Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Report: Charges against US soldiers for abuse of Iraqis dismissed at higher rate

Report: Charges against US soldiers for abuse of Iraqis dismissed at higher rate

(AP) - DAYTON, Ohio-Charges against U.S. Army soldiers accused of crimes against Iraqis are dismissed or withdrawn at a higher rate than charges in which the victims are fellow soldiers or civilian military employees, a local newspaper reported.

An analysis by the Dayton Daily News of previously undisclosed records from the Army Court-Martial Management Information System database found that charges involving Iraqi victims were three times more likely to be dismissed or withdrawn by the Army than cases in which the victims were fellow soldiers or civilian military employees - 44 percent compared with 15 percent, the newspaper said.
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The report found that 226 U.S. soldiers were charged with offenses between the first deployments in March 2003 and Jan. 1, 2005. Of the 1,038 separate charges, fewer than one in 10 involved crimes against Iraqis. Virtually all of the rest involved crimes against other soldiers, property drug or alcohol offenses, and violations of military rules, the Daily News said.

The Daily News said that despite evidence and convictions in some cases in which the victims were Iraqis, only a small percentage resulted in punishments approaching those routinely imposed for such crimes by civilian justice systems.

The newspaper cited one case in which two U.S. soldiers were convicted of robbing an Iraqi shopkeeper. One soldier was sentenced to five months' confinement and the other to one month.

The median sentence imposed for all types of robbery in the United States, with or without the use of firearms, is five years.

"I've been surprised at some of the lenient sentences," said Gary Solis, a former military judge and prosecutor who teaches military law at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. "I have an uneasy suspicion that it relates to the nationality of the victim."

Solis said criminal acts by U.S. soldiers - and the lack of punishment - could add to the hatred fueling insurgents in Iraq, putting soldiers at greater risk.

Human Rights Watch, a U.S. rights group, last month issued a report based on soldiers' accounts that found U.S. Army troops had subjected Iraqi detainees to severe beatings and other torture at a base in central Iraq from 2003 through 2004, often under orders or with the approval of superior officers.

The group said that in most cases, the military used closed administrative hearings where they handed down light administrative punishments such as pay reductions and reprimands, instead of criminal prosecutions before courts-martial.

Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Col. Pamela Hart defended the Army's handling of criminal cases in Iraq, saying every allegation of abuse is investigated.

"Each investigation is unique and has various facts and circumstances," Hart said Monday. "We do investigate those thoroughly to ensure we take the appropriate actions. When wrongdoings are revealed, the commanders do punish appropriately. The uniform code of military justice is fair and sound."

Hart said that in at least three cases, five defendants charged with crimes against Iraqis got sentences ranging from five years to life with possibility for parole.

"To date, there have been dozens of courts-martial, non-judicial punishments and other adverse administrative actions against soldiers for misconduct pertaining to Iraqi citizens," she said.

Last week, U.S. Army Pfc. Lynndie England, whose smiling poses in photos of detainee abuse at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison, made her the most recognizable face of the scandal, was sentenced to 3 years in prison. England was found guilty of one count of conspiracy, four counts of maltreating detainees and one count of committing an indecent act. She was acquitted on a second conspiracy count.

England's trial was the last for a group of nine Army reservists charged with mistreating prisoners at Abu Ghraib, a scandal that badly damaged the United States' image in the Muslim world, despite quick condemnation of the abuse by U.S. President George W. Bush. Two other troops were convicted in trials, and the remaining six made plea deals.

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