Soldiers responsibile for slaughter get court martialed


According to the Globe & Mail’s website:

A 22-year-old soldier accused of taking a lead role in a brutal plot to murder Afghan civilians faces a military trial Wednesday in a case that involves some of the most serious criminal allegations to arise from the U.S. war in Afghanistan.

Spc. Jeremy Morlock, of Wasilla, Alaska, has agreed to plead guilty to three counts of murder, one count of conspiracy to commit assault and battery, and one count of illegal drug use in exchange for a maximum sentence of 24 years, said Geoffrey Nathan, one of his lawyers.

His client is one of five soldiers from Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s 5th Stryker Brigade charged in the killings of three unarmed Afghan men in Kandahar province in January, February and May 2010. Mr. Morlock is the first of the five men to face a trial, known in the military as a court-martial — which Mr. Nathan characterized as an advantage.

“The first up gets the best deal,” he said by phone Tuesday, noting that even under the maximum sentence, Mr. Morlock would serve no more than eight years before becoming eligible for parole.

According to a copy of the plea agreement, Mr. Morlock has agreed to testify against his co-defendants. In his plea deal, Mr. Morlock said he and others slaughtered the three civilians knowing that they were unarmed and posed no legitimate threat.

He also described lobbing a grenade at the civilian in the January incident while another soldier shot at him, and then lying about it to his squad leader.

The court-martial comes days after a German news organization, Der Spiegel, published three graphic photos showing Mr. Morlock and other soldiers posing with dead Afghans. One image features Mr. Morlock grinning as he lifts the head of a corpse by its hair.

Army officials had sought to strictly limit access to the photographs due to their sensitive nature. A spokesman for the magazine declined to say how it had obtained the pictures, citing the need to protect its sources.

Mr. Morlock told investigators the murder plot was led by Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, of Billings, Montana, who is also charged in the case. Mr. Gibbs maintains the reasons behind the killings were legitimate.

Mr. Nathan said Mr. Morlock’s mother and hockey coach are among the witnesses who might testify on his behalf in court. He indicated the defence would argue that a lack of leadership in the unit contributed to the killings.

“He’s really a good kid. This is just a bad war at a bad time in our country’s history,” Mr. Nathan said. “There was a lack of supervision, a lack of command control, the environment was terrible. In his mind, he had no choice.”

After the January killing, platoon member Spc. Adam Winfield, of Cape Coral, Florida, sent Facebook messages to his parents saying that his fellow soldiers had murdered a civilian and were planning to kill more. Mr. Winfield said his colleagues warned him not to tell anyone.

Mr. Winfield’s father alerted a staff sergeant at Lewis-McChord, which is south of Seattle, but no action was taken until May, when a witness in a drug investigation in the unit also reported the deaths.

Mr. Winfield is accused of participating in the final murder. He admitted in a videotaped interview that he took part and said he feared the others might kill him if he didn’t.

Also charged in the murders are Pvt. 1st Class Andrew Holmes of Boise, Idaho, and Spc. Michael Wagnon II of Las Vegas.

Seven other soldiers in the platoon are charged with lesser crimes, including assaulting the witness in the drug investigation, drug use, firing on unarmed farmers and stabbing a corpse.

Afghan civilians slaughtered for sport


 

 

US Soldiers pose with their victims’ bodies

As reported by the U.K. Guardian’s Jon Boone:

The face of Jeremy Morlock, a young US soldier, grins at the camera, his hand holding up the head of the dead and bloodied youth he and his colleagues have just killed in an act military prosecutors say was premeditated murder.

Moments before the picture was taken in January last year, the unsuspecting victim had been waved over by a group of US soldiers who had driven to his village in Kandahar province in one of their armoured Stryker tanks.

According to testimony collected by Der Spiegel magazine the boy had, as a matter of routine, lifted up his shirt to reveal that he was not hiding a suicide bomb vest.

That was the moment Morlock, according to a pre-arranged plan, threw a grenade at the boy that exploded while other members of the rogue group who called themselves the “kill team” opened fire.

They would later tell military investigators that the boy, a farmer’s son, had threatened them with the grenade.

The pictures include a similar photograph of a different soldier posing with the same victim and a photograph of two other civilians killed by the unit.

There was no sign on Monday of the anticipated public outrage. But withAfghanistan on holiday for the Persian new year celebrations, and media outlets initially unable to get hold of the images, anger may yet build.

The US ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry, recently confided to officials that he feared it might trigger the same kind of scandal as that at Abu Ghraib in Iraq, where images of prisoners being abused by US soldiers sparked anti-American protests.

For weeks the US government has been working to pre-empt any outrage, with top officials, including the US vice president Joe Biden, in talks with Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president.

