Saturday, July 01, 2006

More Mahmudiyah News

The Washington Post continues its reporting on the Mahmudiyah investigation, this time with a story by Ellen Knickmeyer. At this point, we still lack sufficient information about the crime to say with any certainty how truthful the allegations are. This has prevented few from assuming their truth. In deference to those who have served in Iraq, and because the media has so shamelessly tried and convicted other soldiers even when an indictment has not been filed, I shall try to separate the facts from the insinuation and innuendo for this case. I do not know whether the soldiers are guilty or innocent, but I do trust the military to make that determination responsibly; I trust them to provide justice should justice be required, and I do not trust the media to provide any justice whatever.

The Post story actually begins with a report about the murderous bombing in Sadr City. Only after reporting details of that crime -- the bomb was so powerful it threw bodies onto the tops of nearby buildings -- does the story turn to the Mahmudiyah case. It then reports that an unnamed military official revealed that the target of the attack, the rape victim, was a 20-year-old who had complained of harassment from U.S. troops at the checkpoints near her home. According to a resident of Mahmudiyah, the harassment was severe enough that she spent nights at a neighbor's house.

On Saturday, Janabi, one of the neighbors asserting knowledge of the Mahmudiyah killings, said the victims were Kassim Hamza Rasheed Janabi, 36, a guard at a government-owned food warehouse; Fakhriya Taha Muhasen, 44, his wife; and their two daughters, 7-year-old Hadeel and 15-year-old Abeer.

Omar Janabi said that on March 11, with American and Iraqi forces in the area, U.S. troops raided Kassim Janabi's home. Although members of the same, large tribe, the two men are not directly related.

Entering the home after the raid, Omar Janabi said, he found the husband, wife and 7-year-old girl in one room. All had been shot dead, he said.

The 15-year-old girl lay in another room, with her dress pushed up around her neck, Omar Janabi said. A fire had been set in the room, burning a pillow and the girl's hair, he said.

The details are horrific, but reading them reinforces the need to apply here similar logic as that used by a judge who witholds from a jury evidence showing a crime's full horror. A judge does this when he or she feels a jury, upon seeing a crime's horrors, will forego their responsibility to punish a person only when their guilt is proven beyond a reasonable doubt and instead move to punish the person who they most associate with a terrible crime, the accused. Similarly, now that we know the scale of the crime committed against the Iraqi family, we should remember that our revulsion will automatically cause us to place blame on the nearest available party, regardless of the presence or absence of verifiable evidence. In this case, that party is the only party that has been associated with the crime, the soldiers under investigation. Yet we have no verifiable evidence that they are in fact guilty, just some rumors about what some military witnesses may have seen, and the knowledge that they are under investigation.

Immediately following this description, the reporter adds a caveat. In the online version of the article, this caveat appears on page 2 of the story while the horrifying description appears at the end of page 1. Though not the reporter's fault, it must be said that it would more fair if the caveat were on the same page as the description:
It was impossible to independently confirm the accounts given by the two men. Although some of the details, such as the home's location, coincided with those given by the U.S. military official, it was also impossible to immediately reconcile differences, such as whether the alleged rape victim was 15 or 20.

The Post reports some additional discrepancies, ones which may be resolved easily but which could be quite meaningful.

First, the Post reports that the soldiers claimed the family was killed by Sunni insurgents. This apparently puzzled residents because the family itself was Sunni. What puzzles me is that I would think soldiers resident in the area would know that there is a difference between Sunni and Shia. Since all the reporting indicates that investigators think the soldiers plotted the crime, I would think such plotting would include a plausible cover story, and that the soldiers would know it is not plausible that a Sunni family would be murdered by Sunni insurgents. This may prove too generous: the crime itself indicates the intelligence such a cover story assumes is lacking, but it is still worth noting.

A second discrepancy is between the witnesses. The Post reports that one of the witnesses had first been told a Shiite militia was responsible.

The confusion over what the initial report of the incident said is indicative of the lack of information we have about this case.

The Post only had two Iraqi witnesses for this story, Omar Janabi and a second man who refused to be identified. Omar Janabi was interviewed in the home of a tribal elder. The two witnesses were interviewed by two different reporters in two different locations.

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