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thedrifter
06-02-08, 08:46 AM
Local
Prosecutors call Marine general to testify in Haditha case

By CHELSEA J. CARTER, The Associated Press
2008-06-02 08:27:00.0
Current rank: # 660 of 8,107
SAN DIEGO -

Prosecutors are calling a four-star general to testify that he was not improperly influenced by an investigator when he made the decision to charge a Marine officer accused of failing to investigate the killings of 24 Iraqi men, women and children.

Marine Gen. James Mattis, currently NATO's top commander in charge of military modernization, is scheduled to take the stand Monday during a hearing to address a military judge's finding that there was evidence of unlawful command influence in the case of Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani, defense attorneys said.

The finding means that prosecutors must show at the hearing that the influence did not affect the direction of the investigation, the charges or the future of the case.

The judge's finding stems from Chessani's claim that a military lawyer who investigated the November 2005 killings had a conflict of interest when he later advised Mattis and other generals overseeing the Haditha trials.

Mattis is being called because he referred charges against Chessani when he was both commander of the Marine Corps Forces Central Command, and the commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. Mattis has since been promoted and serves as commander of both NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Transformation and commander of U.S. Joint Forces.

Chessani is the highest ranking officer to be tried in the case stemming from the shooting deaths in the Iraqi town of Haditha on Nov. 19, 2005, after a roadside bomb killed a Marine and wounded two others.

Four enlisted Marines initially were charged with murder. Them were later were dropped from the case, however, and the fourth now faces lesser charges. Chessani and another Marine officer are charged with failing to investigate the case; similar counts were dropped against two other officers.

Chessani is charged with dereliction of duty and violation of a lawful order on allegations he mishandled the aftermath of the shooting deaths. He was the battalion commander.

After the roadside bomb, investigators say, Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich and a squad member shot five men by a car at the scene. Wuterich then allegedly ordered his men into several houses, where they cleared rooms with grenades and gunfire, killing more people.

Ellie

thedrifter
06-02-08, 09:45 AM
Mattis to take stand today in Hadithah case
By Chelsea J. Carter - The Associated Press
Posted : Monday Jun 2, 2008 6:38:19 EDT

SAN DIEGO — Lawyers for a Marine officer charged with failing to investigate the killings of 24 Iraqi men, women and children in Hadithah, Iraq, say prosecutors plan to call as a witness a top NATO general.

Their intent, the lawyers say, is to rebut a military judge’s finding that there was evidence of unlawful command influence in the case — the largest criminal case to come out of the Iraq war.

The judge’s finding stems from Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani’s claim that a military lawyer who investigated the November 2005 killings had a conflict of interest when he later advised generals overseeing the Hadithah trials.

Defense attorneys say Marine Gen. James Mattis, who is currently NATO’s top commander in charge of military modernization, is scheduled to take the stand Monday during a motions hearing to address the judge’s finding.

“The prosecution has a high burden to overcome to show that unlawful command influence did not affect the investigation or prosecution of the case,” said Chessani’s civilian attorney, Brian Rooney. He said defense lawyers would ask that the charges against Chessani be dismissed.

Four enlisted Marines were initially charged with murder in the killings that occurred shortly after a roadside bomb hit a convoy, killing the driver of a Humvee and wounding two Marines. Four officers were charged with failing to investigate the case. Charges against all but three Marines, including Chessani, were eventually dropped.

Chessani, the highest ranking officer to be tried in the case, is charged with dereliction of duty and violation of a lawful order on allegations he mishandled the aftermath of the shooting deaths on Nov. 19, 2005.

He was the battalion commander.

After the roadside bomb, investigators say, Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich and a squad member shot five men by a car at the scene. Wuterich then allegedly ordered his men into several houses, where they cleared rooms with grenades and gunfire, killing more people.

Because the judge found evidence of unlawful command influence, the prosecution must show at the hearing that it did not affect either the direction of the investigation, the charges or the future of the case.

Mattis is being called because he referred charges against Chessani when he was both commander of the Marine Corps Forces Central Command, and the commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. Mattis has since been promoted to a four-star general and serves as commander of both NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Transformation and commander of U.S. Joint Forces.

A Marine spokesman, Lt. Col. Sean Gibson, would not confirm the defense claim, saying Marine Corps policy prohibits the discussion of potential prosecution witnesses prior to testimony. It is also against military policy to divulge the travel plans of commanders.

Rooney said the defense will ask Monday that the charges against Chessani not only be dismissed but that prosecutors are barred from re-filing them.

The judge, however, can take a variety of actions, from barring witnesses and evidence to throwing the case out.

The hearing comes as a second Marine in the case, 1st Lt. Andrew Grayson, is being court-martialed on charges of making false official statements, trying to fraudulently separate from service, attempting to deceive by making false statements and obstruction of justice by trying to impede an investigation.

Grayson was not present at the scene of the killings in Hadithah, but is accused of telling a sergeant to delete photographs of the dead from his digital camera. He has pleaded innocent to the charges.

Still to go to be court-martialed is Wuterich, who faces voluntary manslaughter and other charges.

Ellie

thedrifter
06-02-08, 08:56 PM
Mattis says he was not influenced
By Chelsea J. Carter - The Associated Press
Posted : Monday Jun 2, 2008 17:50:08 EDT

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. — A four-star general denied Monday he was influenced by an investigator when he made the decision to charge a Marine officer with failing to probe the killings of 24 Iraqi men, women and children.

