Brian Rooney from the Thomas More Center sheds light on the Haditha affair…before the power goes out.
HH: Joined now by Brian Rooney of the Thomas More Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Brian, welcome to the Hugh Hewitt show. Let’s start by telling people first of all, what’s the website for the Thomas More Center?
HH: All right. www.thomasmore.org. What’s the work of the center, Brian?
BR: Thomas More Law Center is dedicated to three principles, life from conception to natural death, religious freedom for Christians, which involves symbols like Ten Commandments and crosses on public land, and the religious freedom for Christians, and the traditional family values.
HH: Now Brian Rooney, you’ve been up there for a while, about what? Six, seven months now?
HH: And you left the Marine Corps, you retired from the Marine Corps, moved up there, took over the public affairs operation for that, so you know a lot about Marines, generally, and you also know a lot about the law, because you’re a lawyer, you were a JAG lawyer. What is going on with the Haditha incident? And what is the Thomas More Center’s position on it?
BR: The Haditha incident is starting to get going, as far as the court martial realm, and the first one goes April 17th. Our particular case goes May 30th. It’s from November 19th in 2005, 3-1, the battalion, Third Battalion, First Marines, went into the insurgent stronghold of Haditha, and on that morning, a convoy of four vehicles went into town, and the fourth one was hit by an IED where a Marine was killed, two were seriously injured, and the Marines received small arm fire. And Marines did what they’re trained to do, they responded to that fire, and attacked it, and unfortunately, throughout the day in that battle, civilian casualties occurred, and there ended up being fifteen civilian casualties. And the rest of the day, there ended up being thirteen injured Marines. And what happened was after months had gone by, a Time reporter came out with a source he had from the Iraqis, it turns out to be a suspected insurgent source, that says there was a massacre. And Jack Murtha, Congressman from Pennsylvania, takes that up and calls the Marines cold-blooded murderers, and accuses officers of covering it up. And I was still in the Marine Corps when that came out, and I knew it smacked of something improper, and when I got out, we got a call from Lt. Col. Chessani, who’s a committed Christian himself, with five young children, and he asked us to help him out. And normally, we don’t take this kind of case, but time honored family values involves patriotism, and we wouldn’t have taken the case unless we believed it was a righteous case. And we have the luxury of one of the few times of defending a truly innocent man.
HH: Now Lt. Col. Chessani was the leader of the 3-1, right?
BR: He was. He was commanding officer of 3-1, and he’s charged with dereliction of duty, and for not investigating the scene properly, and not reporting it properly. And that carries a three year time in the brig, and a dishonorable discharge. And we’re trying to fight against that.
HH: How many years has the Lt. Col. been in the Marine Corps?
BR: He’s been in for 19 years. He served in the Panamanian invasion, he was in the first Persian Gulf war, and this was his third tour in Iraq. And ironically, I served with him in the second battle of Fallujah for the First Marine regiment. And when I knew him, he was an unflappable officer, and that hasn’t changed my opinion of him.
HH: Now you know, as we have talked about in the past, I’ve got the arm patch here of J.P. Blecksmith, who was killed in the second battle of Fallujah on 11/11/04, and so you’re a combat veteran, you served with this Lt. Col. What do Americans need to know about him before we get to the specifics of his case, Brian?
BR: He’s just a committed Marine. He’s a no-nonsense officer, he’s committed his life to the Marine Corps, and that’s why he can’t afford these high-priced civilian attorneys. And he home schools his children, he’s a good man. And he’s trusted the Marine Corps, and unfortunately, sometimes, when politicians and reporters and a whole whirlpool of political pressure gets put upon these commanding generals, they have to, they feel like they have to do something. And one of the things they do is send it to an Article 32 hearing, which is the beginning for a general court martial.
HH: Now when does Lt. Col. Chessani go on trial?
BR: May 30th is his Article 32 hearing, and we’re hopeful that we will be able to win it at the Article 32. And that’s sort of like a grand jury hearing in the military, but it’s more robust. And we’ve already started the process of deposing officers that served for, with Lt. Col. Chessani when he was in Haditha, intelligence officers, his XO, and other people. And they have all said that this has been a reporting chain of command problem as far as the way the information came out, because initially, it came out that this IED killed 24 civilians. And a public affairs officer in the division level reported that to try to simplify things, and that’s where the whole cover-up issue came out. And when we interviewed those people, it turns out that it was not a cover-up, it was just a simplification of how things were reported up. And Col. Chessani reported up the facts as they occurred that day as he knew them. And everybody says this is much ado about nothing.
HH: Now many men are in the 3-1?
BR: He had a charge of a thousand men, and then an additional thousand Iraqis…
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And then, John Murtha turned off the power to the studio, ending the interview. But don’t fear, Brian Rooney and Hugh will return on the April 6th edition of the Hugh Hewitt Show to finish what they started.