Marines case against Haditha officer dropped

NCT:

The Marine Corps has dropped its pursuit of criminal charges against Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani, the highest-ranking officer accused of misconduct after 24 Iraqi civilians were slain in the city of Haditha in 2005.

Instead, Lt. Gen. George J. Flynn has decided to handle the matter administratively by appointing a three-member Board of Inquiry that will meet at Camp Pendleton this fall.

The board of Marine Corps officers will determine if Chessani should be reduced in rank if it finds he engaged in substandard performance of duty, misconduct and professional dereliction of duty.

Its finding will serve as a recommendation to the Secretary of the Navy, who will make the final decision.

At stake is Chessani's rank after he retires from the Marine Corps, a retirement that has been on hold pending a decision in the Haditha matter. Chessani's retirement pay will not be affected by any decision to reduce his rank, Marine Corps spokesman Lt. Col. Roger Galbraith said Friday.

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Former Marine Corps judge and attorney Gary Solis said convening a Board of Inquiry to decide Chessani's fate is a rare step.

"This is beyond unusual," said Solis, who teaches military law at Washington's Georgetown University. "I have never heard of a senior officer being subjected to a Board of Inquiry. My guess is that at worst he will be found to have exercised substandard judgment and be admonished."

Chessani commanded Camp Pendleton's 3rd Marine Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, at Haditha when the civilians were slain after a roadside bombing that killed one Marine and injured two others on the morning of Nov. 19, 2005.

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With Friday's announcement regarding Chessani, the only remaining defendant is Wuterich, who led his squad on a deadly chase through several homes near the bomb site.

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I am sorry to see that the Marines are going to continue to seek punishment of this officer. He is well represented and will have a vigorous defense at the proceeding, but at least he does not have a criminal proceeding hanging over him.

I suspect that the case against Wuterich will eventually have to be dropped too. I think he has the same command influence claim that led to the dismissal of charges against Chessani.

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