Defend Our Marines / August 8, 2007
Whack-A-Mole: The story of Lt. Col Chessani's Article 32 hearing
Evidence currently before Lt. Gen J. N. Mattis reveals that senior
Marines at 1st Marine Regiment in Iraq lavishly praised Lt.
Col Jeffrey R. Chessani in the days and weeks after the ambush at
Haditha, Iraq twenty months ago.
opinion didn’t change until senior generals in Baghdad began applying
pressure after a news story by Time magazine reporter Tim
McGirk alleged Chessani’s Marines had massacred two dozen innocent
Iraqi civilians. The firefight that ensued on Nov. 19, 2005 left 24
Iraqis and one Marine dead and eleven Marines wounded.
being considered “truly one of the finer thinkers in this COIN
[Counter-Insurgency] environment” by 1st Marine Regiment
C.O. Col. Stephen W. Davis; and having “a superb grasp of the COIN
fight,” according to 2nd Division C.O. Maj Gen Richard A.
Huck, Chessani was later charged with dereliction of duty and failing
to obey orders. He will be back in the hearing room at camp Pendleton,
California Wednesday morning to begin hearing prosecution evidence
that he failed to make two combat journal entries called JEN notations
after the battle.
was Chessani’s immediate superior in Iraq and wrote his fitness report
and Huck, as C.O. of the 2nd Marine Division, endorsed it.
Davis subsequently used his Fifth Amendment protection against
self-incrimination to avoid testifying and Huck has changed his tune.
Today Chessani and Huck have an adversarial relationship, another
casualty of two Iraqi con men who suckered an entire country into
believing the worst about its Marines.
Marine who was there claims McGirk and Time magazine were
victims of one of the most successful counter-intelligence coups
perpetrated by the Iraqi insurgency to date. The counter-intelligence
coup was conceived and executed at Haditha by Thaer al-Hadithi and Ali
Omar Abrahem al-Mashadani, two Sunni Muslims that McGirk obtained an
inflammatory video from. McGirk later used the bogus “evidence” they
provided to make an unsubstantiated case of murder against the Marines
in the press.
Hadithi is best known for videotaping the alleged murder site at
Haditha after the horrific fight that left 24 Iraqis and one Marine
dead, eleven Marines wounded, and seven others still fighting for
their lives. Hadithi and Mashadani subsequently founded the Hammurabi
Organization for Human Rights and Democracy Monitoring Association in
January 2006, about six weeks after the events at Haditha had passed.
Coincidentally it is the same amount time that Mr. Mashadani had been
out of Abu Gharib Prison.
Mashadani was incarcerated at Abu Gharib for five and one-half months
between July and December 2005 while Marine interrogators questioned
him about his counter-intelligence activities. Mashadani was released
on a general amnesty “kick out” along with 500 other suspects, his
warders said. Three months
later he was the darling of Time magazine.
"Refinements" to the charges
end of Chessani’s original Article 32 hearing, the Investigating
officer (IO) agreed to add additional charges at the prosecutors’
request. Col. Christopher Conlin characterized the additions as
“refinements” to the old charges, the defense says. Subsequently they
prepared a 22-page letter of “Objections to Investigating Officer’s
Report” and mailed it to Mattis. Mattis then ordered that Chessani’s
Article 32 investigation be reopened, Chessani’s civilian lawyers at
the Thomas More Law Center in Ann Arbor said.
evidence presented to Mattis on July 25 is part of a package of
considerations the defense has asked Mattis to review as convening
authority and final arbiter in the matter of the US vs. Lt Col.
Chessani, USMC. The defense, led by Lt Col. J.W. Shelburne, wants
Mattis to disregard the I.O.’s report. They called it “factually
inaccurate, legally deficient, and grossly misleading,” Defend Our
Marines has learned.
wasn’t until McGirk reported his
in Time magazine in March 2006 that Chessani became the pariah,
the guy who has to be kept in the box for damage control to work. One
senior Marine on duty at Pendleton said his comrade’s fall from grace
was like the popular internet game “Whack-A-Mole” – except he called
it “Whack-A-Marine” because every time exculpatory evidence pops up it
immediately gets slapped down in the name of protecting the Corps.
upcoming hearing the prosecution refused a defense request to allow
thirteen witnesses to testify on behalf of Chessani. Unlike civilian
Grand Juries that can hear all the evidence, the IO does not have to
allow evidence he deems irrelevant from being presented during the
Article 32 hearing whether it is exculpatory or not.
Conlin’s decision not to provide any more military witnesses or new
evidence for the re-opened Article 32 hearing has not gone down well
with the defense attorneys.
Thompson, President and Chief Counsel of the Thomas More Law Center,
and a 24 year former county prosecutor, said, “The government’s
refusal to make any of our requested witnesses available makes the new
hearing nothing but a sham.”
has already recommended to Mattis that Chessani face general
courts-martial for three charges of dereliction of duty and failing to
obey a lawful order.
