Wednesday, July 05, 2006

July 5 Mahmudiyah Update

Yesterday the New York Times and the Washington Post carried detailed stories about the Mahmudiyah case and the arrest of former Pfc. Steven D. Green. Both added little not contained in the indictment, but are notable for thoroughly explaining the case. The criminal complaint itself can be found here.

Mr. Green appears quite guilty based on the complaint, but that is what criminal complaints like this are supposed to do: make the suspect appear so guilty that an arrest warrant cannot be denied. The complaint also states that the federal authorities are withholding some of the evidence, providing only what is needed for the complaint to be considered valid. It is unclear what that evidence might be. The next step for Green is a hearing on July 10. He is charged in federal court because he is currently a civilian, but may be recalled to duty so the military can bring the charges.

It is difficult to be fair to Mr. Green, given how horrible are the charges against him. If he and his coconspirators do prove guilty, their crimes are doubly evil for having been committed while serving our country. But no matter how much disgrace the charges may bring, I have little doubt that the military will investigate and try him fairly and expeditiously, and that ultimately the truth will be revealed.

At this point, my own belief is that confessions will soon be offered by some of the lesser conspirators, and the only trial we will see will be for the purposes of sentencing, to determine whether the sentences of those convicted will be death or life in prison. I base that belief on the number of witnesses and potential witnesses. Had there only been one soldier reporting a rumor of a crime, or only one or two soldiers in the conspiracy, I could see how a defense against the charges themselves could be made, but not with so many involved and so many soldiers claiming to have heard about some kind of crime being committed. That two soldiers separately report hearing about the crime, and that so many specific details are offered in the complaint, tells me the charges are sound and that at least some of the potential defendants will recognize that their crimes have been discovered.

To my mind, the real "stories" in this case are first that it took so long for the crime to come to light, but second, that the investigation proceeded so quickly once it had begun. The military had attempted to investigate the incident: based on what they now believe were the false reports of Green and his conspirators, they thought the killings were related to an insurgent attack. Then, after soldiers started discussing rumors they had heard, the investigation began and quickly led to the arrest Green.

Once the U.S. military began investigating, the authorities in Mahmudiyah, with the support of the U.S., announced their own investigation. From the Times:

An Army spokesman, Maj. Todd Breasseale, said the American authorities welcomed the development. "We would encourage any civilian judiciary or any civilian legislative arm to explore their own investigation," he said in a telephone interview. "That's what a free and open government system does. We wouldn't even think to hinder it."

The arrest and the Iraqi investigation may be too late to prevent Sunni Arab politicians from now using the case to advance their propaganda. Despite the speed and efficacy of the investigation, which was launched despite no complaint being brought by any Iraqi, some Iraqi parliamentarians are questioning the integrity of American efforts. From the AP: "Justice Minister Hashim Abdul-Rahman al-Shebli, a Sunni Arab, denounced the purported attack as 'monstrous and inhuman' and called on the U.N. Security Council 'to stop these violations of human rights.'" Other Iraqis have used the details of the crime, which are known only because of the military's investigation, to spread a virulent hatred:
An insurgent group, the Mujahedeen Army, distributed an account of the incident on an Islamist Web site. It appeared the report, which generally corresponded with details already made public, was designed to draw attention to the deaths and stir up hostility against the U.S. military.

Some, especially in the lefty blogosphere, are trying to tie the murder of two American soldiers to this crime, but this assertion is baseless, perhaps even wishful thinking by those who hold the Iraq war and the soldiers who fight it in contempt. In fact, the family of the crime victims attempted to hide the crime itself from authorities: rape carries great shame in Arab society. And none of the witnesses who came forward after the investigation was announced suggested that any had previously believed American soldiers were responsible.

As per usual, both the Times and the Post run this case together with the other cases in which American troops are accused of intentional harm against Iraqis. The five cases are unique, and it is wrong to so conflate them. Mahmudiyah is in fact the most peculiar of all, and the Post at least notes why, saying that the charges "detail a crime that appears to have had little if anything to do with the prosecution of the war itself."

One of the cases, of course, is Haidtha, a case that may not be a case, given how untrustworthy the sources for the accusation happen to be, and given that no charges have yet been filed.

The second is an incident that occurred in Hamdaniya, the same case as that of the Camp Pendleton 8. Like Haditha, there are reasons to doubt the basis of the charge. American Thinker and Rhiel World View have dealt with the case's flaws, and Power Line reacts to the charges thusly:
These eight servicemen have been tried and convicted in the press. This is what ostensibly happened:
[E]vidence found thus far indicates Marines entered the town of Hamdaniya in search of an insurgent and, failing to find him, grabbed an unarmed man from his home and shot him.

I don't believe it. Seven Marines and a corpsman--not an unstable soldier or two--didn't find the terrorist they were looking for, so they randomly grabbed an innocent guy and shot him? It's possible that something bad happened here, but that story makes no sense, and unless and until I see the evidence, I simply don't believe it.

The third case occurred in May in Salahuddin.
Three U.S. Army soldiers have been charged with premeditated murder in connection with the killing of three Iraqi detainees as well as with threatening the life of a fellow soldier who they feared would challenge their accounts of the deaths, military officials said Monday.


