ANN ARBOR, MI – The Thomas More Law Center, a national public interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, yesterday filed a federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, against the U.S. Department of State for failing to provide records in its possession concerning an insurgent attack against U.S. Marines in Haditha, Iraq on November 19, 2005.
The Law Center successfully defended Lt. Col Jeffrey Chessani, USMC, the Battalion Commander of the Marines that responded to the insurgent ambush. The criminal charges against Chessani were dismissed on the grounds of unlawful command influence.
The Law Center’s position throughout the court martial and subsequent administrative hearing was that the prosecution of Chessani and the other Marines under his command were politically motivated and spurred on by anti-war Congressman John Murtha, now deceased. All of Chessani’s superiors congratulated him for a job well done; that is, before the politicians got involved.
Of the eight Marines criminally charged, all have been exonerated thus far, but one. The remaining Marine SSgt. Frank Wuterich, is scheduled for a court marital in January 2012.
On October 29, 2009, the Law Center filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act for production of records of an investigation conducted by the Iraqi government. During a televised interview, an Iraqi official stated that her government had turned over a complete investigative file on what happened in Haditha on November 19, 2005 to the U.S. Government. The State Department has failed to comply with the request.
At the time of the battle, Chessani was commander of Third Battalion, First Marines and responsible for approximately 2,000 American and Iraqi forces. At about 7:15 in the morning of November 19, 2005, a squad of Chessani’s Marines was leading a convoy when it was ambushed by a road-side bomb and small arms fire from nearby houses. The bomb detonated under a Humvee, killing one Marine and injuring two others. An ensuing house-to-house battle between insurgents and an out-numbered 4-man Marine “fire team” resulted in the deaths of 24 Iraqis, including 15 civilians.
The decision to launch a criminal investigation of the November 19 incident was made three months after its occurrence as a result of a grossly erroneous and inflammatory Time magazine news lead, which military commanders in the field suspected was instigated by terrorist propaganda.
The political nature of the process was further reinforced when months before the investigation was completed, Congressman John Murtha, an outspoken anti-war critic and chairman of the House military appropriations subcommittee, publicly accused the four Marines of being “cold-blooded murderers” and high ranking officers of “covering it up.” Murtha is the same person caught on tape negotiating bribes with Arab Sheiks during the FBI’s 1980 Abscam investigation—he was an un-indicted coconspirator in that case.
According to news stories, higher echelon commanders were monitoring the action as it was taking place through radio traffic and remote controlled aircraft. Yet, none of these higher echelon commanders saw the need for further investigation. Loss of civilian life was considered a tragic but not uncommon occurrence in a war against insurgents who purposely placed civilians in harm’s way.