Inside Opinion

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Tag: war crimes


Horrifying testimony on the road to justice

This editorial will appear in Friday’s print edition.

The Army’s Article 32 hearing for Sgt. Robert Bales was so replete with witnesses and evidence that it looked as if he were on trial.

In fact, it was a preliminary procedure. Commanders at Joint Base Lewis-McChord will now decide whether the evidence tying Bales to the murder of 16 Afghan villagers on March 11 justifies a court-martial.

That’s a foregone conclusion.

Soldiers saw Bales returning to Camp Belambay alone – covered in blood – the night of the massacres. DNA experts linked the blood to at least one of the victims. Comrades testified that he made what sound like self-incriminating statements.

Prosecutors have won outright murder convictions with far less evidence than emerged in this hearing.

Bales is entitled to due process, and the Army is giving him plenty of it.

His skilled defense attorneys are raising key questions about his state of mind, including reported drinking and Valium abuse, and the possibility that he suffered from undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder. They’ve turned up ambiguous evidence that there were more than one American involved in the slaughters.

The law must presume Bales’ innocence.

Let’s take a step back. Whoever committed the atrocities detailed in the hearing hardly deserves to be called human.

It’s the murder of the children that pushes this case beyond all bounds of empathy for Americans in combat zones.

The testimony included: A dead child whose head was stomped so hard that a footprint remained visible on it. Boys and girls being shot as they attempted to hide or run – while shouting, “We are children.” Children piled up, splashed with kerosene and burned along with parents and loved ones.
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JBLM’s Bales hearing: An impressive show of justice

This editorial will appear in Friday’s print edition.

Cracked Groucho Marx, “Military justice is to justice what military music is to music.”

Groucho may once have been right, but military justice has come a very long way. Witness the Article 32 hearing unfolding this week at Joint Base Lewis-McChord for the soldier accused of the worst American war atrocity since Vietnam.

The hearing has the look and feel of a criminal trial. By all accounts it is not going well for Army Sgt. Robert Bales, who lived in Lake Tapps before he was accused of massacring 16 noncombatants in Afghanistan during the early hours of March 11.

Since Monday, witnesses have testified that Bales left his NATO base that night, that gunfire was heard from the direction of a village Bales is accused of attacking, that he came back alone and heavily armed. A fellow sergeant testified Monday that Bales told him, “I shot up some people.”

Bales’ defense attorneys are probing witnesses for signs that he was under extreme stress or the influence of mood-altering drugs. Prosecutors are depicting a carefully planned and executed mass murder.

What’s remarkable about this preliminary procedure – from a civilian point of view – is how open and elaborate it is. It will even include testimony from villagers transmitted from a military base in Afghanistan.

After hearing out the witnesses, prosecutors and defense, the presiding officer – an Army Reserve colonel and assistant U.S. attorney – will recommend whether Bale should face a court-martial. Only then will the trial get under way.
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Military death penalty discredits American justice

This editorial will appear in Thursday’s print edition.

Genuine justice doesn’t play favorites with either criminals or their victims. A state, for example, that’s quick to execute murderers who kill whites, but not those who kill blacks, shouldn’t be in the business of executing anyone at all.

For many years, the U.S. military court system has been flunking the test of impartiality in handing down death sentences. As The News Tribune’s Adam Ashton documented Sunday, the military has been willing to condemn its own to death only if they kill Americans. For killing foreign noncombatants, U.S. personnel have gotten – at most – life in prison.

The four soldiers, one airman and one Marine now on death row at Fort Leavenworth all got there by murdering fellow Americans. In more recent cases, prosecutors have sought the death sentence against two defendants: Army Maj. Nidal Hasan, accused of slaughtering 13 people in 2009 at Fort Hood, Texas, and Army Sgt. John Russell, accused for murdering five other service members in 2009 in Iraq.

