Saturday, February 09, 2008

Soldiers defense for murder :: Sleep-deprived and dehydrated

The leadership of the US troops in Iraq continue putting our soldiers in danger. First by not planning, then by not not supplying needed equipment and now by abusing them as pawns without consideration that they are humans.

Exhausted soldiers try to get rest while on patrol in Iraq, May 2007.
Michael Kamber / New York Times / Redux

This is from a Time Magazine article about the trial of Sgt. Evan Vela

As the first day of testimony in what is expected to be a four day trial kicked off on Friday before an eight-person jury of both officers and enlisted soldiers.

Part of an elite parachute infantry sniper-scout platoon, Sgt. Evan Vela is accused of murdering an unarmed Iraqi that his five-man squad had taken captive after the man breached their hideout.

Vela's civilian defense attorney James Culp argued that his client was not guilty of murdering Genei Nesir Khudair Al-Janabi because, at the time Vela pulled the trigger, he was so sleep-deprived and dehydrated after four days of non-stop battlefield action that he was neither in control of his actions nor fully aware of what he was doing. "It was a terrible accident," Culp said outside the courtroom during a recess, "but Evan didn't intentionally shoot anyone."

On the witness stand, Sgt. Robert Redfern, another soldier on that patrol, described a combat schedule leading up to the shooting that tested the limits of human endurance. In great detail, he chronicled two back-to-back two-day missions that included nighttime hikes while carrying 150 lb. packs in what may be the most dangerous area of the country. During the day, the soldiers had no choice but to bake in the open sun in 120 degree heat as they tried to conserve the three or four liters of water per man they had carried in. And, since they were either traveling or conducting surveillance around the clock, no one was allowed to sleep more than 15 minutes at a time. "By the second day, I could barely stand," said Redfern. Some soldiers began administering hydrating IVs to each other just to stay mobile and fend off headaches. By sunup of the fourth day, the ailing group holed up in a hideout to try to get a few hours of uninterrupted sleep. Each soldier took a one hour guard roation while the others slept.

That's when Al-Janabi startled the group. There is conflicting testimony over who was supposed to be on guard at the time, but Sgt. Michael Hensley, the group's commanding officer, pinned the man down and searched him. Some time after that, Vela shot him in the head with a nine mm. pistol.

In his testimony today, Hensley, one of the soldiers already acquitted for his role in the death (but guilty of planting the AK-47), endeavored to justify the killing, saying that Al-Janabi would not stop yelling, crying and "flopping around like a fish" despite repeated efforts to silence him. It was then that Hensley says he decided, for the safety of his men, that Al-Janabi had to die. "I thought that he was trying alert insurgents," Hensley said. "I felt like I had no choice or we would be further compromised." He says he asked Vela, who had a pistol trained on the man, if he was ready, and then he told him to shoot. Vela pulled the trigger and the man died of that single bullet to the head. When asked why he didn't shoot Al-Janabi himself, Hensley said, "Vela happened to be the one with the pistol. I would have gladly shot him myself."

Iraq's Minister of Human Rights, Wijdan Mikhail Salim, however, does not see the case as either a justified kill or a horrific accident by an exhaustion-impaired soldier. She was attending today's proceedings, she told TIME, because, "I want to be sure that any American soldier who wrongs an Iraqi will go on trial. [Vela] killed an Iraqi man, an unarmed man. He must be punished."

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