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IRAQ: Marine Corps appeals decision to dismiss charges in Haditha case

June 19, 2008 |  9:35 am

Famxxx The Marine Corps is appealing a military judge's decision to dismiss criminal charges against Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani in the killing of 24 Iraqis in Haditha in November 2005.

The judge, Col. Steven Folsom, ruled Tuesday that the case against Chessani was "tainted" by the appearance of undue influence brought on the convening authority, Gen. James N. Mattis.

The appeal was filed with the Navy-Marine Corps appeals court in Washington by the lead prosecutor, Lt. Col. Sean Sullivan, with the approval of Lt. Gen. Samuel Helland, Mattis's successor as commanding general of Marine Forces Central Command.

"This case has turned into the persecution of one of the Marines' finest combat commanders," said Richard Thompson, chief counsel of the Michigan-based Thomas More Law Center, which is representing Chessani.

Chessani, 44, is charged with dereliction of duty and failure to obey a direct order for not launching a war-crimes investigation into the killings.

Folsom ruled that Mattis erred by allowing Col. John Ewers, a Marine lawyer, to attend meetings where the Haditha prosecutions were discussed. Ewers was one of the lead investigators early in the case and most likely would be a key witness if Chessani goes to court-martial.

In its filing with the appeals court, the prosecution did not cite any basis for its appeal. Folsom had given prosecutors three days to appeal his ruling. He also permitted the Marine Corps to refile the charges although he ruled that the refiling would have to be done by a new convening authority not connected to the Marine Forces Central Command.

Chessani, who was the battalion commander, was one of four officers charged in the case. Charges against two of the four were dismissed and the third was found not guilty at trial. Four enlisted Marines were also charged; charges against three were later dismissed.

— Tony Perry in San Diego

Photo: Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani and wife, Alissa, at Camp Pendleton after Tuesday's ruling. Credit: Associated Press