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Marine Lt. Colonel Chessani
Thrown Under the Bus for Political Reasons;
Fair Trial an Illusion

Press release from the Thomas More Law Center

ANN ARBOR, MI – “Military Judge Colonel Stephen Folsom’s, USMC, ruling yesterday refusing our request to take the deposition of Congressman John Murtha, D-PA, is the latest indication that it will be impossible for Marine Lt. Colonel Chessani to get a fair trial regarding November 19, 2005, Haditha incident,” said Richard Thompson, Chief Counsel of the Thomas More Law Center, the Ann Arbor, Michigan based public interest law firm defending Lt. Col. Chessani. 

“This entire prosecution is politically motivated and stinks to high heaven.  Denying us the right to take Murtha’s deposition so that we could show undue command influence, as well as denial of our request for production of documents in the possession of Lt. Col. Chessani’s superiors makes it impossible for us to render this loyal Marine officer the effective assistance of counsel he deserves — they are attempting to throw him under the bus.  In many ways this is a trial like the one in Alice in Wonderland—the verdict first and then the trial.”

Continued Thompson, “In the next couple of weeks we will reveal startling facts tracing the impetus for this prosecution to the highest levels of military and civilian command.”

Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani is charged with “dereliction of duty” and “orders” violations stemming from the terrorist attack in the once insurgent-laden town of Haditha, Iraq on November 19, 2005.  At the time, Chessani was battalion commander of the Third Battalion, First Marine Regiment – one of the most decorated battalions in our nation’s history.  This battle cost the Marines fourteen casualties – including one Marine killed-in-action.  The insurgents, hiding amongst women and children in civilian homes, caused the death of fifteen civilians as the Marines fought back.

Months before the investigation was completed, Congressman Murtha made the rounds on TV news programs claiming there was no firefight in Haditha on November 19, 2005, and that the Marines killed innocent Iraqi civilians in “cold blood” and officers “covered it up.” Murtha publicly stated he received his information from the highest levels of the Marine Command – this statement in itself is enough to cause a dismissal of the charges because of undue command influence.

Congressman Murtha holds significant influence over military appropriations and in the past has boasted he can get the Pentagon to do what he wants.

Murtha is the same person caught on tape negotiating bribes with Arab Sheiks during the FBI’s 1980 Abscam investigation – he was an un-indicted coconspirator in that case.  Clearly, the Haditha incident provided ammunition for his well known anti-war stance.    

Murtha also has ties to Navy Secretary Donald Winters.  Winters had over 65 NCIS investigators assigned to investigate Lt. Col. Chessani and the Marines charged in the case.  The NCIS Director claimed that to be the highest number of investigators assigned to an investigation in the history of the NCIS.

Hearings on the motions ruled on by Colonel Folsom were held February 20, 2008, and Thursday, February 21, 2008.  Law Center attorney Rob Muise and detailed military defense counsel Lt. Colonel John Shelbourne, USMC, presented oral arguments on the five motions at Camp Pendleton, California.

Lt. Col. Chessani, one of America’s most effective combat commanders in Iraq, now faces dismissal (an officer’s equivalent of a dishonorable discharge), loss of retirement, and imprisonment of up to 3 years. 

The actual court-martial trial is scheduled to begin April 28, 2008.

Thompson, concluded, “We remain undaunted despite these latest rulings.  We will continue to vigorously defend Lt. Col. Chessani against this politically-driven prosecution.  At least one more motion hearing is scheduled in April, and we intend to file several more motions that will be argued during that time.” 

The Thomas More Law Center defends and promotes the religious freedom of Christians, time-honored family values, and the sanctity of human life through litigation, education, and related activities.  It does not charge for its services.  The Law Center is supported by contributions from individuals, corporations and foundations, and is recognized by the IRS as a section 501(c)(3) organization.  You may reach the Thomas More Law Center at (734) 827-2001 or visit our website at www.thomasmore.org.

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