McGirk and the Marines
the long list of procedural irregularities the defense has problems
with is the matter of Time magazine and Tim McGirk, the quick
shooting crusader who said his
“personal odyssey” ended when Chessani and six other Marines who
fought at Haditha were accused of murder and malfeasance, McGirk
chortled a few days before last Christmas.
meanwhile, still insists his facts were all straight despite
overwhelming evidence to the contrary. He refused to testify at
Chessani’s original Article 32 hearing and has not responded to
numerous requests for an interview. Last year, however, McGirk told
Columbia Journalism Review reporter Paul McLeary:
“I just know in my case
that we deliberately got all of our facts together, and then and only
then did we go to the military,” he says. “We held off on reporting it
until we could get their side of the story. So, I don't think we were
in any great rush to accuse them of a massacre.”
according to the evidence Mattis is now reviewing.
McGirk’s e-mail allegations were reviewed by Huck, Davis and Maj.
Samuel H. Carrasco, the Third Battalion’s operations officer. Carrasco
has been granted immunity to testify. They decided McGirk’s hysterical
claims included all sorts of nonsense. According to their testimony
McGirk initially claimed that a single Marine had done all the
killing. McGirk claimed the berserk Marine was the brother of one of
the Marines killed in the IED attack. Carrasco claimed McGirk told him
the unidentified Marine “went on a rampage that resulted in the
killing of the civilians,” and that “four young men were herded into a
large closet in front of the womenfolk and the closet was then
sprayed with bullets and all four young men were killed.”
the huge body of evidence to the contrary, the Marines dismissed
McGirk’s allegations as nonsense.
According to the testimony presented to Mattis, McGirk was just
warming up. In his mind the five Iraqi men killed by the white car
became “four students” who died when they “were forced out of their
car “to be “shot dead execution-style” by Marines. McGirk even claimed
the event was reportedly filmed by an unknown film maker who never
materialized with his film. In McGirk’s unfounded accusations the
Marines diabolical ruthlessness didn’t end until the next morning when
the murderers dumped the lifeless innocents at the morgue of the local
and the senior 1st Marine Regiment staff all heard McGirk’s
allegations before Chessani did. Yet none of them called for an
investigation until after Army generals and Pennsylvania’s Congressman
John Murtha got involved, they admitted during the investigation. The
prosecution’s investigation showed Col. Gary Sokoloski, a lawyer and
former SJA, was aware of the civilian deaths, Time magazine’s
allegations, and the Haditha City Council letter containing its murder
allegations months before any investigations were called for. He
subsequently took the Fifth, like Col. Davis, to avoid possible
incrimination by testifying, the evidence forwarded to Mattis shows.
taking the Fifth, Davis told investigators that despite Time’s
allegations and because of McGirk’s hysterical ramblings; he didn’t
feel a need to open an investigation into the journalist’s claims, the
record shows. He further dismissed the claims of the Haditha City
Council because the insurgent sympathizers among them frequently used
exaggerated claims of murder and mayhem to sow seeds of disharmony
among the Iraqi population and American public opinion.
Col Chessani's superiors knew the allegations before he did
e-mail dated 12 February 2006, Huck tells Army Lt. Gen. Peter
Chiarelli, formerly the commander of all ground forces in Iraq, “I
support our account and do not see a necessity for further
investigation.” The defense says Huck sent the message in response to
the Time magazine allegations brought by McGirk. Chiarelli
replaced Lt. Gen. John Vines as commander of all Coalition ground
forces in Iraq in January 2006.
Gary Sokoloski, Huck’s chief-of-staff and a SJA lawyer, was aware of
the civilian deaths and the various allegations as well. Sokoloski
later acknowledged in a sworn statement that he was aware of them
before Chessani was. In a sworn statement Sokoloski made before taking
the Fifth he categorically stated that he found no evidence of any
criminal activity of violations of the LOW by Chessani’s battalion,
the evidence forwarded to Mattis shows.
entries Chessani failed to create are the basis of operational reports
that ultimately become the history of the Marine Corps. They are made
in real time and later groomed for accuracy and completeness when time
allows, Marines who make them said. Retired Marine Lt. Col. Bob
Weimann, a Desert Storm veteran and formerly the C.O. of Kilo Co., 3/1
during 1982-1983, remembered the struggle to keep up with JEN entries
in his day.
JEN became a lost art within the US Marine Corps in the later 70s -
early 80s. In theory, combat JENs are a historical record that are
suppose to be eventually filed in the national archives. Most
battalion commanders blow them off.”
said it was hard when he was a battalion executive officer to impress
upon his Marines how important JENs are to history. Harried radio
operators and operations NCOs made entries when they could and
“reconstructed” the events in more detail later on when things weren’t
so hectic. Weimann said combat commanders in contact simply don’t have
time to deal with JENS issues.
would be interesting to see how many battalion combat JENs made it to
the archives from Desert Storm to Haditha,” he opined Monday.
Defend Our Marines
8 August 2007
Note: Nat Helms served three tours in Vietnam and, most
recently, is the author of
My Men Are My Heroes: The Brad Kasal Story (Meredith Books, 2007)