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Wheels grinding on FOIA requests for “kill team” reports

Post by Adam Ashton / The News Tribune on July 11, 2011 at 12:30 pm |
July 11, 2011 12:30 pm

At least a dozen news organizations or citizens have filed Freedom of Information Act requests seeking the Army’s investigation into the command climate of the Stryker brigade that contained a rogue group of soldiers who allegedly murdered Afghan civilians last year.

We’re among the news groups seeking the document, which reportedly is critical of the brigade’s commander as well as officers who were closer to the alleged war crimes that unfolded outside of Forward Operating Base Ramrod in Southern Afghanistan.

The investigation has been leaked to two news organizations and another reporter was able to view it. It’s also been described in court at judicial hearings from some of the 12 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division soldiers facing courts-martial for their alleged misconduct.

The News Tribune filed its request jointly with The Seattle Times and KUOW on March 1. I anticipated that the request would have been denied immediately because the Army has denied FOIA requests linked to the courts-martial on the grounds that they could influence ongoing judicial proceedings.

I was wrong, and the responses we’ve received so far have suggested we’ll get the document one day.

But that probably won’t be any time soon. Joint Base Lewis-McChord FOIA officer Saul Resendez explained last week that it’s under review and parts of the report are being withheld because they contain classified information.

Also, Army Judge Lt. Col. Kwasi Hawks has issued an order barring defense attorneys from leaking the document. The odds are that we won’t see the report until the trials are finished and the order is lifted.

The Army so far has released only charge sheets describing the alleged offenses soldiers committed under the command of Col. Harry Tunnell during their deployment last year. Thousands of other pages of investigative documents have been released to the media through other sources, generally after the reports have been submitted through court motions.

As you’d expect, there’s plenty of speculation about who has leaked the document.

Army prosecutor Capt. Dan Mazzone last month briefly suggested in court that defense attorney Eric Montalvo released the command-climate investigation. Montalvo represents Spc. Adam Winfield, who’s accused of murdering an Afghan man in May 2010 with two of his fellow soldiers.

Mazzone implied that Winfield has received favorable coverage from one of the news outlets that’s obtained the report, Germany’s Der Spiegel Magazine. That magazine also was the first to publish photos of Stryker soldiers posing with dead Afghans.

Montalvo stood up and asked Judge Hawks if Mazzone was implying Montalvo had broken the order that barred release of  the photos. Mazzone backed away from his suggestion and the hearing continued.

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