In a rare courtroom appearance for such a high-ranking officer, Marine Gen. James Mattis took the stand during a hearing to address a military judge’s finding there was evidence of unlawful command influence in the case of Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani.

Prosecutors must show at the hearing the general was not influenced and therefore his decision did not affect the direction of the investigation into the killings in the Iraqi city of Hadithah, the charges or the future of the case.

The finding by Col. Stephen Folsom, the military judge, stemmed from Chessani’s claim there was a conflict of interest in the case because Col. John Ewers, a military lawyer who investigated the November 2005 killings and took Chessani’s statement, became Mattis’ top legal adviser and sat in on briefings despite military policy prohibiting him from offering advice.

Mattis testified he never had a conversation with Ewers about Hadithah, although Ewers was present during a number of legal meetings where Hadithah and Chessani were discussed.

When asked if he had taken advice from Ewers about Chessani or any Hadithah matter, Mattis said: “Never. I would not have asked for any.”

Mattis said he had another legal adviser from Marine Corps Central Command to help him with the Hadithah cases.

Folsom, who presided at Monday’s hearing, asked Mattis if he considered the possible appearance of improper influence by inviting Ewers to the meetings, which helped Mattis make decisions about who would and would not be charged in the case. Mattis said he did not.

Mattis was called because he referred charges against Chessani when he was both commander of the Marine Corps Forces Central Command and the commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Pendleton. He has since been promoted and serves as commander of both NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Transformation and commander of U.S. Joint Forces.

Chessani is the highest-ranking officer to be tried in the case stemming from the shooting deaths in the Iraqi town of Hadithah on Nov. 19, 2005, after a roadside bomb killed a Marine and wounded two others.

After roadside bombing, investigators say, Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich and a squad member shot five men by a car at the scene. Wuterich then allegedly ordered his men into several houses, where they cleared rooms with grenades and gunfire, killing women and children.

Four enlisted Marines initially were charged with murder. Charges against three were dropped and they were reduced for Wuterich. He faces voluntary manslaughter and other charges.

Chessani, who was the battalion commander, and another Marine officer are charged with failing to investigate the case; similar counts were dropped against two other officers.

Mattis took the stand to defend his decision and offered a glimpse into the behind-the-scenes military legal process that led to charges in the case.

During the months leading up to the referral of charges, Mattis told the court he held dozens of legal meetings where Hadithah and other cases were discussed. Present at the meetings were a host of attorneys and legal advisers, including Ewers, who had become the staff judge advocate, the leading legal adviser to Mattis in his role as commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force.

Prosecutors on Monday also called Ewers, who testified he told Mattis he could not offer legal advice on the Hadithah cases.

“I told him I couldn’t advise him on the Hadithah matters. I did not tell him that I shouldn’t attend meetings that dealt with Hadithah matters,” Ewers said.

A decision in the case is expected before Chessani’s court-martial begins on June 16.

Ellie

thedrifter
06-03-08, 08:22 AM
General denies conflict of interest at hearing


He says aide didn't advise on Haditha

By Steve Liewer
STAFF WRITER

June 3, 2008

CAMP PENDLETON – Marine Gen. James Mattis said yesterday he neither sought nor received advice from an assistant whose counsel would have tainted the military's case against troops connected to the killing of 24 men, women and children in Haditha, Iraq, about 2 years ago.

“It is extraordinarily unusual for a general – especially a four-star – to testify at a court-martial,” said Tom Umberg, a former military prosecutor now in private practice in Costa Mesa.

Mattis testified during a hearing at Camp Pendleton for Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani, who allegedly failed to properly investigate the Haditha incident or report it to his superiors.

Chessani's lawyers accuse Mattis of being influenced by at least one commander with a vested interest in prosecuting their client. They said Marine Col. John Ewers interviewed Chessani as part of a Haditha investigation – making him a potential witness – then sat with Mattis during two-to five-hour meetings at least once a week to discuss the case.

Yesterday, Mattis denied any conflict of interest in his decision to court-martial Chessani. Although he had known and trusted Ewers for several years, Mattis said, he didn't ask for his perspective on the Haditha incident.

“He never offered it, and I wouldn't have accepted any,” Mattis said. “It was prohibited.”

Ewers also took the stand to confirm Mattis' recollection. He and Mattis both testified that he kept silent during talk of the Haditha killings.

“There were meetings where I didn't say anything other than, 'I've got nothing to add,' ” Ewers said.

Mattis' comments offered a rare, behind-the-scenes look at how a high-ranking officer decides whether to prosecute service members accused of atrocities. Until a promotion last year, Mattis oversaw the Haditha case as commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Pendleton. He now heads the U.S. Joint Forces Command in Norfolk, Va.

Yesterday, Mattis said he read at least 9,000 pages of evidence.

“The environment in which they were operating (in Haditha), I considered to be the most ethically challenging environment I'd experience in my 35 years in the Marines,” Mattis testified. “I was going to make sure I left no stone unturned in understanding what these Marines faced.”

When the Haditha incident occurred Nov. 19, 2005, Chessani commanded the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment in Iraq. On that day, a roadside bomb hit a convoy in Haditha, killing one Marine and wounding two others. Surviving members of the squad killed the 24 Iraqis.

Chessani wasn't at the scene, but he is charged with not following an order and dereliction of duty. His lawyers have maintained that Marine officials are under political pressure to blame the Haditha incident on certain service members.

Marine Col. Steven Folsom, the presiding judge, will decide later whether to dismiss the case against Chessani.

Steve Liewer: (619) 498-6632; steve.liewer@uniontrib.com

Ellie