Military officials first mentioned the Salahuddin investigation in a brief news release June 16. But details of how the three soldiers shot the men, near the Muthana Chemical Complex in southern Salahuddin province, have remained sketchy. The military has not said why the three Iraqis were being detained.

The fourth occurred in Ramadi. Two soldiers are charged with voluntary manslaughter after shooting an unarmed Iraqi man last February. They are also charged with obstruction for placing evidence near the man to implicate him as a terrorist.

And the fifth case occurred in Qaim and resulted from an American interrogation of Iraqi Air Force Maj. Gen. Abed Hamed Mowhoush, who died in custody in November, 2003. Rarely do reports of the case mention why this Iraqi officer was being held: he was a high-ranking Saddam loyalist who led attacks in the area near the Syrian border. Of four soldiers charged, one soldier was convicted of negligent homicide but was not sentenced to prison time while the charges against the others were dropped in return for testimony.

What is usually not mentioned when reports list recent accusations and charges against American soldiers is another Mahmudiyah case, that of Marine Corps 2nd Lt. Ilario Pantano. Sensational charges were made against Lt. Pantano, but those charges were dropped in May, 2005.

To many, the meaning of the most recent Mahmudiyah case has already been determined. To many, regardless of what the facts prove to be -- and the details are subject to change as the case is investigated and the precise facts come into focus -- the case merely proves that the U.S. military is some kind of killing machine.

A technorati search for "Mahmoudiya", made on the morning of July 4, revealed the following. Of the twenty results on the first page, excluding duplicates, 9 were merely neutral, reposting verbatim a news account of the crime or linking to an account. 5 attacked the crime from a left-wing perspective, and two of those declared the belief that these crimes happen every day in Iraq and that Iraqis cannot expect justice from the American military. The remaining 3 attacked Green from the right. None, not even those that attacked Green while trying to show respect for the military, expressed recognition of the fact that it was the military that investigated the crime and brought charges against Green. Of the blogs I've reviewed in the last day and a half, very few, perhaps one in ten, questioned why the soldiers who ultimately came forward didn't come forward sooner.

Similar results obtained when the search was extended to 40 results, and for a search using the alternate spelling "Mahmudiyah."

So far, none of the blogs I reviewed questioned military screening procedures. If it is in fact the case that Green has an identifiable mental disorder, then the only criticism that can be leveled against the military is that they didn't recognize that disorder prior to March, 2006. However, the use of the term "personality disorder" may simple be a bureaucratic ruse to justify an early but mundane discharge. From the Post:
An Army official said yesterday that Green's discharge for a personality disorder does not necessarily indicate a mental disorder. Such a notation can be used to document willful disobedience or a personality that does not mesh well with military life.

For each Mahmudiyah update, I plan to include a story about military honor and bravery. This is partly to clear my own mind, partly to counter the inference so many draw from all the accusations and charges against the U.S. military in Iraq. Today's is from the Marine Corps:
Bronze Star weighs heavily on hero's heart

May 5, 2005; Submitted on: 05/05/2005 12:32:38 PM ; Story ID#: 200555123238

By Pfc. Lanessa J. Arthur, MCB Camp Pendleton

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. (May 5, 2005) -- A medal is no fair exchange for a best friend.

That's how Camp Pendleton's latest Bronze Star Medal recipient summed up his award.

Lance Cpl. Randy B. Lake, a rifleman with Company I, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, collected the medal, with Combat Distinguishing Device, Monday on the regiment's parade deck. It marked his relentless push ---- amid exploding enemy grenades ---- aimed at routing holed-up insurgents and extracting a wounded friend who later died from his injuries.

"Medals don't replace friends," Lake said soon after receiving the Bronze Star for his exploits during the battle of Fallujah in November 2004.

During intense house-to-house fighting, a sniper notified Lake and another Marine that an enemy rocket-propelled grenade team was advancing toward their position. Lake and his partner spotted the enemy inside a house. They immediately rushed the house and eliminated four insurgents, the award citation read.

Meanwhile, a Marine from the fire team, 19-year-old Lance Cpl. Justin D. McLeese from Covington, La., was struck by an insurgent barricaded inside the house.

As enemy grenades exploded around him, Lake immediately realized he needed to find another route to extract his buddy, who had been wounded by enemy automatic gunfire, according to the citation. As he exited, he immediately identified an improvised explosive device attached to the door frame.

"Getting all the Marines out of the house was the most important thing," Lake recalled.

After instructing the squad to remain outside, Lake re-entered the house through another door. Before he could extract the wounded Marine, the device detonated, knocking him through an opening in the house.

Although unable to save McLeese, Lake recovered his composure and provided first aid to four other blast casualties, the citation said.

The Bronze Star is awarded by all branches of military service for either combat heroism or meritorious service. The bronze "V" identifies the award as resulting from an act of combat heroism or valor, distinguishing it from meritorious achievement awards.

Shortly after receiving the Bronze Star, Lake reflected on the homecoming plans he and McLeese shared.

"He always talked about going to Mardi Gras and all the crawfish he would eat," Lake said.

Lake and other Marines, all friends of McLeese, are planning a trip to Louisiana in memory of their fallen comrade, he said.

Although he joined the Corps to "be the best," Lake said he shouldn't be recognized as a hero. His fellow Marines beg to differ.

"He is an outstanding Marine and did as he was told. He was the point man because he paid great attention to details," said fellow fire team member Cpl. Joe L. Vara.

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