They just got a different tool to use than we do: They kill innocent lives to achieve objectives. That's what they do. And they're good. They get on the TV screens and they get people to ask questions about, well, you know, this, that or the other. I mean, they're able to kind of say to people: Don't come and bother us, because we will kill you. Bush - Joint News Conference with Blair - 28 July '06

Sunday, October 02, 2005

U.S. soldiers commit crimes against Iraqis - and get off easy

palmbeachpost/coxnews: Eight-year-old Rudenah al-Hillali cried as the two American soldiers led her father into their apartment with a rifle barrel at his back and forced the family to stand in a corner at gunpoint.

"She was scared," said her father, Issam Abdul Jabbar al-Hillali, adding that the soldiers refused to let him give Rudenah water.

Al-Hillali said Army Pfc. John N. Lee and Spec. Timothy I. Barron claimed to be Marines searching for weapons. But once inside his house, he said, they used a knife to pry open a briefcase filled with money and eventually stole $2,000 in cash, silver and other valuables.

Although Army officials found some of the missing items in the soldiers' possession and they admitted to robbing houses under the guise of looking for illegal weapons, the Army dismissed the charges. In exchange, Barron said, both soldiers agreed to leave the military.

Using previously undisclosed Army records, the Dayton (Ohio) Daily News found that dozens of soldiers have been accused of crimes against Iraqis since the first troops deployed for Iraq. But despite strong evidence and convictions in some cases, only a small percentage resulted in punishments nearing those that civilian justice systems routinely impose for such crimes.

In a number of other cases, there was no evidence that thorough or timely criminal investigations were conducted. Other cases weren't prosecuted, and still others resulted in dismissals, light jail sentences or no jail sentence at all.

"I've been surprised at some of the lenient sentences," said Gary Solis, a former military judge and prosecutor who teaches military law at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. "I have an uneasy suspicion that it relates to the nationality of the victim."

Soldiers' criminal acts, and the lack of punishment, add to the hatred that is fueling the insurgency in Iraq, putting soldiers at greater risk, Solis and other experts said.

"There's been a decline for the respect for the rule of international law and a failure to understand that we, the United States, have to be the good guys," Solis said.

A Daily News analysis of records from the Army Court-Martial Management Information System database found that 226 soldiers were charged with offenses between the first deployments and Jan. 1, 2005.

Of the 1,038 separate charges, fewer than one in 10 involved crimes against Iraqis. Virtually all of the rest, more than 900 charges, involved crimes against other soldiers, property, drug or alcohol offenses and violations of military rules.

Charges involving Iraqi victims were three times more likely to be dismissed or withdrawn by the Army than cases in which the victims were soldiers or civilian military employees, the examination found.

The Air Force and the Navy, which includes the Marine Corps, did not release comparable copies of their databases.

The Army did not challenge specific findings of the Daily News examination, but a Pentagon spokeswoman defended the service's overall handling of criminal cases in Iraq.

"The Army has investigated every credible allegation of abuse or misconduct by U.S. soldiers toward Iraq citizens," says a written response from Lt. Col. Pamela Hart. "The process is designed to both assure proper punishment of offenses and protect rights of the accused. The end result is that punishments can vary based upon the myriad of potential facts and circumstances present in each case."

The Daily News examination found that soldiers accused of property crimes or violations of military rules sometimes were dealt with more harshly than soldiers convicted of beating, robbing and even killing Iraqis.

Spec. David Driggers Jr. was convicted of adultery, wrongfully consuming alcohol and committing an indecent act by having consensual sex with a female soldier in an "open sleep area."

Driggers was sentenced to six months, the combined sentence the Army handed out to both Genaro Trevino and Pfc. Raymond Garrett. The two were convicted of robbing an Iraqi shop owner at gunpoint after he allegedly sold them liquor.

The charges are felonies in virtually every jurisdiction in the United States, but the Army sent Trevino's case to its version of misdemeanor court, which found him guilty of armed robbery and sentenced him to five months. Garrett, who was convicted of armed robbery as well as assault and battery, was sentenced to a one-month confinement. Each was found not guilty of kidnapping.

Solis, who presided over about 350 cases as a military judge and another 450 as prosecutor during his 26 years in the Marine Corps, said the sentences may reflect an attitude that all Iraqis are linked to the insurgency and are not deserving of justice.

"I think it's an attitude that starts at the very top that these people (insurgents) somehow are beyond the law, and if they are beyond the law, they are essentially fair game," he said. Read more