Government Prosecutors Go Back
to Court in Haditha Case
by Nathaniel R. Helms |
July 9, 2008
Government prosecutors intent on
court-martialing Marine Lt Col Jeffrey Chessani took another step
Tuesday in their effort to overturn a military judge’s decision to
dismiss all criminal charges against the highest ranking officer
prosecuted in the so-called “Haditha Massacre” affair.
Yesterday, the government filed an “authenticated
record of trial” with the Navy and Marine Corps Court of Criminal
Appeals in Washington, D.C. The government now must file an appellate
brief within twenty days — no later than July 29, 2008 – to explain
why Chessani should still be prosecuted.
Chessani commanded the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines
on November 19, 2005 when a squad of infantrymen under his command
became embroiled in a day-long complex ambush that left one Marine and
24 Iraqis dead and eleven Marines wounded.
On June 17, 2008, Marine Corps Military Judge, Col
Steven Folsom, dismissed all charges against Lt Col Chessani on the
grounds of unlawful command influence. Chessani was charged with
dereliction of duty and orders violations for failing to adequately
investigate and report the incident to higher headquarters.
The next day government prosecutors led by Lt Col
Sean Sullivan, a Chicago-based Marine reservist, announced they would
appeal the landmark decision.
Once the government’s brief is filed, the defense
has twenty days to respond, according to
press release issued Wednesday by the Thomas More Law Center
Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel for
the Ann Arbor-based advocacy law firm, said his firm intends to
request oral argument in front of the NMCCA’s three-judge panel which
consists of Navy and Marine officers. The law firm depends on private
donations to fund its legal campaign.
The appellate panel holds its hearings in
Washington, DC. The appeals court can take anywhere from two to six
months to render an opinion after oral arguments are heard. The losing
party then has the right to request an appeal to the next level, the
Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (CAAF), which is composed
entirely of civilian judges.
Moreover, if the government losses all of its
appeals, it still has the option of re-filing the charges against
Chessani, Thompson said.
“This is certainly a David versus Goliath battle,”
Thompson added, “but we will fight this unjust prosecution as long as
The government does not comment on its actions.
Chessani has been under investigation and
prosecution since March 2006 for his alleged in involvement in
covering up the civilian deaths by failing to adequately investigate
and report the circumstances of the day-long battle. Fifteen of the
Iraqis killed that day were civilians. Nine others were identified as
known insurgents who were hiding among the cowering civilians inside
and around their home, evidence already introduced has shown.
The government’s decision to appeal the military
judge’s decision ensures the case will continue to drag on, Thompson
"Justice delayed is justice
denied," Thompson added, referring to the famous legal adage
attributed variously to famous American jurist Oliver Wendall Holmes,
British political lion William Gladstone, and the Magna Carta.
Simply stated, the phrase means
that if legal redress is available and not forthcoming in a timely
fashion, it is the same as having no redress at all. Chessani has been
in literal limbo at Camp Pendleton California since his ordeal began
with his relief from command in April 2006.
In Chessani’s case, resolution of
the case means an end to more than two years of prosecution for
alleged crimes that events have already shown never actually happened.
So far Chessani and six other defendants have been cleared of all
charges. The case against Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich, the squad
leader in command of the infantrymen who killed the Iraqis, languishes
while the government squabbles with a television network over presumed
Nathaniel R. Helms
Defend Our Marines
9 July 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).