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Jun-19-2008 17:56printcomments

Acquittal of Another Haditha Marine Shows Overzealous Intent of Murtha and Military Prosecutors

Is John Murtha trapped in a time warp?

Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Chessani and U.S. Congressman John Murtha; two Marines from two completely different wars.
Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Chessani and U.S. Congressman John Murtha; two Marines from two completely different wars.

(SALEM, Ore.) - We sure have come a long way since the dark days of the Vietnam War, or have we? Many blame the current administration for what is wrong with our nation today; the crumbling economy, thousands of war dead and mounting tens of thousands of injured, and one of the biggest criticisms is that we as a nation, failed to learn the lessons gained during that bitter war in SE Asia waged from '64 to '75.

The even bigger truth, may be that while we did not learn many lessons from that war, we also have failed to recognize the vast and stark differences between the people who fought in Vietnam and today's American combat forces.

As we learn in the case of U.S. Congressman John Murtha and Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Chessani, a Marine officer acquitted this week of charges relating to a battle in Haditha, Iraq between U.S. Marines and insurgents November 19th 2005, the less-than-great aspects of Vietnam era thinking are almost poison in today's world.

It is hard to understand why a former Marine and Purple Heart wearing combat vet like Murtha would choose to lead the charge against fellow Marines in Iraq on war crimes, but that has been going on for some time. It is his job as a Congressman to uphold the law, but a review of this case can lead to a conclusion that the Marines are the medium and Murtha's real objections are against George W. Bush. Once again Marines, even Marine officers, are not immune from the politics of a system that relies on them greatly to serve their nation in combat, and then cuts them to the ground in an instant over weak evidence that should have received far more consideration.

To begin with, Murtha voted for the resolution on October 10th 2002 that authorized the use of force against Iraq. That means John Murtha has plenty of blood on his own hands.

It is a popular theory that House Democrats are not supporting an Impeachment effort against Bush led by Dennis Kucinich, because they are simply too closely tied to Bush's team and his early ambitions to be a "war president." Murtha wears that responsibility too.

This week, when a U.S. military court judge threw out the charges against the officer whose Marines were caught in a bloody firefight with insurgents in 2005 in Haditha, Iraq, it demonstrated that Murtha's drive to investigate these Marines and destroy their careers in the process, may have been overzealous in every respect.

That decision to drop the charges against Chessani, came from military judge, Colonel Steven Folsom. Jeffrey Chessani was defended by attorneys from the Thomas More Law Center who said their client faced unlawful command influence. They confirmed that an "investigator" in the case also met dozens of times with commanders who were steering and deciding the course of the prosecution.

Colonel Folsom's ruling this week dismissed the charges without prejudice. That means prosecutors could restart the case. Associated Press reports however, indicate that the Marine Forces Central Command won't be involved if that happens.

After being presented with evidence, the judge in the case concluded that two generals who controlled Chessani's case were influenced by a Marine lawyer named Colonel John Ewers, who was an investigator assigned to the case. Ewers attended at least 25 closed-session meetings that were held to discuss Chessani's case.

Charges were launched against the officer and seven other Marines after Murtha, a Democratic Congressman from Pennsylvania, publicly accused service members of being murderers.

Murtha responded after a magazine article that was fairly indicting of the Marines, saying "It's much worse than reported in Time magazine. There was no fire fight. There was no IED that killed these innocent people. Our troops overreacted because of the pressure on them and they killed innocent civilians in cold blood. And that's what the report is going to tell."

In a press release issued in May, Murtha said, "I am a Vietnam combat veteran. I understand full well the type of situation those Marines were in."

That seems very assumptive. As much as I love and respect my friends and countrymen who served in Vietnam, they were serving in a military during a time of draft and major drug abuse. Alcohol was available for most as were prostitutes and other "opportunities" that are not found in a conservative Muslim world. Vietnam witnessed events like My Lai and Son Thang that were complete and total bloodbaths involving the mass murder of civilians. Even Bob Kerry, a Vietnam vet who was the Democratic Governor of Nebraska from 1983 to 1987 and a U.S. Senator from Nebraska between 1989 and 2001, was involved in the cold blooded murder of civilians in Vietnam as CBS reported a few years ago. He earned plenty of medals on that mission.

Most Vietnam veterans were not criminals. Most were good, honorable people. But the ratio of poorly disciplined and motivated servicemen was much, much higher then. The young people serving in Iraq and Afghanistan today are graduates of the DARE program and the "War on Drugs" was the first campaign in their lives. They are more self-absorbed and they have the Internet and high technology media to stay busy with. Things in the late 60's were very different indeed.

