Prosecutors Back To Court

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.

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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 a press release issued Wednesday by the Thomas More Law Center representing Chessani.  

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 it takes.”

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 said.

“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 evidence.


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).

© Nathaniel R. Helms 2008