The US Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals March 17 upheld a military judge’s dismissal of the charges against Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani, the top-ranking US Marine to face court-martial in the killing of 24 Iraqis at Haditha. The court affirmed the appearance of “unlawful command influence” when a lawyer who had investigated the case sat in on meetings at which the case was discussed with the general who ultimately decided to charge Chessani.
The court cited the government’s failure to bring evidence to negate the appearance of unlawful command influence:
[A]n objective, disinterested observer, fully informed of all the facts and circumstances, would harbor significant doubt about the fairness of this proceeding. Thus, we are left to conclude that the Government has failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt there was no apparent [unlawful command influence].
Chessani, who was the commander of the battalion involved in the killings, was charged with violation of a lawful general order and dereliction of duty for failing to start a war crimes investigation.
All but one of the eight Marines initially charged in connection to the Haditha incident have either had their charges dismissed or been found not guilty. In June, US Marine Corps 1st Lt. Andrew Grayson was cleared on all counts, including charges that he ordered a subordinate officer to delete photographic evidence of the killings. The court-martial of Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich [defense website], leader of the squad implicated in the killings, was postponed indefinitely in March 2008. (Jurist, March 18)