The Massacre That Never Was

Susan Page
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Wednesday - June 25, 2008
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Don’t mistake the smiling byline photo of me with the mood I’m in as I write.

This mother of a Marine is really ticked off.

It’s because a grievous wrong was righted - at least partly - but no one bothered to notice.

Aweek ago today charges were dismissed against a great American - Marine Lt. Col. Jeff Chessani of Rangely, Colo., by a military judge at Camp Pendleton, Calif.

Over the course of two years, all but one of the Marines, including Chessani, accused of a so-called “massacre” where 24 civilians were killed in Haditha, Iraq, in November 2005 have been exonerated with charges dismissed or by being found not guilty. One more Marine, Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, still faces voluntary manslaughter charges.

Two years ago, these Marines were serving our country in one of the most lethal sections of Al Anbar province in western Iraq.

Their fellow Marines were being blown up by Al Qaeda backed insurgents, and so were the local police, 12 of whom had earlier been summarily executed in a stadium, Taliban-style.

Haditha had been left with only police to protect it, as units were assigned elsewhere. In late 2005, Marines were ordered there to eliminate the bad guys in order to protect the local families, the good guys, and their fellow Marines. Haditha, left to breed insurgents, had become a violent hornets’ nest.

Nathaniel R. Helms wrote in a Oct. 6, 2007, article Defend Our Marines, “During the November Haditha battle, the insurgents secreted themselves among local civilians to guarantee pursuing Marines would catch innocent civilians in the ensuing crossfire. On Jan. 6, 2006, six insurgents who tried to do the same thing at another location in Haditha were turned in to Coalition authorities before they could mount a similar assault, the report says.”

Hiding behind women and children is vintage Vietnam War tactics. Viet Cong, like Iraqi insurgents, Al Qaeda terrorists and the Taliban placed no value on the lives of innocents, especially women and children.

By October 2007, a report was declassified that proved insurgents used civilians as shields. On Dec. 11, 2005, Marine Corps intelligence operatives caught Muhannad Hassan Hamadi, who decided to cooperate. The Haditha “massacre” took place in November 2005 - ironically, the month in which Marines celebrated their 230th birthday.

While these Marines were fighting for our lives in a “war” zone, Washington lawmakers were fighting it out safely in their “political” zone and the “few good men” got caught in the crosshairs of the most lethal weapon they could ever face - politician grandstanding.

Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., (unindicted co-conspirator in the ABSCAM scandal) didn’t even wait for the men to be charged with anything before he went to the media accusing them of being “cold-blooded killers.”

Sgt. Wuterich filed a defamation lawsuit against Murtha, but it seems members of Congress are protected against such. The Marine Corps brass wasted little time in making sure the accused Marines, many like Chessani serving second tours in Iraq, took the fall instead of defending them till proven guilty. My belief is that Murtha, the defense contractors’ darling, embarrassed the Corps into taking rash action.

I despise politicians and politically expedient military leaders who exploit our Marines for their own purposes. And I loathe a media that sensationalizes accusations but ignores exonerations.

According to his professional evaluation from Sept. 2005 to Feb. 2006 (includes time of “criminal” incident), Lt. Col. Chessani “leads Marines from front in every operation. Demonstrates moral courage everyday. Doesn’t hesitate to report bad news fast or contest unrealistic plans/poor concepts.”

Further, “Despite the complexity and size of his AO [area of operations], he always maintains a calm, cool demeanor. A superb leader who knows his men, knows the enemy, knows his business. Doesn’t attract a lot of fanfare; just gets the job done to an exceedingly high standard. Top-notch officer with outstanding potential. Unlimited potential and value to the Marine Corps. Capable of the most challenging assignments.”

Lt. Col. Chessani hoped to serve his country well beyond the 20 years already served. He has now chosen to retire. It’s no wonder.

The Marines only seek “a few good men.”

We’ve just lost one of the best, and that is a crime.

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