June 02, 2006

Colorado Marine's Career Ended By Haditha Deaths?

May be a "political casualty"


Lt. Col. Jeffrey R. Chessani, right, commander of 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, and Major Gen. Richard Huck, commanding general for the 2nd Marine Division, wait for a helicopter to land in Haditha, Iraq, during a January visit. Chessani was relieved of his command in April. (Official Marine Corps photo / Cpl. Adam C. Schnell)

Since this is still under investigation, there will be no commentary:

Washington - Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani was headed for the height of the U.S. Marine Corps until horrifying deaths in a small Iraqi city stained his distinguished combat record.

For the past 16 years, when the Marines went to war, so did Chessani, who grew up in northwestern Colorado. He joined in the U.S. invasion of Panama. He was in Saudi Arabia for the Persian Gulf War and returned to the region for the war in Iraq. In 2004, Chessani helped plan the military's assault on the insurgent-controlled city of Fallujah.

And he was considered a prospect for promotion to general.

"In the Marine Corps, you have to check the boxes. You have to have been in hot spots and have been in combat," said Mike Zacchea, a Marine Corps reserve major who served with Chessani in Iraq. "He was a guy who was certainly in competition for a (general's) star."

He called Chessani, 42, "a man of principle, a conscientious and thoughtful Marine officer."

But Chessani's soaring career plunged to earth Nov. 19 in Haditha, a city in Iraq's seething Anbar province 140 miles northwest of Baghdad.

He was the commanding officer of the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, when members of its Kilo Company allegedly shot and killed as many as two dozen Iraqi civilians, including women and children.

Marines reported the Hadithah deaths the next day as being the result of a roadside bomb blast and a subsequent firefight with insurgents. But over the past few months, starting with a Time magazine report in March, eyewitness accounts have emerged of a rampage by Marines after one of their own was killed.

In April, the Marines, citing "lack of confidence in their leadership abilities," relieved Chessani and two of his officers - Capt. Lucas McConnell, who commanded Kilo Company, and Capt. James Kimber - of their commands.

Hadithah was not mentioned in the public announcement of the Marines' action. Kimber told The Associated Press on Thursday that he was a "political casualty," adding, "I was in a different city not playing any role in this incident."

There have been no reports that Chessani participated in the alleged rampage, ordered it or witnessed it. The colonel, now stationed at Camp Pendleton in California, has not returned several phone calls from The Denver Post over several days.

There are two ongoing military investigations: of the Hadithah incident itself, and of how officials reported it.

No matter what the conclusions, Chessani's fast-track career climb is probably over.
Coffman Recalls Hearing Details Of Haditha Probe:
Colorado state Treasurer Mike Coffman, a Marine who was in Iraq last year, said he discussed the incident with Hyatt in January shortly after Coffman arrived in Haditha, 140 miles northwest of Baghdad.

Hyatt said the incident began after an attack on a Marine convoy, Coffman said. Hyatt was told Marines were being shot at from nearby homes and went to clear them out.

"(Hyatt) had learned that the Marines were hearing noises in the room and thought it was insurgents reloading their magazines for their weapons. (They) burst in the room, obviously shooting," Coffman said. "It turned out to be a family having breakfast."

Hyatt was critical of the incident, Coffman said.

"But he didn't feel it rose to a criminal level," Coffman said. "It might have been poor judgment. He never indicated to me that it rose to a level that there were any war crimes committed."
Other stories:
Lawyer denies officer is target of Iraqi death probe
Marines' claims that bomb killed Iraqi civilians unravel
Survivors describe horror of suspected Iraq massacre
Marine's hometown wrestles with news
No direct link ties Marine to deaths

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