Camp Pendleton-A military appeals court has rejected an attempt by the U.S. Marine Corps to reinstate war-crime charges against a Camp Pendleton officer in connection with the 2005 killings of 21 civilians in Haditha, Iraq.
The rejection increases the chances the case against Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani will never go to court- martial. He was charged with dereliction of duty for not launching a thorough investigation after Marines in his battalion killed the civilians, including women and children, in a futile hunt for insurgents.
Of eight Marines charged in the killings, one was acquitted and six, including Chessani, had charges dismissed.
A trial judge at Camp Pendleton tossed out the case against Chessani after finding that a Marine lawyer who investigated the incident had sat in on meetings with the general who ultimately levied the charges. A three-judge panel of the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Appeal agreed with the judge that the lawyer’s conduct tainted the case because it gave the appearance of undue command influence.
The Marine Corps appealed the panel’s ruling to the full nine-member court. But the court Tuesday night rejected the appeal without command.
The Marine Corps could attempt to reinstate charges against Chessani by launching a new investigation under the direction of a new convening authority, a lengthy and complex process.
If the case against Chessani is dropped, it might also lead to the dropping of charges against Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, the squad leader. Wuterich’s lawyers also have claimed undue command influence.
Richard Thompson, president of the Thomas More Law Center, which has represented Chessani, said, "This case has turned into a government vendetta against a patriotic Marine combat officer who loyally served this country for over 20 years."
— Tony Perry