Friday, June 30, 2006

Here We Go Again: US Soldiers Under Criminal Investigation

Accusations against five American soldiers have led the Army to open an investigation into the rape and murder of an Iraqi woman and three members of her family. The crime took place in March and was originally believed to be the result of sectarian violence, which is common in the town where the murder was committed.

It is too early to determine what merit the accusations have, and the investigation has only just begun. But it is not too early to guard against a repeat of Haditha, in which soldiers were tried and convicted by the press and some politicians despite the fact that no charges had even been filed (and in fact have not yet been filed).

Though the news is quite recent, the TimesOnline article, written by AP reporter Ryan Lenz*, linked above, has already injected one spurious connection, one unverifiable charge, and one (possible) insinuation.

The spurious connection is that AP reporter Ryan Lenz* manages to link the mutilation and murder of two U.S. soldiers to the crime, in that the murdered soldiers and those under investigation are all from the same regiment, the 502nd Infantry. This despite the fact the murders and mutilation of the U.S. soldiers occurred this month, and the rape and murder of the Iraqi woman occurred in March. Showing remarkable restraint, the military official who spoke to the Lenz* is reported to have said, "...the killings appear to be unrelated to the kidnappings. Unless the U.S. Army has mastered time travel, that would appear to be a reasonable conclusion.

The unverifiable charge comes from an unnamed "US official close to the investigation," who claims that one of the soldiers has admitted to his role in the attack and has been arrested. It would have been kind of Lenz* to have verified this claim before reporting it, but perhaps it is too early to do so. [UPDATE: In the Editor & Publisher version of the story, it is reported that the soldier came forward out of guilt after he saw what happened to the two murdered American soliders.]

The insinuation, or at least possible insinuation, stems from the report that the soldiers have had their weapons taken away. If this is normal procedure, and I frankly don't know whether it is or isn't, then it is unremarkable. If it is normal procedure, then reporting it out of context insinuates that the Army believes the soldiers are guilty, when in fact the Army is merely following neutral regulations.

We shall see in the coming weeks what results from the investigation. I hope the soldiers are innocent but am willing to wait until the investigation is complete before deciding one way or the other. I have little hope the press will be so patient, or so generous toward the soldiers.

* The original version referred to the author of the story as the "TimesOnline reporter", as that news source is the one linked above, but Editor & Publisher reports that the person who filed the story used by the TimesOnline is AP reporter Ryan Lenz, who is currently embedded with the 101st Airborne Division but who was previously embedded with the 502nd Infantry.

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