine Needs Your Help
Haditha Marine Still Under Fire From USMC
LtCol Chessani Faces Board of Inquiry
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