A shadow legal body was set up by the Defense Department to manipulate the prosecutions of U.S. Marines accused of massacring Iraqi civilians in Haditha in 2005.
That’s the bombshell disclosure from the Thomas More Law Center, a national public interest law firm that is representing one of the accused Marines, Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani.
And it could prove to be the most damning piece of evidence showing the political motivations behind the ongoing prosecutions of the Haditha Marines.
“The hysteria and media firestorm over Abu Ghraib and the Pat Tillman investigations led to fear of a similar media reaction to the Haditha incident, causing the military’s civilian bosses to set up this shadow oversight body,” Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel of the Law Center, told Newsmax. “This extraordinary action politicized the military justice system and was a clear signal to top generals that they were expected to hold individuals criminally responsible. The investigation turned into a quest for a prosecution — not justice.”
The shadow legal body included the senior official or a representative from the offices of the Under Secretaries of the Army and the Navy, General Counsel to the Department of Defense, and the Staff Judge Advocate of the Marine Corps.
The Marine Corps separately set up “Legal Team Charlie” to prosecute the Haditha cases, and lawyers were brought in exclusively for the team.
According to the Law Center, the director of the Naval Criminal Investigation Service admitted that more than 65 investigators were assigned, which in his opinion was the largest investigative effort in the department’s history.
“I am deeply troubled by the fact that the desire to appease the liberal anti-war press and politicians has led to the prosecution of innocent Marines for purely political purposes,” Thompson told Newsmax.
He went on to say, “These prosecutions will become a scandal of historic proportions unless terminated by independently minded and virtuous military judges.”
As Newsmax has been reporting almost from the outset, Marines of Kilo Company are being prosecuted for their house-to-house battle to flush out ambushing insurgents on Nov. 19, 2005.
In the firefight, 15 civilians were killed. Details of the battle and the civilian deaths were dutifully reported throughout the chain of command, including top generals, and all concluded that although this was a tragic and unfortunate consequence of urban warfare, the Marines were justified in their actions.
Months later, however, a Time magazine article — later proven to be erroneous — called the deaths of the civilians a “massacre,” setting off a media firestorm and leading the military to initiate investigations.
The secretary of the Navy countermanded a determination by then Marine Lt. Gen. James Mattis that Col. Stephen Davis, Chessani’s regimental commander, “would receive a 'Non-Punitive Letter of Caution,' which would not be part of his permanent record,” according to the Law Center.
“Mattis’ decision was overridden by the Navy secretary, who ordered a 'Letter of Censure,' a more severe punishment, which effectively ended this fine Marine officer’s career. As the consolidated convening authority in all the Haditha investigations, General Mattis’ decision, under normal circumstances, would be absolute and final.”
Chessani was not personally present at the scene of the ambush in Haditha, but the Marines responding were in his battalion. Chessani is charged with “dereliction of duty” and “orders” violations.
The 20-year Marine veteran and father of six faces a maximum of three years in prison, dismissal (an officer’s equivalent of a dishonorable discharge), and the loss of his retirement benefits.
An Undue Command Influence motion has already been filed on behalf of the two combat Marines facing charges over the Haditha battle. The Law Center said it intends to file its own Undue Command Influence motion on behalf of Chessani, and promised that further startling events will be revealed at that time.
In other developments, the court-martial of one of the combat Marines, Lance Cpl. Stephen Tatum, will commence Friday, March 28. Newsmax’s Nat Helms is in California to cover the trial at Camp Pendleton.
Editor’s Note: The Michigan-based Thomas More Law Center does not charge for its services and is supported by contributions from individuals, corporations, and foundations. The Center can be reached at www.thomasmore.org.
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