Monday, October 23, 2006

Accountability for atrocity: eyes averted

Here's a story from last week that sank like a stone, or, rather, like three stones placed in a sack and eased gently into the water:

U.S. service members will face military trials in three separate cases for the murders of Iraqi civilians, including the gang rape and murder of a teenage girl and the killing of her family in their home in Mahmudiya, the military said on Wednesday.

An Army general ordered the court-martial of four soldiers in the Mahmudiya case and said two of the four could face death if found guilty. One of the accused will testify against the others, according to his Washington attorney, David Sheldon.

Army Maj. Gen. Thomas Turner also ordered military trials for four other soldiers accused of murdering three Iraqi detainees during a raid on a suspected insurgent camp near Thar Thar Lake, southwest of Tikrit.

In the third case, three U.S. Marines will be tried on murder charges in the death of an Iraqi grandfather kidnapped from his house in Hamdania in the middle of the night, the U.S. Marine Corps said.

... The killing of 24 people in Haditha ... is still being investigated and no Marines have been charged.
Hardly a ripple. It appears that the news, which the Army and Marines put out by press relase on Wednesday, Oct. 18, made it into the print edition of only one national paper, the LA Times (apparently because of the Camp Pendleton connection to the Hamdaniyah case). The story also ran on NPR; there's no sign of it having been mentioned on any national television news.

Reuters and AP stories ran briefly on the web editions of many media outlets, and the AP story was picked up by local papers, mostly in areas near bases or the hometowns of the accused. Lacking NEXIS-LEXIS access, I can't be absolutely sure that the coverage was as skimpy as it seems, and welcome any information to the contrary. The news has also gone almost completely unblogged.

These decisions are the equivalent of indictments in the civilian legal system. Like their civilian counterparts, military prosecutors use severe charges as a tool to reach plea agreements, as noted in this rare bit of additional reporting from a Pennsylvania paper.

Update: 27 Oct midnight - First plea agreement not long in coming. Pfc. Joe Jodka will testify next month on the Hamdaniyah murder.



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