Evidence of firefight attack on Marines presented to judge
U.S. Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., who publicly accused the Marines of killing Iraqi civilians in "cold blood," was wrong, according to video presented as evidence at a hearing for an officer charged in the case stemming from the battle in Haditha.
"If you go back [to Murtha's description] there was no [Improvised Explosive Device], there was no firefight, it was like there was a phantom menace," said Brian Rooney, a spokesman for the The Thomas More Law Center, which is representing Marine Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani against charges in the case.
"However we have the firefight on video. You can't deny it," Rooney told WND after a two-day motions hearing in Chessani's case came to a conclusion. There was no immediate ruling on the motions presented by the defense team to the hearing officer, Col. Stephen Folsom.
On Wednesday and today, the Thomas More Law Center presented a series of five motions on behalf of Chessani, who is facing criminal charges stemming from a house-to-house, room-by-room battle that four of his Marines engaged in on Nov. 29, 2005, after being ambushed by insurgents in Haditha, Iraq.
At the time, Chessani was battalion commander of the 3rd battalion 1st Marine Regiment, one of the most decorated battalions in the nation's history.
Arguments were handled by Law Center attorney Rob Muise as well as Lt. Col. John Shelbourne, USMC, the detailed military defense counsel.
The motions included: a motion to compel the deposition of Murtha, a motion to dismiss all of the charges due to their constitutional vagueness, a motion to dismiss some of the charges because the same allegations have been charged in multiple ways, a motion to compel discovery that the government has kept from the defense because the government judged it was not relevant, and a motion for a new Article 32 hearing because the last hearing was defective.
Rooney said the most dramatic testimony came from Marine intelligence officer Maj. Jeffrey Dinsmore.
"His testimony I believe was eye-opening to the judge," Rooney told WND. He said Dinsmore told the judge about the intelligence provided to the Marines that they should expect an attack, and the video showed the attack and provided confirmation that the attack had been carried out by insurgents in Iraq.
He said Dinsmore provided to the judge the same "story board" Marine intelligence officers used to brief Chessani after the attack, which resulted in the deaths of a number of insurgents as well as 15 civilians.
Rooney said the documentation showed how the insurgents' IED exploded, killing one Marine and injuring several others, and how the Marines tracked the fleeing insurgents through several homes, eventually leading to a home Chessani ordered attacked.
"The followup showed one of the insurgents escaped, hid in a house, and Col. Chessani ordered the house surrounded. When he [the insurgent] finally came out, he was carrying a baby, with a family around him," Rooney said.
Rooney said he believes the judge understood the intent of the motions, and appeared sympathetic to the demand that Murtha testify.
"He seemed skeptical, but by the end of the hearing, he was more understanding of why we wanted to depose him," Rooney said.
"All of these motions filed by the Law Center are important in shaping the battlefield in the courtroom," said Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel of the Law Center. "Potentially, the case could be thrown out if we prevail on one or some of these motions."
Muise, who is a former Marine officer, is being joined by Rooney and Brandon Bolling, also former Marine officers, in his work on the case.
"We are scheduled for at least one more motion hearing date, but most likely there will be two more – one in March and another in April," Thompson said. "Of those two dates, we expect to file an 'unlawful command influence' motion, and a 'selective prosecution' motion, as well as several others."
Chessani is accused of dereliction of duty and "orders" violations for the battle. Besides the Marine killed by the IED, 13 other Marines were seriously wounded that day.
The insurgents were hiding among women and children in civilian homes. The case was investigated through the Marine chain of command, with no allegation of inappropriate action.
Months later, a Time magazine story, "planted by an insurgent propaganda agent," according to the law firm, raised the profile of that particular battle, prompting Murtha to make his public accusation that Marines murdered civilians in "cold blood."
The actual court-martial for Chessani is scheduled to start April 28, 2008.
Chessani, who grew up in Rangely, Colo., and graduated from the University of Northern Colorado, was one of eight originally accused in the case.
Lance Cpl. Stephen Tatum also has been ordered to be court-martialed and the case against Cpl. Andrew Grayson also remained pending, as does the case against Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, although the charges against him were reduced.
Two other officers, Capts. Randy Stone and Lucas McConnell, have had their charges dismissed. Charges against Sgt. Sanick P. Dela Cruz also were dismissed, as were charges against Lance Cpl. Justin Sharratt.
"We have the absurd situation of Lt. Col. Chessani being charged with failing to report and investigate a crime that never occurred," said Thompson. "Every American should be outraged at the way this dedicated Marine and his family are being treated by the nation he so loyally defended."
Multiple later investigations have revealed no wrong-doing by Chessani, a 20-year Marine officer who served in the Panama Invasion, the Persian Gulf War and three tours in Iraq, the law center said.
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