Conspicuously missing from both lists are any troops accused or convicted of killing foreign civilians. Members of the rogue “kill team” – four Joint Base Lewis-McChord soldiers who killed three Afghan noncombatants for sport in 2010 – never faced capital punishment, for example.
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An impressive Army probe of atrocities in Afghanistan

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

The Stryker brigade soldiers connected to the murder of three Afghan noncombatants last year face grave charges or have already been convicted. Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs – the accused ringleader – will soon be on trial at Joint Base Lewis McChord.

All are enlisted men and lower-ranking noncommissioned officers – toward the bottom of the military hierarchy. The buck doesn’t stop with them. An exhaustive Army investigation has now detailed negligence on the part of the killers’ superiors.

Some of the problems identified by the investigator, Brig. Gen. Stephen Twitty, seem purely

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Exemplary Army justice for Afghan war crimes

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

The prosecution of war crimes at Forward Operating Base Ramrod in Afghanistan promises to become one of the Army’s most honorable episodes – if it focuses as much attention on commanders as it has on enlisted soldiers.

The trials and hearings at Joint Base Lewis-McChord have revealed an attitude of intolerance of atrocities and criminal behavior that might have been dismissed as the cost of doing business in previous wars. Last week’s sentencing of one defendant, Spc. Jeremy Morlock, shows how tough the Army has gotten.

Morlock pleaded guilty to three counts

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Due caution with Afghan war crimes photographs

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

When is the last time the courts have published evidentiary photos of a crime victim’s body? Or photos of a murder suspect posing with a corpse?

That’s what one defense attorney is trying to squeeze out of the Army as part of pretrial maneuvering in a Joint Base Lewis-McChord war crimes case.

The lawyer appears to be doing a good job of looking out for his client. JBLM, in exercising caution about releasing the photos, is doing a good job of looking out for the country.

The defendant involved in this dispute, Pfc. Andrew Holmes, deserves an extra presumption of innocence. The charges against him, which include premeditated murder of an Afghan noncombatant, arise from military operations in a combat zone.

Civilians sometimes get killed mistakenly in combat zones. Holmes appears headed for a court-martial, and he’ll get a chance to defend his actions there.
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Did Army’s system for reporting soldier misconduct fail?

This editorial will appear in Sunday’s print edition.

Sometimes, supporting the troops means protecting soldiers from one another.

Much seems to have gone wrong at Forward Operating Base Ramrod, a remote outpost west of Kandahar city where Stryker soldiers from Joint Base Lewis-McChord allegedly planned and carried out the murders of three Afghan civilians.

Twelve soldiers are charged with a total of 76 crimes that include premeditated murder, keeping trophy body parts from Afghan corpses, beating a fellow soldier, drug use, impeding a military investigation and violating lawful orders.

The case is emerging as one of the most serious war-crimes cases from the Afghanistan war, a collection of atrocities that risks gravely undermining the U.S. mission there. About the only way it could get worse is if the Army is shown to have ignored information that might have helped prevent noncombatants’ deaths.

Christopher Winfield says the Army did just that.

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America pays dearly for Afghan war crimes

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

For Americans, there’s actually a positive side to the murder charges pending against five Lewis- McChord soldiers.

Five is a minuscule fraction of the 4,000 members of the 5th Stryker Brigade, which came home this summer after a year’s deployment in Afghanistan. Atrocities happen in every war, but today’s professional all-volunteer American Army today may be as scrupulous a combat force as this nation has ever fielded.

There’s also the fact that the probe of the suspicious deaths of three Afghan civilians earlier this year was initiated by the brigade itself against several of its own. In the past – after Vietnam’s My Lai massacre, for example – investigations often happened despite the unit’s commanders, not because of them.

So – some good news inside the bad.

Unfortunately, the Afghan people – the people whose attitudes will determine whether America succeeds or fails in Afghanistan – may not pick up on these nuances.

The allegations are shocking. According to Army prosecutors, the five soldiers, including a staff sergeant, participated directly or indirectly in the deliberate killing of the three Afghan men, who appear to have been targeted at random. If the charges are true, the responsible soldiers appear to have killed the three men more or less for sport, on the assumption they could get away with it under the cover of wartime.
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