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U.S. Military Torturers at Bagram Escape Punishment

Heretik reminds us that abusive torturers in the military continue to be let off the hook. The New York Times today has a four page article on why those responsible for the 2002 deaths of two detainees, Dilawar Mullah Habibullah, at Bagram prison in Afghanistan will not be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. (Background here.]

In the modest Fort Bliss courtrooms where the trials have been held, the two Afghan victims have rarely been evoked, except in autopsy photographs. But much testimony focused on hardships faced by the soldiers themselves: the poor training they received, the tough conditions in which they operated, the vague rules with which they had to contend. As in other recent abuse cases, Army judges and jurors also seemed to consider the soldiers' guilt or innocence with an acute sense of the sacrifices they had made in serving overseas.

Let's rewrite that sentence in terms of a typical murder trial in the U.S. We would never see a non-prosecution based on that type of excuse. The biggest concession likely would be a sentence of life without parole instead of a death sentence. Even then, many Americans would be outraged at the "leniency" the defendants were shown:

In the modest courtroom where the trial was held, the two victims have rarely been evoked, except in autopsy photographs. But much testimony focused on hardships faced by the defendants themselves: the poor upbringing they received, their lack of role models, the childhood abuse with which they had to contend. As in other recent murder cases, judges and jurors also seemed to consider the defendants' guilt or innocence with an acute sense of the deprivation the defendants had suffered in their lives.

Why is acceptable to forego prosecuting murder when the killers are in the military but not in their own communities?

Lt. Col. Joseph A. Simonelli Jr., who sat on the jury for a former Bagram guard who admitted to repeatedly striking one of the detainees who died, was asked after the trial how he had viewed the defendant. The soldier, convicted of maiming, assault and other crimes, was sentenced to only a demotion in rank, and honorably discharged.

"This individual was an American citizen who had been called up," Colonel Simonelli, a Fort Bliss battalion commander, said in an interview. "He had volunteered, and when they called upon him to perform his duties in a time of war, he did it without question."

Then there's the case of James Poland:

Army prosecutors charged a Reserve military police sergeant, James P. Boland, with assaulting and maltreating one of the detainees who died at Bagram "by shackling him in a standing position with hands suspended above shoulder level for a prolonged period of time."

Last spring, the Bagram prosecutors dropped all charges against Sergeant Boland, who has since left the military, arranging instead for a letter of reprimand.

The military would have us believe it couldn't prove the charges:

So many guards had admitted to striking the two men, the lawyers said, that it would be almost impossible to fix blame on one or even several of them. Moreover, there were few witnesses to the beatings, and almost none who were not themselves implicated in wrongdoing.

When does that ever stop a murder prosecution in the U.S.? Here, they would all be charged at least with aiding and abetting or conspiracy to commit murder or felony murder.

How about Sergeant Willie Brand:

He had spoken openly with Army investigators long after others had invoked their right to remain silent, and the story he told was chilling. By his own admission, Specialist Brand, then 24, had repeatedly struck both of the detainees who died, kneeing them in the thigh with a technique that some of the unit's reservists had taught to others.

Specialist Brand had told investigators that he kneed Mr. Dilawar more than 30 times, because "I was fed up with him," and added that he struck "a lot of other" detainees as well. He said "90 percent" of the other guards who worked the Bagram isolation cells on the night shift also used knee strikes, including some who struck Dilawar because they were amused to hear him cry out, "Allah!"

Brand went to trial.

The jury convicted Specialist Brand of maiming, assault, maltreatment and making a false statement and could have sentenced him to 16 years in a military prison. Instead, after hearing about his sick wife and their indigent family of four children, they declined even to give him a bad-conduct discharge. The most serious charge against him, involuntary manslaughter, was dropped before the trial began.

His sentence? An honorable discharge.

[he] was reduced in rank to private, but not jailed or fined; he left the Army with an honorable discharge.

Brand had a sick wife? What about Dilawar's wife and 2 year old daughter? What about the fact that it was later determined Dilawar was innocent of criminal acts?

There has been no accountability for the brutal toture and murder of two human beings at the hand of U.S. soldiers. Instead of outrage, the military officers repsonsible for trying and sentencing the soldiers profess sympathy for the killers, not those killed.

How hypocritical.

Update: Go read Jeanne at Body and Soul.

We can talk about the laws of war, and exactly where on the chain of command responsibility lies -- and we should, and in a moment I will -- but these crimes, and the inability to fully prosecute them, will continue as long as people pick and choose who they see as human beings, and who they see as sketches and bodies.

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  • Re: U.S. Military Torturers at Bagram Escape Punis (none / 0) (#1)
    by Al on Mon Feb 13, 2006 at 09:43:35 PM EST
    The message that this sends is obvious: To American soldiers, it tells them that they are free to commit crimes without consequences, because the military "justice" system will protect them. To the people on the receiving end of such treatment, it sends the message that everything is fair in fighting an enemy that knees one of them repeatedly because they find it amusing when the victim cries "Allah!" Does anybody realize that this protection of criminals in the military actually causes American casualties?

    Re: U.S. Military Torturers at Bagram Escape Punis (none / 0) (#2)
    by Rational on Mon Feb 13, 2006 at 10:25:04 PM EST
    War criminials one and all. Devoid off humanity. Absent any moral code. Ethical cowards and general trash. Well the dead ones are probably spending time with their SS brethren in hades

    Re: U.S. Military Torturers at Bagram Escape Punis (none / 0) (#3)
    by theologicus on Tue Feb 14, 2006 at 09:39:35 AM EST
    Why is acceptable to forego prosecuting murder when the killers are in the military but not in their own communities? And some of them end up in their own communities, where murder and abuse indeed ensue. It is true that the lives of interrogators are also often shattered along with those of the victims. But of course this consideration does not exonerate the perpetrators.

    Anyone remember how decorated Vietnam war vet Manny Babbitt was treated?