The War Profiteers - War Crimes, Kidnappings & Torture
March 17th, 2009 - Military Court Upholds War-Crime Dismissal Against Marine
By Tony Perry
Los Angeles Times
March 17, 2009
A military appeals court today upheld the dismissal of war-crimes charges against Marine Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani, the highest-ranking Marine charged in the 2005 killings of 24 civilians in Haditha, Iraq.
The court agreed with a military judge at Camp Pendleton, who ruled in June that there was the appearance of “undue command influence” in the case because a Marine lawyer who acts as a prosecutor sat in on meetings in which the Haditha case was discussed with the general who made the decision to charge Chessani and seven other Marines.
The Marine Corps can appeal today’s decision to a higher level of military appeals court or to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Chessani ruling could lead to a similar dismissal of charges against Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, the squad leader on the day that Marines swept through houses looking for insurgents after a roadside bomb killed one Marine and injured two.
Wuterich’s lawyer has a similar dismissal motion pending. Chessani, a 22-year veteran of the Marine Corps, was the battalion commander. He was charged with not launching a war-crimes investigation after learning his troops had killed the 24 Iraqis, including three women and seven children.
The military began an investigation only after a magazine account differed from the official version of events that the Iraqis were killed by a roadside bomb or in crossfire between Marines and insurgents. Of eight Marines charged in the case, five have had the charges dismissed. One was found innocent; only the cases of Chessani and Wuterich remain.
The U.S. Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals, sitting in Washington, D.C., said that although there is no evidence that Gen. James Mattis was influenced by the presence of Col. John Ewers, a lawyer, the judge was correct in dismissing the case to eradicate even the suggestion of undue influence.
The court said that “an objective disinterested observer, fully informed of all the facts and circumstances, would harbor significant doubt about the fairness of the proceeding.”
Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel of the Michigan-based Thomas More Law Center, which has represented Chessani, hailed the decision. Thompson said Chessani was “made a political scapegoat by the civilians in the Pentagon to appease the antiwar politicians and a liberal media.”
Chessani was commander of the Camp Pendleton-based 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment. He was on his third combat tour in Iraq.
By Mark Walker
North County Times
March 17, 2009
In a key ruling, a military appeals court has upheld the dismissal of dereliction of duty charges filed by the Marine Corps against the highest-ranking officer accused of wrongdoing in connection with the 2005 shooting deaths of two dozen civilians in Haditha, Iraq.
The unanimous decision by the United States Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals in Washington upholds a finding that unlawful command influence improperly tainted the government's case against Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani.
On its face, the ruling would seem to apply to all eight of the Camp Pendleton Marines charged with wrongdoing at Haditha, even though six of those men had already been exonerated.
Last June, the military judge presiding over Chessani's prosecution at Camp Pendleton, Col. Steven Folsom, dismissed two counts of dereliction of duty against Chessani for his alleged failure to order a full-scale investigation into the Haditha killings that occurred Nov. 19, 2005.
Folsom ruled a senior legal adviser to then-Lt. Gen. James Mattis, who was overseeing the Haditha prosecutions, should not have had any role in shaping the case.
The adviser, Col. John Ewers, had been one of the military's initial investigators into the killings and was a potential prosecution witness. Folsom ruled Ewers' mere presence at meetings between Mattis and prosecutors created an unacceptable perception of unlawful command influence in the general's decisions.
"Praise God and amen," was the 43-year-old Chessani's reaction Tuesday when informed of the ruling by one his attorneys, Brian Rooney at the Thomas More Law Center in Ann Arbor, Mich.
"He was very happy and appreciative," said Rooney, whose firm provides free representation to Christians.
Lt. Col. Dave Griesmer, a Marine Corps spokesman, said the ruling that can be appealed to the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces in Washington was being reviewed "to determine our responsibilities as the ... disposition authority."
The three Marine officers who comprise the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Appeals ruled prosecutors failed to show Ewers' participation in the case did not taint it and therefore the dismissal of charges by Folsom was proper.
"It is the duty of the military judge to act as the last sentinel and protect the court-martial from the pernicious effects of unlawful command influence," the appeals court concluded.
Rooney said he hopes that the Marine Corps decides against any appeal or move to reopen the case.
"We have always said that we have had the luxury of defending a truly innocent man and remain confident the facts are on our side," Rooney said. "I wouldn't be surprised if they do appeal, but I do believe it would be a waste of military resources and taxpayer dollars. The Marine Corps needs to move on and Lt. Col. Chessani needs to move on."
Besides appealing the ruling, the Marine Corps has the option of asking that an entirely new investigation be opened into Chessani's role in the Haditha incident. If it takes that course, it would have to find a convening authority outside of Camp Pendleton who would then decide whether reopening the case is justified.
Four Camp Pendleton officers and four enlisted men were charged with crimes at Haditha. All but Chessani and Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, who led his squad in the assault that led to the civilian deaths following a roadside bombing, have since been exonerated.
Wuterich's attorneys have said they plan to seek a dismissal of the nine counts of manslaughter and related charges against their client on the same unlawful command influence found in the Chessani prosecution.