LtCol Chessani
Faces Board of Inquiry

Haditha Marine LtCol Jeffrey ChessaniFor the past week, LtCol Chessani has faced a Board of Inquiry, listening as the government attempted to discredit him and portray him as a Marine guilty of misconduct, and his own attorneys attempted to convince the Board members that Chessani did nothing wrong. Closing arguments were presented on Friday, December 11, 2009.

Hanging in the balance is Chessani's Marine Corps retirement. There is little doubt that LtCol Jeffrey Chessani will be retired following more than three years of thus-far unsuccessful prosecution by the Marine Corps. The question is "How will he be retired?"

If the board finds misconduct, it could cost this 22-year Marine officer and his family the retirement benefits he has earned defending your freedom and mine. If the board recommends that he be retired as a major rather than as a lieutenant colonel, Chessani and his family could stand to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in benefits over his anticipated lifetime, according to some reports.

Chessani and his wife have six children younger than 12, all home-schooled, and a seventh on the way. That sort of financial loss would be devastating for any family.

At issue is whether LtCol Chessani failed to properly report and investigate civilian casualties in house-to-house combat in Haditha, Iraq, in November 2005, more than four years ago. Yet the indisputable evidence is clear that he immediately reported the 15 civilian casualties, to his superior officers, who concurred that no further investigation was required by the regulations in effect at that time.

Chessani is the highest-ranking officer to be charged in connection with the incident. None of his superiors, who agreed that no investigation was required, has been called to account. The commanding general, Major General Huck, retired, as a Major General, without facing any disciplinary action for his confirmation that the incident required no further investigation.

Ignorant rantings by EX-Marine Congressman John Murtha about the so-called "Haditha massacre" received wide press coverage and resulted in criminal charges being brought against eight Marines. Only one other Marine still faces charges over the incident. The others have either been exonerated at court-martial, or the charges against them have been dropped.

At court-martial, the charges against LtCol Chessani were dismissed following a finding by the military judge of "unlawful command influence." The judge's ruling was later unanimously upheld by a 3-judge panel of the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals. But the charges were dismissed "without prejudice," which gave the government the option to re-file the charges at a later date.

The new convening authority in the case, LtGen George Flynn, after reviewing the records, determined that criminal charges were unwarranted. He referred the case instead to the administrative Board of Inquiry proceeding, a move that is being severely criticized because the rules of evidence that apply in a court do not apply in the administrative hearing. This permits the government attorneys to introduce inflammatory material that would never be permitted to be introduced as evidence at a court-martial, because it would be ruled either irrelevant to the charges before the Board, or because it would be inflammatory and/or unduly prejudicial.

And according to the Thomas More Law Center, which has defended Chessani without charge throughout his ordeal, that's exactly what the government has done.

Here's their report:

"[A]s predicted, the government, in its efforts to disgrace and destroy LtCol Chessani, has consistently ignored the rules of fundamental fairness by introducing tainted evidence from other cases that had nothing to do with the allegations against LtCol Chessani, and which would never be allowed in court-martial proceedings.

Part of the evidence the government recently introduced is forensic reconstruction of where the Marines assaulted through residential structures from which they were fired upon. These Marines include Lance Corporals Tatum and Sharratt, who have since been exonerated. This evidence was refuted at earlier hearings.

Furthermore, the government was allowed to introduce evidence clearly not relevant to whether LtCol Chessani was substandard in performance of duty or willfully negligent in not accurately reporting the day of the battle (November 19, 2005). Much of the problematic evidence being placed on the record comes from the enlisted Marines’ cases, which do not involve issues before this board.

The most egregious evidence allowed has been pictures of dead civilians that LtCol Chessani never saw, meant only to inflame the Board members — including giant, poster size blow-ups of the dead."

On the positive side, however, "'stand-up' Marine officers, Majors Jeffrey Dinsmore and Luke McConnell, in strong and unequivocal testimony, substantiated LtCol Chessani’s innocence.

"Major Jeffrey Dinsmore was LtCol Chessani’s intelligence officer. He has served as an active-duty Marine for over 23 years. In [his] testimony, he informed Board members of the complexity of the daylong engagement in Haditha on November 19, 2005.

He also informed the Board his intelligence assessment before November 19, 2005, indicated Marines were going to be attacked in Hadtiha that day. Follow-on intelligence after November 19, 2005, confirmed to Major Dinsmore and LtCol Chessani that the attack on November 19, 2005, was one they were expecting from foreign fighters — namely Syrians.

Next to testify was Major Luke McConnell, company commander of the Marines originally charged in the case. He explained to Board members that he spoke to his Marines, as their commanding officer, during and after the engagement. He personally fought in the engagement.

He confirmed his company was in a daylong battle with insurgents. He also went to where the Marines entered homes to clear out insurgents. Major McConnell was briefed by Lieutenant Kallop, the unit's platoon leader, that he ordered the Marines to clear the homes of insurgents and unfortunately there were civilians killed as collateral damage.

"Major McConnell testified that all the Marines he spoke to that day confirmed in his mind the Marines were doing the right thing. Major McConnell testified LtCol Chessani came to Major McConnell’s battle space to be debriefed by him. LtCol Chessani and Major McConnell toured the battle space together and spoke about the days events. Several times after November 19, 2005, Major McConnell and LtCol Chessani spoke about the Marines' actions in great detail."

As the hearing winds down, "a long line of 'stand up' field grade officers and enlisted men who served with LtCol Chessani are expected to testify as to his outstanding military character."

For more details about the case against LtCol Chessani, and a link to use if you'd like to contribute to his legal defense fund, please see Haditha Marine Needs Your Help and Haditha Marine Still Under Fire From USMC.

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