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Wait. Whose Side Are We on Again?

By David Harsanyi

Now that foreign terrorist suspects have the right to habeas corpus, maybe U.S. Marines will be extended the courtesy of a trial before being smeared as cold-blooded murders.

A surprising number of Americans are eager to believe the worst about our fighting men and women. In the case of the infamous Haditha "massacre," their motives are transparently political, ugly and deceitful.

The Haditha story -- reminiscent of some twisted Oliver Stone fantasy -- was first reported by Time magazine. According to reports, Marines were allegedly involved in a firefight on Nov. 19, 2005, murdering 24 civilians in retribution for a roadside bombing that killed a fellow Marine.

For power-hungry Pennsylvania congressman John Murtha, the tide of negative public opinion on Iraq made Haditha the perfect self-serving political opportunity. After all, other than being the focus of corruption investigations, Murtha had never been bequeathed such extravagant attention. And when Murtha, a former Marine, spoke about Haditha, he spoke with certitude -- and the national headlines mirrored it.

Seven months before any charges were filed, the by-then ubiquitous congressman claimed that the massacre happened when troops not only "overreacted because of the pressure on them" but also that "they killed innocent civilians in cold blood."

In some circles, Murtha's reputation remained unblemished after this unsubstantiated slur. Only a couple of months after his remarks, presidential candidate Barack Obama said of Murtha: "I would never second guess John Murtha . . . I think he's somebody who knows of which he speaks."

"Never"? Really?

This week, U.S. Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani, a Colorado native, was the latest Marine to have all charges dismissed against him in relation to Haditha. That means seven of the eight charged for the massacre and "coverup" have been exonerated. (One case is still pending.)

The judge declared that had it not been for the politics involved in the case, Chessani likely would not have faced any charges.

Politicians have every right, even a responsibility, to bring cases of criminality to the attention of authorities. They don't, however, have the right to try the accused.

Brian Rooney, a lawyer with the Thomas More Law Center, a Michigan-based conservative public interest law firm that has been defending the Haditha Marines, told me, "Everyone knows this massacre didn't happen. We know it was a complex attack and terrorists were hiding behind women and children."

You mean to tell me that the folks Michael Moore referred to as "Minutemen" were hiding behind women and children? Hard to believe.

Even harder to believe is how this case is unfolding. Many of the accused Marines were ecstatic to get their day in court. First Lt. Andrew Grayson even refused a plea that would have reduced charges and kept him out of jail. "I was the one that had to look at myself in the mirror," he explained. "To take the easy way out, you are the one that has to live with that."

Chessani, who has an exemplary military record and served three tours of duty in Iraq, didn't take the easy way out, either. And though he has already decided to retire after the trial, his persecutors are holding tough.

Chessani's charges were dropped "without prejudice," meaning they could be filed again later. And the government has decided to appeal. Chessani may be re-tried.

"We would hope that after years of litigation, they would look at their track record -- which is zero for 7 ... for the prosecution on this so-called massacre -- and they would say 'enough is enough,' " Rooney said.

He also has said he is preparing to sue Murtha for libel. So while there may never be closure, there might be a little justice.

Reach columnist David Harsanyi at

This column first appeared in the Denver Post.

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