Major Setback for Prosecutors in Chessani Court Martial; Military Judge Finds Evidence of Unlawful Command Influence
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Chessani Case – Shelbourn, Muise, Chessani, RooneyANN ARBOR, MI – Prosecutors yesterday hit a major speed bump in their rush to convict Marine LtCol Jeffrey Chessani when the Military Judge ruled that he found evidence of unlawful command influence. Courts consider unlawful command influence the “mortal enemy of military justice.”
Although the case is far from over, yesterday’s ruling now forces prosecutors to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that: (1) the facts upon which the unlawful command influence is based are untrue; (2) those facts do not constitute unlawful command influence; or (3) the unlawful command influence will not affect the proceedings.
The Unlawful Command Influence motion (click here for Motion) was brought before Military Judge, Colonel Steven Folsom, by the Thomas More Law Center, a national public interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Law Center attorneys Robert Muise and Brian Rooney, both former Marines, wrote and argued the Unlawful Command Influence motion on which yesterday’s decision is based.
Richard Thompson, President and Chief Counsel of the Thomas More Law Center, commented, “Considering the politically charged nature of this case – and particularly this motion – Colonel Folsom made a courageous decision.”
Thompson went on to say, “The taint of unlawful command influence started from the inception of the investigation, when high-ranking Pentagon officials decided to make LtCol Chessani a political scapegoat to appease a liberal anti-war press and politicians. This ill-conceived prosecution has resulted in the removal of one of America’s most effective combat commanders in Iraq by the Marine Corps’ own standards. Although nothing can undo the harm caused to our Nation and to LtCol Chessani and his family, this ruling gives us hope that the military justice system will rise above the politics that fomented this prosecution and allow LtCol Chessani, who devoted more than 20 years to the Marine Corps and to the defense of our Nation, to get on with his life.”
Colonel Folsom found that the defense met its burden of presenting “some evidence” of actual and apparent unlawful command influence. His decision was based upon the evidence that the Generals who controlled the disposition of the case were apparently or actually impermissibly influenced by Marine lawyer Colonel John Ewers, who was permitted to attend numerous, closed-session meetings in which LtCol Chessani’s case was discussed.
Colonel Ewers was one of the investigators of the Haditha incident from the beginning. He is a witness that the prosecutors plan to call in its case against LtCol Chessani. Consequently, he should not have been involved in any of the meetings in which the disposition of the Haditha cases was discussed with the Generals who convened the court martial. During the hearing, the defense called Col Ewers as a witness. Col Ewers admitted that he was present during at least 25 meetings in which LtCol Chessani’s case and the other Haditha cases were discussed with the Generals and other legal advisors.
The criminal charges against LtCol Chessani stem from a house-to-house, room-by-room battle four of his enlisted Marines engaged in on November 19, 2005, after being ambushed by insurgents in the town of Haditha, Iraq. Even though LtCol Chessani promptly reported the events of that day to his superiors, including the deaths of 15 noncombatant civilians caught in the battle, nobody in LtCol Chessani’s chain of command believed there was any wrongdoing on behalf of the Marines.
However, months later, a Time magazine story planted by an insurgent propaganda agent, caused Pentagon officials to order the largest investigation in the history of the Naval Criminal Investigative Services (NCIS). As a result, LtCol 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.
Thus far, after 30 months of investigation costing millions of dollars, the cases against three of the four enlisted men charged for their part in the Haditha incident have been dismissed.
The Law Center, along with two detailed Marine lawyers, LtCol Jon Shelburne and Captain Jeffrey King, is defending LtCol Chessani, the highest ranking military officer charged in the November 19, 2005, Haditha incident.
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 http://www.thomasmore.org.