I don't conjure these thoughts from the air. I have reported from the war in Afghanistan where I knew soldiers who had served in Vietnam and were still pulling combat touts in 2006 and 2007. I joined the Marine Corps for three years in 1981 and served at a number of west coast bases with Marines who had fought in Vietnam. Most were just in their early 30's at that point. There have always been highly disciplined military troops in the U.S., but today's all volunteer force is a serious one and they may not like the President or the war, but they serve with a great amount of honor. It seems that Murtha may not completely understand how different the dynamics of these wars really are.

In fact military prosecutions are greatly in question these days, as we reported in a recent series: Pendleton 8 Exposed - The Real Story, Part 1 and in many other articles in recent years. Several prominent military veterans in touch with our news organization have out and out horror stories about the military justice system and the UCMJ, the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The system is not set up to support the individual, and it is quick to accuse and investigate allegations that in some cases, originate from very dubious sources, some even say propaganda from the enemies has led to charges against Marines.

If a member of our military commits a war crime, that is inexcusable. It seems important however to carefully delineate and to know the facts of the case. It seems apparent that the U.S. military system is more than willing to bend or break the rules in order to meet its goals.

Murtha said in regard to this that he talked to commanders and the brass at the Pentagon, and soldiers at Walter Reed. That is where he is apparently getting the majority of the information. He stated, "I am acutely aware of the type of situation those Marines were in." At this point it seems nearly impossible that Murtha really understood what the Marines went through that day.

His statement that he "understand(s) the fog of war and the confusion of battle" seems outdated at best. Instead, Murtha seems most intent on the enforcement of the UCMJ and not much else.

"The United States of America has never condoned, nor should it ever condone, indiscriminate, deliberate killing of civilians. When we do that, we become no better than the enemy we are trying to eradicate."

It seems that the Marines at Haditha that day were not guilty as charged. Whether or not the military is able to hang the matter on one "scapegoat" named Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich, remains to be seen. Again, when compared to the most famous "scapegoat" of the Vietnam War, Army Lieutenant William Calley, who oversaw the mass murder of at least 400 Vietnamese women and children at My Lai, we are dealing with an entirely different war and set of circumstances.

According to reports, the November 19th 2005 firefight ended with two dozen Iraqi deaths and 14 Marine casualties including one KIA. Prosecutors said the Marines were attacked with the use of a bomb, and that a Marine named Frank Wuterich along with another Marine, shot five men at the scene. The prosecutors said that Wuterich then ordered his men into nearby houses where more Iraqis were killed in the ensuing firefight.

But the defense council tells a different story; one that involves the insurgents deliberately attacking the Marines from hiding places where they were surrounded with civilians to use as shields. One component of the Iraq war consistent with Vietnam, is the willingness of enemy to kill their own civilians.

Eight Marines would eventually be charged in the incident, but the cases against Lance Corporals Stephen Tatum and Justin Sharratt, Captains Randy Stone and Lucas McConnell and Sergeant Sanick P. Dela Cruz were dropped.

Charges against Andrew Grayson (see: Marine Officer Found Not Guilty Over Alleged Role in Haditha Killings) were dropped as the counts against Chessani were this week, leaving only Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich's case pending. In the case, the enlisted Marines had been charged with murder and the officers were charged with failing to investigate the deaths.

The Thomas More Law Center said to one source that the "officers involved in the firefight handled its aftermath according to military protocol." "Even though Lieutenant Colonel Chessani promptly reported the events of that day to his superiors, including the deaths of 15 noncombatant civilians caught in the battle, nobody in Lieutenant Colonel Chessani’s chain of command believed there was any wrongdoing on behalf of the Marines," the law firm stated.

For his role, Murtha told reporters that, "All the information I get, it comes from the commanders, it comes from people who know what they're talking about."

But Wikipedia reports that on August 4th 2006, a Marine Corps spokesman was quoted, saying Murtha was not briefed until a week after his accusation of murder "in cold blood."

Critics contend that the charges are a vendetta against U.S. Marines that developed after Murtha's public condemnation of the troops before the conclusion of the investigation.

The law firm representing the men says information "planted by an insurgent propaganda agent," caused the Pentagon officials to launch the initial investigation.

It seems Murtha pushed these Marines out of a combat zone where they were effective tools in the fight against insurgents, and into the fire of an unfair military judicial system hungry to devour its own. He stated, "I believe that the case should and will be fully investigated and that the Marines involved will be treated fairly by the military justice system."

