One of the most controversial and politically-tainted prosecutions in recent American military justice history will be argued before a panel of three Navy and Marine officers in the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals (NMCCA), located in Washington, D.C., on Friday, October 17, 2008 at 10 am EST.Click here to read the NMCCA’s order setting the date for the appeal arguments.
The case involves the criminal prosecution of Lt. Colonel Jeffrey Chessani, USMC, stemming from the legitimate combat action taken by four enlisted Marines in his command after they were ambushed by insurgents in Haditha, Iraq, on November 19, 2005. LtCol Chessani is the highest ranking officer to be charged in the much-publicized and ill-described “Haditha massacre.”
LtCol Chessani was charged with failure to properly report and investigate the actions of his Marines. Eearlier this year, however, military judge Colonel Steven A. Folsom, USMC, dismissed all the charges on the grounds of unlawful command influence, which he described as “the mortal enemy of military justice.” The Government immediately appealed the decision to the NMCCA.
The Thomas More Law Center, a national public interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, represents LtCol Chessani alongside his detailed military attorneys. Law Center attorney Robert Muise will argue the case on behalf of LtCol Chessani.
Richard Thompson, President and Chief Counsel of the Law Center, commented, “For the last two and a half years, Lt. Colonel Chessani, has been investigated and prosecuted for his involvement in the so-called “Haditha massacre” – a massacre the Government now knows never happened. This loyal officer who, served 20 years defending our nation, including three tours of duty in Iraq, has been made a political scapegoat to appease anti-war Congressman John Murtha and the liberal press.”
Thompson continued, “The outcome of this case could have a negative impact on our national security. If the Government succeeds with this prosecution, every combat commander will know that difficult battlefield decisions can end up with a politically motivated criminal prosecution based on insurgent-driven propaganda.”
Pursuant to the Navy and Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals calendar, we have until October 17th to prepare for arguments in LtCol Chessani’s hearing, when TMLC attorneys will be presenting oral arguments before the judges. Our attorneys have been working countless hours, but to be fully prepared to make the strongest possible argument we need your help.
We will stage multiple “Moot” Courts” in preparation… we are spending thousands of hours in research and writing… we are devoting enormous resources and energies to rightfully defend this loyal Marine… and your generous financial support is needed right now in order to make it all happen. Please click here to contribute now to LtCol Chessani’s defense fund.
Background of LtCol Chessani’s Case
On November 19, 2005, at approximately 7:15 a.m., a Marine convoy was rolling through Haditha, Iraq – a terrorist stronghold. Suddenly, a roadside bomb went off destroying a Marine Humvee, killing one Marine, and seriously injuring two others.
The Marines immediately received fire from the ambushing insurgents, who were shooting from nearby civilian-occupied homes. A four-man fire team responded as trained; they cleared several houses occupied by the armed insurgents. In the ensuing room-by-room, house-by-house gun battle, 8 enemy insurgents were killed.
Tragically 15 civilians also died – in urban combat, where insurgents purposefully use civilians as human shields, civilian casualties are tragic, but not uncommon. In fact, sometimes the insurgents themselves kill civilians to achieve a propaganda victory by blaming the Americans.
LtCol Chessani was the Battalion Commander of these Marines – the 3rd Battalion (“The Thundering Third”), 1st Marines – one of the most decorated units in the history of the Marine Corps. As the Battalion Commander, LtCol Chessani was responsible that morning for approximately 2,000 American and friendly Iraqi troops in an area of operations just about the size of South Carolina.
He immediately reported the deaths of the 15 civilian Iraqis to his superiors. Not one of LtCol Chessani’s superiors hearing of the 15 civilian deaths ─ including top generals ─ considered it unusual. Not one ordered a further investigation.
However, several months later, an inflammatory Time news article – later proven to be false – accused the Marines of massacring innocent civilians. The article was planted by insurgent propaganda operatives who knew too well that the liberal anti-war media hungered for such stories. They were right.
Even before the investigation was completed, Pennsylvania Congressman John Murtha, the leading congressional anti-war critic and head of the House military appropriations subcommittee, appeared on several major television networks and publicly accused the young enlisted Marines of “cold blooded” murder and Marine officers of a “cover-up.”
The investigation of the “Haditha Marines” by over 65 Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) agents is the largest investigation in that agency’s history according to the director of that agency.
LtCol Paul Ware, USMC, an Investigating Officer who heard testimony in several cases involving the charged enlisted Marines expressed concern that the allegations were nothing but a tactic “to erode public support of the Marine Corps and mission in Iraq.” He went on to say:
“Even more dangerous is the potential that a Marine may hesitate at the critical moment when facing the enemy…”
Retired General Thomas McInerney, former Joint Force Commander and Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force, called the prosecutions of the Haditha Marines “despicable.” He warned:
“We cannot fight a war like that… We’re not taking care of our people.”
Ironically, LtCol Chessani’s official Combat Fitness Report, a required annual evaluation of officers’ performance, which covered the period of the Haditha incident, called him “Truly one of the finer thinkers in this COIN [counterinsurgency] environment,” and recommended him for higher command.
The Reviewing Officer, MajGen Richard A. Huck, USMC, 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.”
A decision by the NMCCA is appealable to the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (CAAF) and then to the U.S. Supreme Court.
If convicted, LtCol Chessani faces 2 1/2 years imprisonment, dismissal from the Corps, and loss of all of his retirement pay.