Government Appeals Haditha Dismissa

by Nathaniel R. Helms | July 29, 2008


Marine Corps prosecutors have asked a military appeals court to reverse a lower court decision to dismiss criminal charges against the highest ranking officer to face criminal charges in the so-called ‘Haditha Massacre’ affair.

The incident occurred on November 19, 2005 at Haditha, Iraq after one Marine was killed and two others from a squad of 12 infantrymen were wounded by a remotely detonated roadside bomb. During the Marines counterattack against the hidden assailants 24 Iraqis, including 15 civilians, were killed in the cross-fire.

The government seeks to reinstate criminal charges of dereliction of duty and orders violations against Lt. Col Jeffrey Chessani, the veteran infantry officer in command at the time. Prosecutors had until midnight Monday to file their appeal with the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., according to civilian defense attorney Brian Rooney.

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The Marine Corps has not yet responded to a Defend Our Marines inquiry regarding the basis of the government’s appeal.

However, lawyers familiar with the case opined that the government has claimed that the military judge erred when he shifted the burden of proof from the defense to the government to prove that unlawful command influence was not a factor in deciding to prosecute the career Marine from Rangely, Colorado.

Rooney said Monday that Chessani’s joint military-civilian defense team will take the “unusual step” of asking for permission to make oral arguments in front of the appeals court before it rules on the government’s motion. He expects it will take three to six months for the court to rule on the defense request.

On June 17, Military Judge Colonel Steven Folsom dismissed all charges against Chessani without prejudice. He ruled that Gen. James N. Mattis, the convening authority and final arbiter in Chessani’s case, was unlawfully influenced by Col John Ewers, a Marine lawyer who investigated the Haditha incident.

Mattis testified on June 2 that he never discussed Chessani’s fate with Ewers after the career Marine lawyer was appointed the Staff Judge Advocate of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Pendleton while he was deciding whether or not to prosecute Chessani. Ewers and Mattis have a long, close professional relationship.

Ewers testified that he attended numerous, closed-session meetings in which LtCol Chessani’s case was discussed with other lawyers of lesser rank and stature. The defense convinced Folsom that Ewers presence during the discussions unlawfully influenced Mattis to bring criminal charges against the former commander of 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines. 


Nathaniel R. HelmsDefend Our Marines
29 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).