LTC Chessani, Haditha Marine,
Still Under Fire From Marine Corps
LTC Jeffrey Chessani, the most senior of the Haditha Marines to face criminal charges, is still under fire by the USMC. After having criminal charges hanging over his head for more than three years, this career Marine officer and former Battalion Commander now faces an administrative "Board of Inquiry."
According to the Thomas More Law Center, which has defended LTC Chessani without charge in this abomination of justice fueled by the ignorant rantings of ex-Marine (and yes, I mean EX-Marine) Congressman John Murtha, the battle for this loyal Marine officer to clear his name and salvage his career and retirement continues.
Following the so-called "Haditha Massacre," a misnomer applied by the Blame America media, the largest investigation in the history of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) involving more than 65 NCIS agents, the expenditure of millions of taxpayer dollars, and prosecution losses at every stage of the process, the Marine Corps has finally decided (rightly) to abandon the criminal prosecution of LTC Chessani.
The original charges against Chessani were dismissed after the trial judge, Colonel Steven Folsom, USMC, made a finding of unlawful command influence. On March 17, 2009, a unanimous decision by a 3-judge panel of the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals (NMCCCA) vindicated the trial judge's ruling and dismissal of the charges. The government could have sought an appeal to the civilian Court of Appeals of the Armed Forces (CAAF), and then to the U.S. Supreme Court, but decided to forego any further appeals.
Because the charges were dismissed without prejudice, that left the government free to re-charge LTC Chessani. To do so, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, General James Conway, USMC, had to appoint a new convening authority (a General) who was not precluded by COL Folsom's ruling of unlawful command influence. Those commands precluded by Folsom's ruling included the I Marine Expeditionary Force (IMEF), Marine Forces Central Command (MARCENT), and in particular General James Mattis, USMC.
The new convening authority in the case, LtGen George Flynn, USMC, Commanding General of the Marine Corps Combat Development Command in Quantico, Virginia, decided that criminal charges were not warranted. Instead of dropping the case entirely and ending the nightmare for Chessani and his family, however, Flynn ordered an administrative hearing called a "Board of Inquiry."
Richard Thompson, President and Chief Counsel of the Thomas More Law Center, reacted, "The government’s persecution of this loyal Marine officer continues because he refused to throw his men under the bus to appease some anti-war politicians and press, and the Iraqi government. Any punishment of LTC Chessani handed down by a Board of Inquiry would be a miscarriage of justice because he did nothing wrong, and our lawyers will mount the same vigorous defense in this administrative proceeding as they did in the criminal."
Despite the fact that LTC Chessani refused to throw his men under the bus, his superiors are doing just that to him.
A Board of Inquiry is an administrative board where the rule of evidence does not apply. Evidence that would not be admissible in a criminal proceeding may be considered by the Board, which will be comprised of three officers who must be senior to the accused — in the case against LTC Chessani, Colonels and/or Generals. Additionally, the government's burden of proof is less in an administrative procedure. Rather than having to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt, the government only has to prove "misconduct" by a preponderance of evidence, which is essentially "more likely than not."
If the Board finds "misconduct," then it will continue to determine whether LTC Chessani should be forced to retire from the Marine Corps.
If the Board determines Chessani should retire, then it must also determine if he should retire in his present rank, as a Lieutenant Colonel, or whether he should retire one grade lower, as a Major — a decision that could cost this Marine, his wife and his family of six home-schooled children (the oldest of whom is 11) hundreds of thousands of dollars in pay and benefits.
The dismissed criminal charges against LTC Chessani were triggered by a fierce house-to-house, room-by-room combat action taken by four Marines in his battalion after being ambushed by insurgents in Haditha, Iraq on November 19, 2005. Along with several insurgents, 15 civilians also died in the day-long fight. The civilian casualties were tragic, but not uncommon in Iraq where insurgents used them as shields.
The "misconduct" allegations against Chessani are based on failing to properly report and investigate the November 19, 2005, incident. However, the indisputable evidence shows that LTC Chessani immediately reported the deaths of the 15 civilian Iraqis to his superiors. And not one of his superiors hearing of the civilian deaths - including top generals - considered it unusual. Not one ordered a further investigation. Instead, they commended him for a job well done.
In fact, LTC Chessani's immediate superior told him that no investigation was needed because it was a bona fide combat action — which was 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, some six months after the Haditha incident.
LTC 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, and he was allowed to retire as a Major General, without any loss of rank.
Not one of LTC 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, in deciding that no further investigation was needed.
Why should LTC Chessani continue to have to fight this battle, when his actions were consistent with orders in effect at the time, and supported all the way up the chain of command?
Because Congressman John Murtha and the press blew the incident completely out of proportion, and they need a scapegoat to save themselves from embarrassment or having to admit they were wrong. They SHOULD be embarrassed!
John Murtha owes a public apology to every man and woman who has ever worn the uniform of the United States Marine Corps.
What do you suppose the chances are of that happening? And even if it did, what are the chances that it would make the cover of Time magazine, like his original rantings?
"Marines are renowned for their courage and their willingness to follow their commanders into battle against all odds. Their commanders, on the other hand, owe justice to these brave men and women who face death for them. That obligation requires commanders to defend their troops when politicians attempt to make them political scapegoats," said Thompson.
Of the eight Marines initially charged in the incident, six, including LTC Chessani, had charges dismissed and one was acquitted. A military jury of seven officers acquitted Marine 1st Lt. Andrew Grayson of all charges. Only one Marine still faces criminal charges, squad leader SSgt Frank Wuterich.
LTC Chessani was considered one of America's most effective combat officers. He was on his third combat tour in Iraq at the time of the Haditha incident.
"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.' The immeasurable damage to America by the prosecution of this loyal and patriotic Marine officer can never be rectified," said Thompson.
The Thomas More Law Center, a national public interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, has been defending LTC Chessani at no charge. The Law Center’s attorneys, Robert Muise and Brian Rooney, are both former Marine officers. Detailed military attorneys LtCol Jon Shelburne, USMC, and Capt Jeffrey King, USMC, have also represented LTC Chessani throughout the criminal process.
The Thomas More Law Center asks every American concerned about the future of the military services and our country to help in the fight to defend Marine Corps officer, Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Chessani. "Our continued defense of LtCol Chessani, without charge, has cost the Law Center over a million dollars. With our vigorous defense of LtCol Chessani continuing at the Board of Inquiry, your donations and prayers are essential to seeing the end of the government’s pursuit of this good man through to the end."
Donate to LtCol Chessani's defense fund now.
Or if you prefer, mail a donation to the Law Center at 24 Frank Lloyd Wright Drive, P.O. Box 364, Ann Arbor MI 48106.
Either way, let LtCol Jeffrey Chessani, USMC, know that the American people have not abandoned him and we appreciate his more than twenty years of honorable service to our nation. Even if you can only give $10 or $25, your donation is a vote of support for this fine Marine officer.
Our thanks to the Thomas More Law Center, which is defending LtCol Chessani, for providing the majority of this article and the photos.
P.S. Please share LtCol Chessani's story with others who will realize the gravity of this important case.
Update: The three-member panel of senior officers found that Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani “demonstrated substandard performance of duty, but did not commit any acts of misconduct,” according to a Marine Corps spokeswoman, Maj. Erin Wiener. Accordingly, he was permitted to retire at full rank.
Although Lt. Col. Chessani's nightmare has ended, there is still a need for the Thomas More Law Center to defend others unjustly charged. Please donate using the button above, to ensure that there will continue to be representation available to those who need it.
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