Sunday, May 25, 2008

Reports of a preliminary ruling on UCI motion in United States v. Chessani court-martial

LtCol Jeffrey Chessani is being tried for failing to investigate a Marine squad's actions at Haditha that apparently resulted in the deaths of 24 Iraqis. On Friday, Colonel Steven Folsom, the military judge presiding over LtCol Chessani's court-martial, apparently made a preliminary ruling on an unlawful command influence motion in the case. Reports of the ruling, which are often more frustrating than illuminating, can be found here, here, here, and here.

Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find a copy of the actual ruling online.

Based on the reports, it appears that Judge Folsom ruled that the defense had presented sufficient evidence of unlawful command influence for the burden to shift to the government to disprove the existence of unlawful command influence beyond a reasonable doubt. If so, then the normally impressive North County Times would have gotten it wrong. Its lede was: "A military judge has found that top Marine Corps officers were unlawfully influenced by a general's legal adviser when they decided to file criminal charges against a colonel whose troops killed two dozen civilians in the Iraqi city of Haditha in 2005." But from other accounts, it appears that the military judge didn't actually find UCI, but rather found sufficient evidence of UCI to compel the government to disprove it -- a subtle distinction, perhaps, but a very important one.

According to an AP report, LtCol Chessani's defense counsel plan "to ask the judge to dismiss the case at a hearing June 2 at Camp Pendleton."

If anyone has access to a copy of Judge Folsom's actual ruling, please let us know. You can reach us at

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