Many Marines will tell you there is no fairness in the military judicial process, or that it is limited and that it changes from case to case and depends greatly on the prosecutor. When one Marine after another is acquitted of such serious charges, it clearly shows that the system is wasting time and money and trashing lives. The system thankfully in this case, worked out in the end, for all but one so far. This kind of reckless legal work is happening time and time again specifically toward Marines serving in Iraq. It seems their country is placing demands on them that are very hard to meet.


Tim King is a former U.S. Marine with twenty years of experience on the west coast as a television news producer, photojournalist, reporter and assignment editor. Today, in addition to his role as a war correspondent in Afghanistan where he spent the winter of 2006/07, this Los Angeles native serves as Salem-News.com's Executive News Editor. Salem-News.com is the nation's only truly independent high traffic news Website, affiliated with Google News and several other major search engines and news aggregators. Tim's coverage from Iraq that was set to begin in April has been delayed and may not take place until August, 2008. You can send Tim an email at this address: newsroom@salem-news.com

Comments Leave a comment on this story.

All comments and messages are approved by people and self promotional links or unacceptable comments are denied.

Lank Bodkins June 24, 2008 1:06 pm (Pacific time)

Tim, there's no need for an apology from a right on American. Salem-News Bravo Zulu! Stay cool.

Lank, you make my day brother, I felt like a heel either way, but that, really.  Tim 

Vic June 24, 2008 10:00 am (Pacific time)

I apologize to the staff of S-N for this. I was wrong to react the way I did, which is why I immediately followed up with my admission of "stupid male posturing". If anyone tries to kill me or "snaps on me" , I imagine I would react the same way, be they Marines or midgets...fight back. If that isnt good enough, then file your complaint. Again, I am sorry for bringing this down on S-N and will watch what I say more carefully.

Ronan June 24, 2008 8:46 am (Pacific time)

Marines do not worry about ankle-biters. I certainly don't see the big deal here, so ignore the threat, there was an apology and maybe she learned something?

Lank Bodkins June 24, 2008 1:22 am (Pacific time)

Tim, I am NOT the poster called Disabled Veteran, so I am not "turning any one in". Re-read the posts, the poster Vic is the only one making any kind of absurd comments. My comment to him was merely to "shove off". In fact, I don't even see any comments by him threatening any servicemembers, just the rant of a moonbat, so this Disabled Veteran poster is talking about something that didn't even occur. WTF over?

Tim King to Lank Bodkins: Sorry, I will go back and look at that again, I did not address that the right way and now I owe you an apology.  Geez, that was a big mistake on my part.  Standing corrected, that was a bad mistake on my part, I feel dyslexic, sorry Lank.

Tim King June 23, 2008 8:56 pm (Pacific time)

I approved the last comment, and I ask that we all take a deep breath. People push each other into saying things they regret.  Lank, you are "turning us in" are you? And you're accusing me of "aiding and abetting"? I don't like that one bit.  You want to try to "take us out" or what buddy?  We are all veterans here and I think that is really over the top.  In case you didn't notice, you threatened Vic first,  I'm not sticking up for Vic because he was wrong as so was our staff member for approving it.  I hope everyone around here is just overreacting a bit.  But I do not like people that try to bring heat down on our news site just because something gets out of hand; I do not recall approving that comment of Vic's and I am going to remove it. I wrote this story and it is all about emotional reactions.  We are already on the short list at the AG's Office over our stories on Coral Theill, the domestic abuse survivor from Polk County.   You "turning us in" is just what I need in trying to keep this courageous veteran-advocate news Website in operation. 

I think I read loud and clear that even the tiny number of Marine veteran journalists in the world trying to report on events here and at war, myself included on that list, are "in danger" from fellow Americans like you?   That's real heartening.  Maybe advocating for Americans and allowing people to vent their minds is bad in your book, but it isn't bad in mine.  

Disabled Veteran June 23, 2008 6:25 pm (Pacific time)

Threatening to kill someone, especially a member of our military, I consider a criminal act. We will be filing a criminal complaint and it's my hope the individual making this criminal threat and those who have aided and abetted this filthy creep with this threat will be held to account. cc: Oregonian Reister-Guard Statesman Journal Oregon Attorney Gen. AL, VFW, DAV Oregon Nat. Guard Etc.

Lank Bodkins June 23, 2008 12:33 am (Pacific time)

Vic.....forget the coffee, just get a new tinfoil hat. What's that address....the county mental health facility?

Vic June 22, 2008 8:55 am (Pacific time)

OK , my last comment was stupid male posturing....perhaps I should consider decaffeinated coffee...

