IRAQ: Haditha case attorneys feel case may be dropped
Attorneys for Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani, the final officer facing charges for the 2005 killing of 24 Iraqis in Haditha, believe they may be on the verge of having his case dismissed.
It's risky business, of course, trying to guess what's in a judge's mind, in the civilian or military system.
But Chessani's lawyers think the military judge, Col. Steven Folsom, may have signaled that he plans to grant the defense motion to dismiss the case because of undue command influence.
Initially, Folsom had scheduled two days in his Camp Pendleton courtroom this week to hear pretrial motions in the case.
But late last week, Folsom shifted, telling attorneys he will only deal with the undue influence motion in a session he predicted would take about an hour on Tuesday morning.
Defense attorneys assert that Gen. James Mattis, who brought the charges against Chessani and seven other Marines, was unduly influenced by anti-war politicians, the media or a Marine attorney who was involved in the initial investigation.
Mattis and the attorney, Col. John Ewers, both denied that Ewers tried to influence Mattis even though he did attend meetings with Mattis in which other Marine attorneys discussed the Haditha cases. Ewers testified that he was there to discuss cases other than Haditha.
Chessani is charged with dereliction of duty and failure to follow a direct order. While he did report the basic facts of the killings to his bosses within hours, prosecutors say he should have been more aggressive in finding out why a squad of Marines in his battalion killed 24 Iraqis after a roadside bomb had killed a Marine.
Chessani was not at the scene of the killings. He has said that from the reports he received, it appeared the killings, while tragic, were the result of "troops in contact" with the enemy and thus no further investigation was needed.
If the case against Chessani is dismissed, it would mean that seven of eight Marines initially charged by Mattis have had the charges dropped. Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, the squad leader, still faces court martial.
-- Tony Perry, in San Diego
Photo: Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani. Credit: Associated Press