Military judge will hear critical
motions in Haditha case
by Nathaniel R. Helms |
May 6, 2008
The senior officer facing criminal charges in the so-called “Haditha
massacre” case is once again asking the government to dismiss charges
against him for dereliction of duty and failing to obey orders in two
“critical” motions his lawyers intend to file at Camp Pendleton on
Robert Muise, a civilian attorney defending LtCol Jeffrey Chessani,
will argue that the case should be dismissed because of unlawful
command influence and selective prosecution, a Tuesday press release
from the Thomas More Law Center said.
Since last fall the law center in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and an
appointed team of Marine Corps lawyers, have generated a blizzard of
motions in an escalating campaign to dismiss the charges against
Chessani, one of the Marine Corps’ handful of elite infantry officers
Chessani is charged with failing to report and investigate the deaths
of 15 Iraqi civilians killed in a cross-fire between insurgents and
his troops. The civilians died along with eight insurgent combatants
and one Marine in a complex attack precipitated by a roadside ambush
on November 19, 2005 that also wounded 11 other Marines.
The Marine Corps then misrepresented the situation to the press,
claiming the civilians were killed by the IED. The Corps compounded
its error by sustaining the error for three months, the ensuing
investigation has already shown.
Thrown under the proverbial bus
The Marines responsible for the egregious error were part of a
specially selected team of officers assigned to the Reportable
Incident Assessment Team – usually referred to simply as RIAT –
created to generate positive publicity and
implement immediate damage control in the event the media uncovered
potentially damaging stories about Marine Corps combat operations in
One important function of the damage control team was to “afford the
Commanding General with a specific means to counteract media
unclassified RIAT documents show.
It has since been revealed that the press campaign mounted by the
Marine Corps to minimize the bad publicity after Haditha involved Col
John Ewers, one of the Marine Corps’ top lawyers and the officer who
investigated Chessani and his superiors. Ewers also created and ran
the RIAT program during the 1st Marine Division’s initial
deployment to Iraq in March, 2003.
The former battalion commander was ultimately left holding the bag
when his commanders in Iraq threw him under the proverbial bus to
protect themselves after the misinformation effort was revealed.
Before the mad scramble to save their own careers, Chessani’s
superiors rated him a superior officer suitable for high command.
Ewers is expected to testify at the motion hearing. He has already
been called to testify about undue command influence in the case of
exonerated Marine LCPL Stephan Tatum. The morning after Ewers
testified, Tatum’s case was unexpectedly dismissed.
Chessani, a father of six, served notably in every combat theater the
United States has deployed Marines to since he joined the Corps more
than 21 years ago. In April 2006 he was relieved of command – a career
ending move by itself – and then vilified by the Marine Corps as an
incompetent officer. If convicted by general court-martial Chessani
faces dismissal from the service, the loss of all pay and privileges
and up to three years in prison.
Scapegoat for Murtha and cronies
Richard Thompson, President and Chief Counsel for the Law Center said
there is “no doubt” that Lt. Colonel Chessani is a ”political
scapegoat” of anti-war Congressman John Murtha and his Pentagon
cronies that publicly proclaimed that a squad of Marines commanded by
Chessani killed in “cold blood” and that he and his officers were
involved in a ““cover-up.”
Murtha is the Chairmen of the House Armed Services Sub-committee on
Appropriations and the undisputed best friend of pork purveyors in
Murtha initially claimed he obtained his information from “senior
Marine Corps officials” Thompson added.
In May 2007 Murtha repeatedly claimed he was personally briefed by
Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Michael Hagee. In fact, Murtha lied
repeatedly to the press until Hagee publicly dismissed Murtha’s claims
Without even blinking in the camera’s cold stare Murtha then claimed
he got his information from Time magazine, which had broken the
fallacious Hadithi massacre story the year before. By that time,
however, the Democratic Congressman’s web of lies had taken a life of
their own and the completely specious massacre story spun completely
out of control.
Eventually Secretary of the Navy Donald Winter – a crony of Murtha who
dined at the same pig fest as the Pennsylvania Congressman before
being appointed to his post from the armaments industry – eventually
censured Chessani’s superiors and pressed for adverse action against
Chessani, a small group of his battalion officers, and four enlisted
So far two of the officer and three enlisted men have been cleared of
all charges. One officer besides Chessani and one enlisted man remain
under the threat of general court-martial.
Maj. Gen Richard Huck, the 2nd Division commander, Col. Richard
Sokoloski, his chief of staff, and Col. Stephan Davis, the regimental
commander were ultimately ruined as well for failing to kowtow to a
Time magazine reporter when he made the allegation in February,
2006. Winter told the officers their inability to investigate the
matter, coupled with their failure to respond to a Time
magazine reporter showed they didn’t understand how to fight
For the defense
Defense attorneys will also seek to exclude certain government
witnesses from testifying and ask the military judge to order further
discovery of documents in the possession of the Government, the press
When the Haditha incident erupted, Chessani was commanding the Third
Battalion, 1st Marines. It was involved in a house-to-house,
room-by-room battle ensued when the 15 civilians were killed.
Chessani’s actual court-martial is scheduled to begin June 17, 2008.
It was continued from its original start date of April 28, 2008 to
accommodate a flurry of new motions.
In a separate matter, the law center last week
filed a “Petition for Extraordinary Relief”
with the United States Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals in
Washington, D.C on Chessani’s behalf.
The petition asks the military appellate
court to reverse the military judge’s order denying the defense
counsel’s request for evidence it deems essential to his defense.
Along with the petition, the Law Center is asking the military
appellate court to stay the trial until the issue is resolved and to
abate the proceedings until the evidence it seeks is produced.
Nathaniel R. Helms
Defend Our Marines
6 May 2008
Note: Nat Helms is a Contributing Editor to Defend Our
Marines. He is a Vietnam veteran, former police officer, war
correspondent, and, most recently, author of
My Men Are My Heroes: The Brad Kasal Story (Meredith Books, 2007).