Despite being a setback in the propaganda war between the western coalition and its insurgent enemies, Nato will be relieved that for the time being only a tiny sample of a total collection of roughly 4,000 images and video clips have found their way into the public domain.

The publication of the photos will also mark the ultimate disgrace of the group of young US soldiers, who are currently facing military justice for killing innocent civilians for sport and mutilating their bodies by cutting off fingers and ripping out teeth to keep as trophies.

Morlock has turned on his former colleagues, agreeing to testify against them in return for a reduced jail sentence. Some of the activities of the group are already public, with 12 men currently on trial in Seattle for their role in the killing of three civilians. Morlock has told investigators that Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibbs was the ringleader. In videotaped evidence, he has said Gibbs would pick out a possible target with a comment such as: “You guys wanna wax this guy or what?”

Gibbs, if found guilty, could receive a life sentence.

Hans-Ulrich Stoldt, a spokesman for Der Spiegel, said the magazine had other, more graphic photos.

“We published three but not others, and we even pixilated those we did print so that the victims could not be identified,” Stoldt said. “We needed to document [the accusations] in some form, and were as restrained as possible.”

Warning offered post-Mubarak’s abrupt departure


El Tahrir Square 1

A demonstrator painting a milestone in Egyptian history. Photo credit: Mohamed Abd El-Salam

An important reminder was offered today in light of the rapid changes taking place in Egypt. While the protesters celebrate their success at ousting Mubarak, the Associated Press (AP) suggest caution now that Egyptian military have dissolved the Parliament and suspended the constitution.

According to the AP article, the director of the non-governmental organization Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights Hossam Bahgat states that the country has entered uncharted legal ground. Bahgat stated that, “’In the absence of a constitution, we have entered a sort of ‘twilight zone’ in terms of rules, so we are concerned,” he said. “We are clearly monitoring the situation and will attempt to influence the transitional phase so as to respect human rights.’”

With the Parliament gone and no constitution in place, as asked for by the demonstrators, the military potentially has more power then when Mubarak was in office. Under Mubarak, the country was under a perpetual state of emergency which helped him monopolize his power. Now that there is no constitution, Egypt is under martial law which means that the military can create any law and enforce them in military tribunals.

While the military has so far responded to the desires of the people and the situation seems optimistic, there is cause for concern. The demonstrators have also asked that the emergency laws that have been in place for the past 30 years be repealed. On this particular issue, the military is utterly silent and has failed to take any action.

The military’s failure to address this issue is confirmed by Al Jazeera. James Bays, a correspondent for the paper, says that, “‘one thing that wasn’t in that communique that protesters have asked for, was the repeal of emergency laws.’”   In addition he says that the military council has, “’taken on the role of the presidency and the prime minister and the other ministers carry out their orders.’”

Some protestors appear to share Bahgat’s concerns because they promised to remain in Tahrir Square until all of their requests have been met. Safwat Hegazi, who helped to organize the demonstrations, asserts that, “’If the army does not fulfil our demands, our uprising and its measures will return stronger.’”

Hegazi’s statement is a testament to the Egyptian people’s dedication and commitment to a more open government. With this in mind, there remains the strong potential that more mass demonstrations are in Egypt’s future.

Doherty’s public safety policy, part 2


As a prosecutor, Doherty helped to create what he calls a Pre-Complaint Juvenile Diversion Program for Middlesex country.  The program helps minors, “…to understand the consequences of their actions, learn from their mistakes, lessen the propensity to commit future crimes and protect them from having a criminal record.”  Doherty would likely expand the program statewide if elected.

“Sexting” is a phenomenon where sexually provocative images are sent via picture messages on cell phones.  In Massachusetts, the law allows minors to be tried under the child pornography statutes.  If charged, then minors could be required to register as a sex offender indefinitely.  Recognizing the complexity of this issue, voters could expect Doherty to favor legislation to protect minors from registering as offenders.

A third aspect of his policy could streamline the deportation of illegal immigrants only in situations where major felonies and drug trafficking offenses have taken place.  Having read his policy, Doherty appears to favor legislation that would deport illegal immigrants if they’re suspected of having trafficked drugs or committed serious crimes.

Though he released this policy today, the local authorities are already very familiar with Doherty.  The police associations in Westford, Tyngsborough and Lowell have all endorsed him for the September 14th primary.  Doherty is also favored by the Massachusetts Teachers Association, which is one of the largest unions in the state as it represents over 150, 000 members.

