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Sins of the Generals series:
An open letter to General Michael Hagee  | 
Undue Influence from the Start
An open letter to General Peter W. Chiarelli |
The Loss of Strategic Legitimacy
Political Equivocation at LtCol Chessani's Board of Inquiry

HADITHA: LtCol Chessani BOI Results--
See, I Told Ya!

 

Bob Weimann | December 19, 2009

“The BOI Notification lists the charges that will be considered by its members. All the allegations are essentially focused on Article 92 of the UCMJ; Failure to obey an order or regulation. All the allegations state that he 'willfully failed to report' or 'investigate'.
This is where they will get LtCol Chessani.
The reason they will get him is that because the combat reporting at the battalion level and below is never good. The focus in combat is never, and should never be, on reporting.”
--The LtCol Chessani case: Good news and bad news, mostly bad, Bob Weimann, Defend Our Marines, September 5, 2009

I understand the Board of Inquiry (BOI) results are mixed and the recommendation is that LtCol Jeff Chessani is permitted to retire with his rank intact. I am truly happy that General Carparotto and his other two board members submitted that recommendation. I am very concerned, however, that this small crumb is a political accommodation to cover the possible administrative, political deception and trickery yet to come.

The reason the BOI had to come up with a finding against LtCol Chessani is complex but centers on US Marine Corps administration and promotion procedures. Let me walk you through this.

Marine Corps Fitness Reports “provide for the periodic reporting, recording, and analysis of the performance and professional character of Marines in the grades of sergeant through major general." (see MCO P1610 Performance and Evaluation System; p 1-3). Marine Corps officer promotions are based on an evaluation of all their career fitness reports. Your fitness reports are what get you promoted or “passed over” (not promoted). Remember that the BOI specifically tasked the board members to evaluate the fitness report that relieved Jeff Chessani from command of 3/1.

Assume for a moment that the BOI found no fault with Jeff Chessani’s actions during the Haditha incident. LtCol. Chessani, upon SECNAV approval of the BOI, could immediately request the Board for Correction of Naval Records to pull the adverse fitness report (for the Haditha incident) that was used to relieve him. Because the BOI found no fault, that particular adverse fitness report would have no basis and would be removed from his record.  

With the fitness report removed, LtCol Chessani could then request remedial consideration for promotion or a Special Selection (promotion) Board (see MCO P1400 Marine Corps Promotion Manual, Volume 1–Officer Promotions). In other words, Jeff Chessani missed promotion to Colonel because of the pending court martial through no fault of his own. According to Marine Corps Orders, he still deserves consideration for promotion to the next highest grade.

The special selection board is then required to compare LtCol Chessani’s record to the “least competitive” records of LtCol Chessani’s contemporaries already promoted. From everything I have heard about LtCol Chessani’s professional reputation and record, he would blow those records away.

Now here is the real rub. Upon selection to Colonel, the Commandant would be required to submit LtCol Chessani’s name to the President and Congress for approval.

Congress recently changed its guidance regarding officer promotions requiring all officers with a “connection” to the facts and circumstances surrounding the “Haditha incident” to be identified for congressional screening. (The word “connected” replaced the words “directly implicated of wrong doing”).

Folks, I believe that the Commandant, General Conway, does not have the courage to tell Congress that the Marine Corps made a mistake in the Haditha incident. In order to promote LtCol Chesanni, the Commandant would have to validate that the Marine Corps, General Chiarelli (then Commander of Multi-National Corps – Iraq and now Vice Chief of Staff of the Army) and Mr Murtha all make a huge mistake in judgment. For that reason, the BOI had to find some reason, some fault, whether perceived or real, with LtCol Chessani’s actions in Haditha.

The other item we must remember is that the Board of Inquiry only has the authority to recommend. Final authority rests with the Secretary of Navy (SECNAV), Mr. Ray Mabus.

The Secretary of the Navy is responsible for, and has the authority under Title 10 of the United States Code, to conduct all the affairs of the Department of the Navy, including: recruiting, organizing, supplying, equipping, training, mobilizing, and demobilizing. (See more here.)

Note that the words “war fighting” and or “combat” are missing from the SECNAV job description. The SECNAV has the authority to accept, reject or modify the BOI recommendation.

Mr. Mabus has a Harvard Law Degree, served as Governor of Mississippi, the Mississippi State Auditor and two years in the Navy where he served on the light cruiser USS Little Rock (1970-1972). I feel his legal background combined with no combat experience will not fare well for Jeff Chessani. Especially since the basic issue with the Haditha case is the charge, under the rule of law, of murder. In other words, Mr. Mabus may tend to agree with Mr. Murtha’s sensational charge of “cold blooded murder” in addition to rubber stamping any endorsement the Commandant of the Marine Corps submits.

The concerning part is that in order for the BOI recommendation to get to the SecNav desk it will have to be endorsed by General Flynn and the Commandant, General Conway. Both of these generals can make any recommendation their hearts desire regardless what the BOI recommends.

General Flynn has made his career as a Headquarters Maine Corps staffer. (The Marine Corps slang term for a career staffer is “staff pogue or “headquarters weenie”.) Because he understands proper administrative procedures, I am guessing his endorsement on the BOI recommendation will read something like “Concur with the Board’s recommendation” and then he will forward it to the Commandant.

General Conway is a different matter. The rumor is he likes to smile a lot and say yes to his congressional contacts and his civilian authorities. Providing controversial advice to the national civilian authority in order to change a bad perception is not his style or in his character. In fact, he is more likely to avoid such confrontation than embark upon it. The question then becomes what endorsement will the Commandant place on Jeff Chessani's BOI recommendation?  

 

Bob Weimann LtCol, USMC Ret.
Former Commanding Officer, Kilo Company 3/1

 

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Bob Weimann is former Commanding Officer, Kilo Co., 3/1
and a senior contributing editor to Defend Our Marines.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Read more on the Haditha case by Bob Weimann: 

 

The Sins of Generals, Part One: An open letter to General Michael Hagee, Commandant of the Marine Corps (2003-2006), October 11, 2008

The Sins of Generals Part Two: Undue Influence from the Start, October 30, 2008.

The Sins of Generals, Part Three: An open letter to General Peter W. Chiarelli, Commander of the Multi-National Corps in Iraq (November 2005-February 2006), February 8, 2009.

The Sins of Generals Part Four: The Loss of Strategic Legitimacy, December 1, 2009.

The Sins of Generals Part Five: Political Equivocation at LtCol Chessani's Board of Inquiry, December 6, 2009.

The Sins of Generals Part Six: When Doctrine Becomes Dogma, December 11, 2009

 

 

The Case for a Squad Leader: SSgt Wuterich in Haditha July 25, 2008.

Huzzah! Huzzah! HUZZAHHH!, June 6, 2008.

Open Letter to the Commandant of the United States Marine Corps concerning the 3/1 Haditha Marines, February 8, 2008.

 

Explore Haditha documents:

Haditha evidence room

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