by Nathaniel R. Helms |
February 19, 2008
Arbor, Michigan -- A team of lawyers representing Lieutenant Colonel
Jeffrey Chessani have filed five significant motions at Camp
Pendleton, Calif. that will undoubtedly open a literal Pandora’s Box
if they are granted by the military judge overseeing the Marine
officer’s general court-martial. Chessani is the highest ranking
Marine officer charged with crimes in the so-called “Haditha
“Potentially, the case could be thrown out if we prevail on one or
some of these motions,” said Richard Thompson, President and Chief
Counsel of the Ann Arbor, Michigan-based Thomas Law Center that
represents Chessani., the former battalion commander charged with
dereliction of duty in the notorious case.
five motions include: a motion to compel the deposition of Congressman
John Murtha; a motion to dismiss all of the charges due to their
Constitutional vagueness; a motion to dismiss some of the charges
because the same allegations have been charged in multiple ways; a
motion to compel further discovery the government has kept from the
defense that the government has deemed not relevant; and, a motion for
a new Article 32 hearing because the last hearing was defective.
motion to compel the deposition of Congressman John Murtha is the most
colorful of the legal maneuvers a 3-man legal team from Thomas More
intends to introduce. The powerful Pennsylvania Democrat accused a
squad of Marines of “cold blooded murder” in the deaths of 24 Iraqi
citizens killed more than two years ago during the day-long complex
attack on a company of Marines operating in fractious al Anbar
Province. Murtha later amended his allegation to include claiming a
conspiratorial cover up as well. So far Murtha has refused to reveal
how he knew alleged facts that were never introduced into evidence.
Murtha went on international television in May 2006 accusing the
Marines of a killing spree on December 19, 2005 at Haditha after LCpl
Miguel Terrazas was killed there by a remotely detonated IED.
According to Murtha, a squad of Marines from Kilo Co., Third
Battalion, 1st Marines wantonly murdered 24 old men, women
and children in retaliation for the attack. Murtha claimed that
retired General Michael W. Hagee, at the time the Commandant of the
Marine Corps, had personally briefed him on the facts of the case. A
spokesman for Hagee later denied Murtha’s claim.
Murtha was sued on August 2, 2006 in federal court by Staff Sergeant
Frank Wuterich, the squad leader of the embattled enlisted Marines.
Washington, D.C. based lawyers Neal Puckett and Mark Zaid filed the
lawsuit for libel, invasion of privacy/false light, and republication
of defamatory statements by third parties for Murtha’s remarks.
Murtha, the Chairman of the House Armed Service sub-committee, is
currently the subject of several motions filed by Haditha defendants
also demanding he appear in court to explain his allegedly specious
Justice Department, which is representing Murtha in the case, claims
Murtha is covered under the Federal Tort Claims Act, which protects
government officials from legal actions for official duties. Under
FTCA, the United States would be substituted for Murtha as the
defendant in the case, essentially ending it, because the government
has sovereign immunity that protects it.
December nine premeditated murder charges against Wuterich were
reduced to voluntary manslaughter by the convening authority, removing
once and for all the onus of war crimes from the table. Rep. Murtha
despite numerous ploys aimed at provoking a response for his allegedly
libelous indiscretions, has refused to comment, claiming the matter is
still under criminal investigation.
Hearings on the motions will begin on Wednesday morning, February 20,
2008 and should last until Thursday, February 21, 2008. Thomas More
attorney Rob Muise and detailed military defense counsel, Lt. Colonel
John Shelbourne, USMC, will present oral arguments on the five motions
at Camp Pendleton, California to military judge Colonel Stephen
Chessani’s lawyers will call several witnesses in support of its
motions, spokesman Brian Rooney said. Particularly dramatic testimony
is expected from a key witness, Marine intelligence officer, Major
Jeffrey Dinsmore, recently the subject of an unsuccessful motion by
the prosecution to prevent his appearance in another defendant’s
trial. The Thomas More Law Center has three of its lawyers working on
the case--all former Marine officers--Muise, Rooney and Brandon
are scheduled for at least one more motion hearing date, but there
most likely will be two more—one in March and another in April. Of
those two dates, we expect to file an ‘unlawful command influence’
motion, and a ‘selective prosecution’ motion, as well as several
others,” Thompson said in a statement Tuesday.
LtCol Chessani is charged with “dereliction of duty” and “orders”
violations stemming from the running battle in Haditha, Iraq on
November 19, 2005. In addition to Terrazas’ death, thirteen other
Marines were seriously wounded during the day-long fight. The defense
claims the insurgents were hiding in civilian homes among women and
children when they ambushed the Marines, thereby causing the death of
fifteen civilians when the Marines struck back.
Informants and Al Qaeda led insurgents captured subsequent to the
attack told their captors that the ambush was intended to incite a
forceful response from the Marines. The insurgent’s goal was to create
as many casualties as possible to foster ill-will toward the Marines.
result of a Time magazine story foisted on reporter Tim McGirk
by an insurgent propaganda agent, LtCol Chessani and seven other
Marines – four officers and four enlisted men – were charged with war
crimes and cover up. So far charges against four of the Marines have
been dismissed. Chessani and three other Marines still face a variety
of charges stemming from the attack.
Chessani faces dismissal (an officer’s equivalent of a dishonorable
discharge), loss of retirement, and imprisonment of up to 3 years if
he is convicted. He is the father of six children and has been a
Marine infantry officer for twenty years.
actual court-martial trial is scheduled to begin April 28, 2008 at
Nathaniel R. Helms
Defend Our Marines
15 February 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).