Doherty’s public safety policy, part 1


For immediate release—Today Chris Doherty (D-Lowell) announced his policy initiatives aimed at reducing violence.  Doherty is running for the state senate seat left open by Senator Panagiotakos’s retirement.  In his bid for the seat, he faces competition from Eileen Donoghue (D-Lowell).

Doherty’s policy outlines a multifaceted approach designed to close loopholes within the state’s legal system.  One such measure includes improving laws implemented at protecting seniors from economic scams.

The focal point of his policy was created to protect women from domestic violence.  Before the session ended, the legislature passed the Sexual Assault and Stalker bill which will enhance the protection offered to women holding restraining orders.  Doherty helped to draft the bill when he was a prosecutor.

In addition, Doherty intends to support legislation that will create a cohesive safety alert system for victims. In situations where an abuser is monitored with a GPS bracelet, victims would be notified immediately should the abuser remove the bracelet.  Currently, individuals who are served with restraining orders are still capable of harassing their victims by closing lines of credit.  To end this practice, he would support initiatives that make it a crime to cause economic interference.

To keep reading, click here.

No Women, No Play project launched


With a concert and much fanfare, the Institute for Gulf Affairs (IGA) launched their “No Women, No Play” project in Washington, D.C. The aim of the project is to improve women’s rights in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) by boycotting the country from the Olympics. The IGA is a think tank that focuses on improving U.S. – Middle East relations by regularly meeting with members of the government and the media, so as to ensure that everyone is well-informed of developments in the area.

The concert took place in DuPont Circle, a major hub of activity within the district, on July 31st. The concert included performers Yvette Benjamin (aka Free) and Muneer AlAsheq. Speakers included Erin Matson, Vice President of the National Organization for Women (NOW) and Palestinian-American women’s rights activist, Besama Adriana Alghussein.

According to a recent press release on the IGA’s website, the program was created to put pressure on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to enforce their charter.  The IOC is specifically mandated to “act against any form of discrimination affecting the Olympic Movement,” and to “encourage and support the promotion of women…with a view to implementing the principle of of equality between men and women.”

The logic behind the project is straightforward. Currently, though women have separate athletic facilities within the country, the KSA bars them from participating in the Olympics. The KSA’s practice is a direct violation of the principles which created the Olympic movement. As specifically stated with the Olympic Charter:

The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practicing sport, without discrimination of any kind…any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on the grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement. Pg 11

The charter also explains that any member country must abide by the charter. Furthermore, the IOC is “supreme authority” of the Olympic Movement and is thus charged to enforce the charter. Any decision made by the IOC is considered binding and must be followed.

Essentially, the project is relating the KSA’s practice to South Africa’s race apartheid. The comparison being if South Africa was banned until they stopped discriminating against blacks, then KSA should be banned until they stop discriminating against women.

For more information on this project, please visit the IGA’s website which is http://www.gulfinstitute.org. Email questions and comments directly to nowomennoplay@gulfinstitute.org or rachel@gulfinstitute.org. Updates are sent to Twitter and Facebook as well.

MA makes itself heard over immigration dilemma


With the Department of Justice (DOJ) filing suit against Arizona, many Massachusetts residents are making their voices heard. Though the Bay state is miles from Arizona, what happens there has far-reaching consequences and inextricably connects both to the rest of the states. Steven Camarota, the Research Director of the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), discussed this connection yesterday on C-Span.

Camarota described the situation as a conflict between enforcing current law or rewriting national legislation. He acknowledged that while it is important to refine our immigration policy, Camarota stated that doing so is the equivalent of, “…putting the cart before the horse” if we can’t first enforce our laws. Camarota mentioned that thirty-four states have passed some form of immigration policy or are boycotting Arizona like Boston. His concern over enforcement is shared by local residents.

Steve Kropper, co-chairman of the Massachusetts Citizens of Immigration Reform (MCIR), is an adamant supporter of the Arizona law. According to Kropper, the legislation is sound because it, “takes the handcuffs off police” by enabling them to better perform their jobs. Though some residents may agree with Kropper, not everyone does.

Yesterday the Pittsfield chapter of Manos Unidas, translated as Hands United, asked that the city council mirror the boycott initiated by the Boston City Council. On May 5th, the Boston City Council adopted a non-binding resolution which allowed them to stop working with Arizona or any Arizona based businesses.

That Massachusetts is a part of this controversy is a very compelling reason for residents to pay attention to what happens in other states. Think about everything this way. With Beantown leading a boycott, businesses like Cold Stone and P.F. Chang’s could lose revenue because they are based in Tempe and Scottsdale Arizona, respectively. If residents are as enamored with custom-made ice cream and Chinese food like this writer is, then we have even more motivation to get involved with this discussion.

For more information, visit my page at Examiner.com.