ANN ARBOR, MI – Military prosecutors are expected to call as their witness General James N. Mattis, a highly respected Marine officer and one of only a handful of four-star Marine generals, to testify in the court-martial hearing against LtCol Jeffrey Chessani on June 2, 2008, at Camp Pendleton, California.
Gen Mattis, recently given his fourth star, was the previous convening authority for the Haditha cases and the officer responsible for referring LtCol Chessani’s case to a general court-martial. Prosecutors are relying on him to rebut previous findings of the Military Judge that there is evidence of unlawful command influence.
Richard Thompson, President and Chief Counsel of the Thomas More Law Center, the national public interest law firm defending LtCol Chessani, commented, “This case is dripping with double standards and political intrigue as the Pentagon attempts to appease Washington’s political establishment and press. When our defense team previously sought to take General Mattis’ sworn deposition to support our motion, we were denied. Now prosecutors, with little trouble, get to call him as their witness.”
Continued Thompson, “We all have great respect for Gen Mattis. Yet, there is irony with his involvement in this case. Gen Mattis was investigated for ordering a ground and air assault of an Iraqi ‘wedding party’ in 2004 that resulted in the deaths of 40 men, women, and children. At a press conference shortly after the incident, he defended his actions by retorting, ‘I don’t have to apologize for the conduct of my Marines.’ What is puzzling is that even though Mattis rightfully was never charged with any criminal wrongdoing in that case, he did not give LtCol Chessani the same consideration.”
The Military Judge’s previous finding of unlawful command influence shifted the burden to the prosecutors to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that: (1) the facts upon which the unlawful command influence is based are untrue; or (2) those facts do not constitute unlawful command influence; or (3) the unlawful command influence will not affect the proceedings.
The judge’s decision was based upon the evidence that the Generals who controlled the disposition of LtCol Chessani’s case, including Gen Mattis, were impermissibly influenced by Marine lawyer Col John Ewers, one of the investigators of the Haditha incident from the beginning. He was permitted to attend an estimated 25 closed-session meetings in which LtCol Chessani’s case was discussed.
Thomas More Law Center attorney Robert Muise will get an opportunity to cross examine Gen Mattis after he has testified on behalf of the prosecutors.
Thompson concluded, “Considering General Mattis’ rank, tremendous popularity in the Corps, and the widespread political implications for the Marines, both Rob and the Military Judge are facing a difficult task in the courtroom ─ to get beyond Mattis’ reputation to the stark reality that there has been a pervasive taint of unlawful command influence throughout these proceedings.”
Thomas More Law Center lawyers, along with two detailed Marine lawyers, LtCol Jon Shelburne and Captain Jeffrey King, are defending LtCol Chessani, the highest ranking military officer charged in the November 19, 2005, Haditha incident.
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