Brian June 21, 2008 5:49 pm (Pacific time)

Maybe we should allow the World Court in the Hague do all future trials for our military?

Lank Bodkins June 21, 2008 3:11 pm (Pacific time)

Vic....when "this starts happening here" I hope it's a Marine who 'snaps in' on you! Shove off, yardbird.

Vic June 21, 2008 8:03 am (Pacific time)

Yeah "Lank" ...I bet those crazy A-rabs killed themselves just so that our brave Marines would look bad. Not a shred of evidence? Who shot these people at close range? You apologists make me sick.....wait until this starts happening here...how many murdered girlfriends, wives , kids and people who just happened to piss off these sociopathic killers will we have in our country? I am not saying all Marines are sociopathic killers, but isnt that what they are trained to be? Isnt that what they sign up to be?

Lank Bodkins June 20, 2008 9:06 pm (Pacific time)

I think Murtha should get sued for slandering these eight Marines. Without a shred of evidence, he denounced these men in the court of public opinion as cold blooded murderers on the baseless testimony of a terrorist sympathizer. Murtha has spent over thirty years lapping at the public trough, the self-described King of Pork has a lot of nerve slagging off our Marines without anything to back it up.

Vic June 19, 2008 10:04 pm (Pacific time)

I appreciate your viewpoint, Tim...I do not mean to offend anyone.

Vic, I absolutely don't mean to be offensive either, thank you very much.  It is important to call what you see, I do respect that for sure, talk to you soon.


Vic June 19, 2008 8:57 pm (Pacific time)

"Five Iraqi men, a taxi driver and four teenagers, were ordered out of their car and shot dead in the street principally by Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich. After their deaths, Lt. William T. Kallop, according to his statements to investigators, arrived on the scene. Kallop and others report receiving small-arms fire, which they attributed to a nearby house. Kallop gave the order "to take the house." Nineteen of those killed were in three adjacent houses which U.S. Marines entered, throwing in grenades and shooting with automatic rifles. According to Kallop,

"The Marines cleared it the way they had been trained to clear it, which is frags first. … It was clear just by the looks of the room that frags went in and then the house was prepped and sprayed like with a machine gun and then they went in. And by the looks of it, they just . . . they went in, cleared the room, everybody was down."[20]
That is cold blooded murder. Among the "two dozen Iraqis" killed were seven children..girls aged 1-3-5-10 and 14 and two boys aged 8 and 4. One 76 year old man received nine rounds in his chest and head. This is from the court hearings...I can provide names, but who cares...they are just Iraqis...we all have to get behind our brave soldiers. Man...more and more I get the feeling that ,as others have suggested to me many times, I do not belong in this bloodthirsty country where the measure of a man is how many people he can kill before his 21st birthday.

Vic- I am not advocating for innocence where it does not exist.  I was a Marine and I just try to keep an eye out for these guys.  If one or more are guilty then that is one part of this; I just want to see fairness and equality in the military court system.  I will never say those deaths of Iraqi's don't matter, never.  I have friends that I correspond with in Iraq who were born and raised there.  I  can only look at one side of this at a time I guess, and because of what you wrote I will go back and look at the whole thing again.  No doubt it is a problematic country man, no denying that.


Vic June 19, 2008 8:06 pm (Pacific time)

"When one Marine after another is acquitted of such serious charges, it clearly shows that the system is wasting time and money and trashing lives." Really?? It clearly shows a lot of us that if you are a Marine, there are no rules, no laws...kill em all , toss grenades into houses, and if you get into trouble, there will be a "hearing" and you will be aquitted. Funny how every single time this happens....guess what?? INNOCENT ! B*&^%$t ! I bet if the Nazis got to hold their own trials at Nueremburg they would all be as innocent as these fine men. I dont know if I will have the stomach to ever log on to this site again......

Vic, you know you are asked not to cuss here.   Don't condemn Marines because they are Marines and absolutely don't compare them to Nazi's, that is ridiculous.  If you think it is FINE AND DANDY to frame Marines for something they did not do then my stomach might be in trouble too.   That is all this is about; these Marines did not ask for this mess of a war; they did not enact the politics and lies behind it, and maybe they are guilty and maybe they are not, but this is about having a fair legal system and not being framed by overzealous politicians.  I will never wrap my politics around a pole that denies a person their most basic rights as an American.   Come on man, you know I don't pardon anybody that really is guilty of criminal activity in war; that is not my point, I am only thinking that Murtha went way over the top on this one man.


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