On June 17, 2008, Military Judge Colonel Steven Folsom, USMC, dismissed all charges against Lt Colonel Jeffrey Chessani on the grounds of unlawful command influence. He blistered the prosecution’s case in an opinion he read from the bench that lasted an hour. The ruling was without prejudice. Colonel Folsom gave prosecutors 72 hours in which to notify him whether they would appeal.
The ruling was greeted with tears of joy from Chessani’s wife and several spectators in the courtroom.
The Thomas More Law Center, a national public interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, represents LtCol Chessani alongside his detailed military attorneys. The two Law Center attorneys assigned to his case are former Marine officers themselves. Robert Muise served in the First Persian Gulf war as an infantry officer, and Brian Rooney was a Judge Advocate officer who served two tours of duty in Iraq. Lt Colonel John Shelburne, USMC, and Captain Jeff King, USMC , the detailed military defense counsel, make up the rest of Chessani’s defense team.
Richard Thompson, President and Chief Counsel of the Law Center, commenting on the judge’s decision had this to say, “We are all grateful for the judge’s ruling today. He truly was the “last sentinel” to guard against unlawful command influence.”
“Tragically, our own government eliminated one of its most effective combat commanders. The insurgents are laughing in their caves,” said Thompson.
LtCol Chessani’s official 2006 Combat Fitness Report declared him “a superb leader, who knows his men, knows the enemy, knows his business,” and recommended him for promotion. The reviewing Major General added, LtCol Chessani has “unlimited potential and value to the Marine Corps,” and also recommended him for promotion.
The following quotes are excerpts from LtCol Chessani’s Combat Fitness Report (a required annual evaluation of a Marine officer’s performance) prepared by his superiors for the reporting period of September 2005 to February 2006 (This time period includes the date of the incident for which Lt. Colonel Chessani was facing criminal charges):
- “Leads Marines from front in every operation. Demonstrates moral courage everyday. Doesn’t hesitate to report bad news fast or contest unrealistic plans/poor concepts. Despite the complexity and size of his AO [area of operations], he always maintains a calm, cool demeanor.”
- “Always seeks advantage over complex, diverse insurgent enemy. Truly one of the finer thinkers in this COIN [counterinsurgency] environment.”
- “One of the top 3 infantry/Cav Bn commanders of 13 who have served with RCT -2 [the regiment] during OIF. A superb leader, who knows his men, knows the enemy, knows his business. Doesn’t attract a lot of fanfare; just gets the job done to an exceedingly high standard.”
- “Long ball hitter; recommend selection for promotion to Colonel and TLS [Top Level School].”
The Reviewing Officer, Major General Huck added his comments: “Top notch officer with outstanding potential. Promote and select for TLS [Top Level School]. Post TLS slate for Regimental command and subsequent joint tour. Unlimited potential and value to the Marine Corps. Capable of the most challenging assignments.”
Prosecution Turns into Persecution
Late on the afternoon of June 18, military prosecutors filed an official notice that they are appealing the June 17th decision of Military Judge Colonel Steven Folsom, USMC, which dismissed all charges against Lt Colonel Jeffrey Chessani on the grounds of unlawful command influence.
Prosecutors have 20 days in which to file their appeal brief to the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals (NMCCA), which is located in Washington, D.C.
Richard Thompson, President and Chief Counsel of the Thomas More Law Center, reacted with outrage, “This case has turned into the persecution of one of the Marine’s finest combat commanders. LtCol Chessani devoted his life to the Corps and his Nation. He served three tours of duty in Iraq, away from his wife and children in defense of us all. In their attempt ‘to get’ Chessani, prosecutors granted immunity to seventeen Marines, including one they had charged with murder. Still they failed. Sadly, in the process they have destroyed the career of an outstanding officer. Enough is enough.”
The Thomas More Law Center, a national public interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, represents LtCol Chessani alongside his detailed military attorneys.
LtCol Chessani’s official 2006 Combat Fitness Report, which includes the time frame in which he is facing criminal charges, declared him “a superb leader, who knows his men, knows the enemy, knows his business,” and recommended him for promotion. The reviewing Major General added, Lt. Colonel Chessani has “unlimited potential and value to the Marine Corps,” and also recommended him for promotion.