High military court refuses to halt Afghan murder case

Started by 63Wildcat, February 17, 2011, 12:23:33 AM

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High military court refuses to halt Afghan murder case

By Laura L. Myers

SEATTLE | Tue Feb 15, 2011 11:03pm EST

SEATTLE (Reuters) - The highest U.S. military court has denied a last-ditch bid to halt prosecution of one of the five U.S. soldiers in Washington state facing court-martial on charges of murdering unarmed Afghan civilians.

Lawyers for Army Private Andrew Holmes had petitioned the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces seeking to compel prosecutors to allow public scrutiny of photographic evidence that the defense says would exonerate their client, despite its inflammatory nature.

Defense attorneys also had asked the court to block further proceedings against Holmes, 20, from Boise, Idaho, unless the photos were ordered unsealed.

But in a one-page decision issued on February 9, the Washington, D.C.-based court denied the petition "without prejudice to further consideration in proceedings," upholding a ruling last month by a lower appeals court.

Holmes' civilian defense lawyer, Dan Conway, told Reuters on Tuesday that the latest decision leaves him free to petition the presiding judge in the case directly to unseal the photos.

"We have every intention of raising this at the earliest opportunity, which is likely the arraignment," he said. No date for that hearing has been set. A court-martial trial is unlikely before early May.

Holmes is the youngest of five soldiers charged with premeditated murder in connection with the slayings of unarmed Afghan villagers allegedly staged to look like legitimate combat casualties. The charges mark the most serious prosecutions of alleged atrocities by the U.S. military in Afghanistan since the war began there in late 2001.

Seven other members of what prosecutors describe as a combat platoon run amok were charged with lesser offenses in the case, which began as a probe of soldiers' hashish use. Three men have pleaded guilty and been sentenced.

But the most potentially explosive aspect of the case are grisly photos that some of the men are accused of having taken of Afghan war dead. Holmes and another defendant are shown in some pictures posing with corpses, holding up lifeless heads by their hair, according to court testimony and documents.

The existence of such images has drawn comparisons to pictures of Iraqi prisoners taken by U.S. military personnel at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq in 2004. And the U.S. Army has taken pains to keep the Stryker Brigade photos sealed.

But Conway has argued the photos demonstrate his client's innocence by showing that his alleged victim was likely killed by a grenade blast rather than by rifle fire from the kind of automatic weapon Holmes was carrying at the time.

Conway says the military's decision to seal the photos, barring them from being shown in open court, effectively denies Holmes his constitutional right to a public trial because defense lawyers cannot cross-examine military investigators about the pictures.

(Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Greg McCune)
"..the death of any public servant or innocent is a tragedy... the death of a murderer is a mere statistic..."  -63Wildcat



Trial starts for JBLM soldier accused in murder cover-up
By Megan McCloskey
Published: February 22, 2011

WASHINGTON _ Another 5th Stryker Brigade soldier goes to trial Wednesday in the aftermath of potentially the worst case of American war crimes to come out of the Afghan war.

Spc. Adam Kelly is one of seven Lewis-McChord soldiers charged with crimes related to the cover up of three alleged murders of unarmed Afghans during the unit's deployment to Afghanistan last year. Five other soldiers in Kelly's platoon are accused of killing civilians for sport during patrols in Kandahar and taking body parts as trophies.

Kelly faces a court martial in part on charges of beating up a soldier who asked for a transfer out of the platoon because he didn't want to be caught up in the alleged drug and murder spree of his platoonmates. The soldier testified at an Article 32 hearing that his beating was meant to silence him.

Kelly is charged with conspiracy to commit assault, battery, wrongful use of a controlled substance and impeding an investigation. Three of the other soldiers who faced similar charges have already pled guilty and agreed to testify against the other defendants, and three more are awaiting court martial.

Kelly could be sentenced to a maximum of 11.5 years in prison.

The five soldiers awaiting court martial on charges of murder for the deaths are Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, who is accused by other soldiers as being the ringleader, Pfc. Andrew Holmes, Spc. Michael Wagnon, Spc. Adam Winfield, and Spc. Jeremy Morlock. Morlock has signed a plea agreement that would send him to prison for a maximum of 24 years in exchange for his testimony. The Army has not yet decided whether to accept the plea.
"..the death of any public servant or innocent is a tragedy... the death of a murderer is a mere statistic..."  -63Wildcat


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