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LtCol. Chessani's BOI Continues - Marine Officers Substantiate his Innocence

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There was some good news in yesterday’s Board of Inquiry hearing taking place at Camp Pendleton, California.  Despite the obvious bias of their high command, “stand-up” Marine officers, Majors Jeffrey Dinsmore and Luke McConnell, in strong and unequivocatestimony, substantiated LtCol Chessani’s innocence.

Today, a long line of “stand up” field grade officers and enlisted men who served with LtCol Chessani are expected to testify as to his outstanding military character.

Major Jeffrey Dinsmore was LtCol Chessani’s intelligence officer.  He has served as an active-duty Marine for over 23 years.  In yesterday’s testimony, he informed Board members of the complexity of the daylong engagement in Haditha on November 19, 2005. He also informed the Board his intelligence assessment before November 19, 2005 indicated Marines were going to be attacked in Hadtiha that day.  Follow-on intelligence after November 19, 2005 confirmed to Major Dinsmore and LtCol Chessani that the attack on November 19, 2005 was one they were expecting from foreign fighters—namely Syrians.

Next to testify, was Major Luke McConnell, company commander of the Marines originally charged in the case.  He explained to Board members that he spoke to his Marines, as their commanding officer, during and after the engagement.  He personally fought in the engagement.  He confirmed his company was in a daylong battle with insurgents.  He also went to where the Marines entered homes to clear out insurgents.  Major McConnell was briefed by Lieutenant Kallop, the units platoon leader, that he ordered the Marines to clear the homes of insurgents and unfortunately there were civilians killed as collateral damage. 

Major McConnell testified that all the Marines he spoke to that day confirmed in his mind the Marines were doing the right thing.  Major McConnell testified LtCol Chessani came to Major McConnell’s battle space to be debriefed by him.  LtCol Chessani and Major McConnell toured the battle space together and spoke about the days events.  Several times after November 19, 2005 Major McConnell and LtCol Chessani spoke about the Marines actions in great detail.

The bad news, as predicted, the government, in its efforts to disgrace and destroy LtCol Chessani, has consistently ignored the rules of fundamental fairness by introducing tainted evidence from other cases that had nothing to do with the allegations against LtCol Chessani, and which would never be allowed in court-martial proceedings.

Part of the evidence the government recently introduced is forensic reconstruction of where the Marines assaulted through residential structures from which they were fired upon.  These Marines include Lance Corporals Tatum and Sharratt, who have since been exonerated.  This evidence was refuted at earlier hearings.  

Furthermore, the government was allowed to introduce evidence clearly not relevant to whether LtCol Chessani was substandard in performance of duty or willfully negligent in not accurately reporting the day of the battle (November 19, 2005).  Much of the problematic evidence being placed on the record comes from the enlisted Marines’ cases, which do not involve issues before this board.  The most egregious evidence allowed has been pictures of dead civilians that LtCol Chessani never saw, meant only to inflame the Board members— including giant, poster size blow-ups of the dead.

Tomorrow the board will hear closing arguments.

The Thomas More Law Center, a national public interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, has been defending LtCol Chessani at no charge.  The Law Center’s attorneys, Robert Muise and Brian Rooney, both former Marine officers, have teamed up with the detailed military attorneys, LtCol Jon Shelburne, USMC, and Capt Jeffrey King, USMC.

The misconduct allegations against LtCol Chessani claim he failed to properly report and investigate the November 19, 2005 Haditha incident.  However, the indisputable evidence proves LtCol Chessani immediately reported the deaths of the 15 civilian Iraqis to his superiors. 

Not one of his Marine superiors hearing of the civilian deaths ─ including top generals ─ considered it unusual.  Not one ordered a further investigation.  Instead, they commended him for a job well done.  In fact, LtCol Chessani’s immediate superior told him no investigation was needed because it was a bona fide combat action ─ consistent with orders in effect at the time: no investigation of civilian deaths related to combat action.  That order was changed in April, 2006, well after the Haditha incident.

LtCol Chessani’s commanding general, Major General Huck, reported up the chain of command, “I support our account and do not see the necessity for further investigation.”  This same commanding General was allowed to retire without going to a Board of Inquiry, and he was allowed to retire as a Major General.

Consequently, not one of LtCol Chessani’s superiors faced, nor will they ever face, a court-martial or a Board of Inquiry for their actions in relation to November 19, 2005. 

Of the eight Marines initially charged in the incident, six Marines, including Chessani, had criminal charges dismissed and one was acquitted.  Only one Marine still faces criminal charges.