Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Haditha Marine May Sue Murtha

A Marine who was charged with failing to investigate the November 2005 killings of 24 Iraqis in the village of Haditha may sue Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., for libel and defamation of character. Attorney Brian Rooney made the comments during an interview with right-wing radio talk show host Michael Savage after a military judge dismissed the case against his client, Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani, on June 17 after finding that a general overseeing the case was improperly influenced by an investigator of the 2005 shootings. According to the report, Rooney said any suit against Murtha, as well as a Time magazine reporter who wrote the first major piece on the killings, would have to wait until Chessani is fully “out of the woods.” That’s not the case, yet, as prosecutors on June 19 filed a notice to appeal the dismissal. That move was made possible by the military judge’s decision to dismiss the charges against Chessani “without prejudice.” Nearly all the Marines originally charged in connection with the Nov. 19, 2005, killings have been cleared, which has only helped to fuel the anger of many against Murtha, who early on claimed the killings had been done in cold blood, not self defense.
Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani
“There was no firefight,” Murtha said in May 2006. “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.” Rooney told Savage it would be difficult to sue a sitting congressman, but that it can be done. "If he leaves his realm of speaking from the congressman's point of view … then he can be sued for libel and defamation," Rooney said. Also eyed in a possible lawsuit is Tim McGuirk of Time. Rooney said the massacre story was planted by insurgents, and picked up on by McGuirk for his story.
John Murtha
Prosecutors appealing the dismissal of charges against Chessani have 20 days to file a written appeal, spelling out why they disagree with the ruling by the judge, Col. Steven Folsom. Defense attorneys then have 20 days to respond, said Chessani's military attorney, Lt. Col. Jon Shelburne. It is unclear from the one-page court filing what the prosecutor, Lt. Col. Sean Sullivan, will use as his grounds for appeal. A telephone call to the Marine Corps seeking comment was not immediately returned. Folsom also barred Marine Forces Central Command from future involvement in the case. Joint Forces Command and the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force were also excluded from filing future charges. It was not immediately clear who would take over the case and who would have authority to refile charges. Authorities originally charged eight Marines - four enlisted men with counts related to the killings and four officers in connection with the investigation. Charges were dropped against five men and a sixth, 1st Lt. Andrew Grayson of Springboro, Ohio, was acquitted of charges he hindered the investigation. Only one man currently faces prosecution - Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich of Meriden, Conn., who is charged with voluntary manslaughter. He has pleaded not guilty.

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