The U.S. Marine Corps, in its wisdom, has seen fit to acquit one of its most heroic officers of charges of dereliction of duties while slapping him on the wrist for what amounts to the equivalent of the offense of spitting on the sidewalk.
What the corps' legal establishment is saying is that Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani didn't do what he was charged with doing, or not doing, but he shouldn't have done it anyway.
Confused? So am I.
Chessani's case is the next to the last in a string of highly publicized charges and prosecutions arising out of the aftermath of an insurgent ambush in Haditha, Iraq, on Nov. 19th, 2005, that killed one Marine and wounded another 11, as well as killing 25 Iraqi civilians and a large number of insurgents.
Significantly, in every instance except one in which the case drags on, the charges either have been dropped, or, in one case that led to a court martial, disproved.
This has been a long, drawn-out politically charged witch hunt that, for all intents and purposes, has left the Marine Corps with egg splattered all over its face. The famed Devil Dogs came out looking like a pack of whipped curs their civilian masters have released in their desperation to soothe the pain of the Iraqi government — on whose behalf, it should be noted, a lot of Marines and other American warriors had given their lives.
The media and their anti-war allies largely ignore the situation on the day of what they wantonly describe as a "massacre." Instead of being the isolated incident that the media and Rep. John Murtha have fixated upon, the deaths of those civilians took place in the midst of a day-long battle with heavily armed Syrian insurgents all across the city.
Chessani was somewhat busy doing his job as the commander of troops in a hard-fought battle throughout the city. Occupied as he was with his duties as the senior officer, he was nowhere near the scene of the action that resulted in the civilian deaths.
In the aftermath, he was informed of the killings and reported the incident up the chain of command. Nobody — not a single senior officer informed of the incident — considered it anything other than a tragic result of the armed conflict that took place that day.
There was no attempt to cover up the fact that civilians had been killed. In the cold hard terms employed in combat situations, the deaths were seen as collateral damage: tragic, yes, but the deadly toll exacted in shooting wars. Five of the dead were young Iraqi men killed when they emerged from a taxi and attempted to flee. The others were in several houses and some of them were armed insurgents who died in shootouts.
As the Thomas More Law Center, which defended Chessani, reported, "Not one of Lt. Col. Chessani's’s superiors — including top generals — who received his report of dead civilians considered such deaths unusual. Not one ordered a further investigation. Instead, they commended him for a job well done. In fact, Lt. Col. Chessani’s immediate superior told him that no investigation was needed because it was a bona fide combat action — consistent with the 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."
Moreover, Chessani’s commanding general, Maj. Gen. Huck, reported up the chain of command, “I support our account and do not see the necessity for further investigation.”
Huck was allowed to retire as a major general without going to a board of inquiry.
Much of what happened that day remained enshrouded in the fog of war. Chessani was told of the incident, reported it to his superiors, none of whom regarded it as anything other than an unfortunate result of the combat in the city that day.
Months later, a magazine story based on accounts from two known insurgent propagandists portrayed the civilian deaths as nothing short of an atrocity, the alleged result of reprisals against Iraqi civilians for the death of a fellow Marine killed at the outset of an insurgent ambush.
As Chessani's intelligence officer testified at the hearing, it was known to him and reported to his superiors, that there would be an insurgent ambush in the city that day. It took place as he predicted, and everything that happened resulted from an ambush by insurgents that hid themselves amidst civilians.
Chessani, a devout Christian and father of seven and one of the Marine Corps' finest and most courageous combat commanders, was treated as a scapegoat by his government, which chose to mollify the Iraqi government and a host of anti-war media critics.
As Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Law Center, put it, “It’s indicative of the weakness of the government’s case that it could not prove misconduct at the board hearing where the normal rules of evidence didn’t apply and the burden of proof was lessened. We are all greatly relieved that the board ruled Lt. Col. Chessani was not guilty of misconduct and should not be demoted. However, I believe the overwhelming evidence supported a total and complete exoneration of Lt. Col. Chessani.”
Thank you, Jeffrey Chessani, Marine. You deserved far better than what you got from the corps you loved and served so well. You may have been their fall guy, but in the eyes of this Marine and all our fellow jarheads, you are our hero.
Phil Brennan writes for Newsmax.com. He is editor and publisher of Wednesday on the Web (http://www.pvbr.com) and was Washington columnist (Cato) for National Review magazine in the 1960s. He is a trustee of the Lincoln Heritage Institute and a member of the Association for Intelligence Officers. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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