By SOF Editor on Fri, 12/11/2009 - 11:38am
This morning, at approximately 9:00am Pacific Standard Time, Thomas More Law Center attorney Robert Muise will make closing arguments to the Board of Inquiry on behalf of Marine LtCol Jeffrey Chessani. This is the final opportunity for Muise, a former Marine Infantry officer himself, to thwart the efforts of the government to destroy the 22-year career of Marine LtCol Jeffrey Chessani, one of America’s most effective combat commanders in Iraq.
It is expected the Board will render its decision today, as well.
One of the challenges Muise faces is to overcome the failed defense attempt to disqualify the Board President, Brigadier General Lewis Craparotta. During pre-Hearing questioning, BGen Craparotta indicated that “investigating every (civilian) death is the right approach because that’s the way to protect Marines.” Defense attorney, LtCol Shelburne, challenged the fact he was selected to sit on the Board of Inquiry with that pre-existing opinion of what to do in a similar situation faced by LtCol Chessani.
The prosecution of LtCol Chessani is one of the most controversial and politically tainted prosecutions in recent American military history. According to Richard Thompson, President and Chief Counsel of the Thomas More Law Center, “This case turned into a government vendetta against a patriotic Marine combat officer who loyally served his country and the Corps for over 22 years.”
After Muise’s closing argument, the Board will retire to determine whether LtCol Chessani was guilty of any misconduct for his alleged failure to properly investigate and report on the November 19, 2005 Haditha incident where several Iraqi civilians died as a result of house clearing actions taken by four ambushed Marines in Chessani’s battalion.
>From the beginning of the case, it has been the Law Center’s position that LtCol Chessani was made a political scapegoat to appease powerful anti-war Congressman, John Murtha, who claimed even before the investigation was completed, that Marines were guilty of “cold-blooded” murder and Marine officers were guilty of a “cover-up”.
Ironically, Chessani’s battlefield conclusions have been borne out by the results of criminal prosecutions pursued by the government. The government conducted a multi-million dollar investigation, considered the largest in the history of the NCIS. It created a special team of government lawyers tasked with the prosecutions, of the eight Marines initially charged in the incident. Yet of the eight marines charged, seven including Chessani, have had their charges dismissed. Only one Marine still faces criminal charges.
LtCol Chessani’s case was originally dismissed by a military judge on the grounds of unlawful command influence. The government appealed that ruling to a 3-judge panel of the Navy-Marine Court of Criminal Appeals sitting in Washington DC. The appeals court sustained the lower court ruling.
Rather than end its persecution of Lt Col Chessani, the Government commanded he face a Board of Inquiry. LtCol Chessani is the only Marine ordered to face a Board of Inquiry over the Haditha incident after the charges have been dismissed.
A Board of Inquiry is an administrative board where the rules of evidence do not apply. Evidence that would likely be thrown out in a criminal proceeding may be considered by the Board. The government’s burden of proof is lessened. Rather than having to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt, the government only has to prove “misconduct” by a preponderance of evidence.
If the Board finds “misconduct, ” then they will further determine if LtCol Chessani should be forced to retire or not. If the Board determines LtCol Chessani should retire, then the Board must also determine if he should retire as a Lieutenant Colonel, or as a Major.
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 indisputable evidence shows that LtCol Chessani immediately reported the deaths of the 15 civilian Iraqis to his superiors.
Not one of his 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 that 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.