The U.S. Marine Corps wants a military appeals court to overturn the dismissal of all charges against Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani, the highest ranking Marine accused of war crimes connected to the so-called “Haditha Massacre” in Iraq more than three years ago.
Chessani, now 45, was the commanding officer of 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines when an 11-man squad of Marines he commanded was ambushed on Nov 19, 2005 at Haditha while returning to their forward operating base after resupplying an outpost.
The IED ambush and follow up attack by al-Quida-led insurgents at Haditha left 24 Iraqis and one Marine dead, and 11 others Marines wounded when the daylong battle concluded. A year later, eight Marines were charged with war crimes in the incident.
With the exception of Chessani and squad leader Staff Sergeant Frank D. Wuterich, all of them have since been fully exonerated.
Last year a military judge dismissed multiple charges of dereliction of duty and orders violations against Chessani after determining the commanding general who initiated the charges had improperly influenced subordinates who would have to consider the charges at his court-martial.
“The government has filed a motion asking the [Navy/Marine Corps Court of Appeals] to reconsider the dismissal of charges against Chessani by having the entire nine-member court hear the case,” Chessani’s defense lawyer Brian Rooney tells Newsmax. “That means the Marine Corps wants the entire nine-member court to reconsider the decision made by a three-member panel of the court last month.”
Rooney is a member of a joint defense team of Marine Corps and civilian lawyers from Camp Pendleton and the Thomas More Law Center in Ann Arbor, Mich. that have been defending Chessani for more than three years. The government has repeatedly refused to disclose how many millions of dollars it has spent during the Haditha investigation without obtaining a single conviction.
Two years ago, the Marine Corps acknowledged it spent more than $3 million preparing courtrooms and a “Media Center” at Camp Pendleton, Calif. for what it presumed would be multiple show trials.
On March 18 the appellate court ruled “the government failed to meet its burden of demonstrating, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the proceedings were untainted by the appearance of UCI (Unlawful Command Influence). We are similarly convinced that an objective, disinterested observer, fully informed of all the facts and circumstances, would harbor significant doubt about the fairness of this proceeding.”
The Marine Corps had 30 days after the appeals court’s decision to announce whether it would continue to prosecute Chessani. The Navy lawyer handling the appeal for the prosecution waited until the final day to announce the Marine Corps’ decision.
Navy Lt. Timothy Delgado, the government lawyer handling the prosecution’s case in Washington, D.C., did not respond to multiple Newsmax inquiries.
If the appeals court refuses to reconsider its decision, the Marine Corps will then have 60 days to appeal that decision to the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (CAAF). The case could eventually wind up in the U.S. Supreme Court., Rooney tells Newsmax.
The issue of Unlawful Command Influence was raised at Camp Pendleton, Calif., more than a year ago when defense lawyers proved that Col. John Ewers, a Marine Corps lawyer, had unduly influenced Gen. James N. Mattis while he was reviewing the evidence against Chessani. Mattis, then a lieutenant general, was the “convening authority” who recommended Chessani and the other Marines be prosecuted.
Before serving as Mattis’ personal lawyer, Ewers was one of the principal investigators charged with probing the circumstances that led to the Marines being prosecuted. Military law prohibits its lawyers from being involved in criminal cases in which they had a prior investigative or prosecutorial interest.
Wuterich’s case, meanwhile, is on indefinite hold until a decision is made in Chessani’s case, the Marine Corps has said.
Chessani served three tours of duty in Iraq before his career was destroyed by allegations from ill-informed reporters and Rep. John Murtha, D- Pa. that he covered up evidence that Marines under his command had wantonly murdered 24 Iraqi civilians.
“They were killed in cold blood,” Murtha repeated over and over on international television.
A federal appeals court in Washington ruled Tuesday that Murtha cannot be sued for accusing the Haditha Marines of murdering Iraqi civilians "in cold blood" and other inflammatory remarks that helped trigger the Haditha investigation.
The civilian appeals court dismissed a defamation lawsuit brought by Wuterich, the senior enlisted man charged in the case.
The judges agreed with Justice Department lawyers that Murtha was immune from the lawsuit because he was acting in his official role as a lawmaker when he made the comments to reporters.
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