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Refusing to Kill: Higher Sentence Than Murder

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    When Refusing to Kill Has a Higher Sentence Than Murder MONDAY 22 SEPTEMBER 2008 by: Ann Wright t r u t h o u t http://www.truthout .org/article/
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 5, 2008
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      When Refusing to Kill Has a Higher Sentence Than Murder
      MONDAY 22 SEPTEMBER 2008
      by: Ann Wright
      t r u t h o u t
      http://www.truthout .org/article/ when-refusing- kill-has- a-higher-
      sentence- than-murder


      An American soldier pauses before heading out to patrol near Tikrit,
      Iraq. According to Ann Wright, soldiers may be more severely punished
      for refusing to kill than for killing the wrong person. (Photo: AFP /
      Getty Images)

      From the beginning of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the United
      States military has come under intense criticism and scrutiny for the
      deaths of civilians. This week, the secretary of defense and the
      chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff made trips to Afghanistan and
      Pakistan to "acknowledge" the deaths of innocent civilians in attacks
      in those countries.

      In the five and one-half years of the US occupation of Iraq, hundreds
      of thousands of Iraqi civilians have been killed by US military
      personnel at checkpoints, during convoy movements and during
      operations to find the "enemy." In the half-decade of US military
      presence in Iraq, a very small number of US military personnel and an
      even smaller number of CIA and contractors have been charged with
      manslaughter or murder in these deaths. The deaths of most civilians
      are counted in the "costs of war." A few dozen military have been
      court-martialed on allegations of mistreatment, manslaughter and
      murder of Iraqi civilians. With a very few exceptions, most who were
      court-martialed have been acquitted. Those who were convicted have
      generally served light sentences.

      This week we see again that punishment is less for murdering four
      Iraqis than for refusing to participate in a war that many citizens,
      and many in the military, see as a crime against the peace - a war
      crime.

      On September 18, 2008, the US Army sentenced Specialist Belmor Ramos
      to seven months in prison, demotion to private and a dishonorable
      discharge for standing guard from a turret in a Humvee while three
      others in his unit, the First Infantry Division, bound, blindfolded,
      shot in the heads and dumped the bodies of four unidentified Iraqi
      men into a Baghdad canal in 2007 in retaliation for deaths in Ramos's
      unit. According to Associated Press reports, during the court-
      martial, Ramos admitted his guilt: "I wanted them dead. I had no
      legal justification or excuse to do this."

      Ramos had been charged with conspiracy to commit murder, for which he
      could have received a life sentence. The military judge in Ramos's
      court-martial in Vilsek, Germany, would have sentenced him to 40
      years in prison had the military prosecutor not agreed to a plea
      bargain for seven months to testify in the upcoming court-martials of
      the three non-commissioned officers - Sgt. John E. Hatley, Sgt. 1st
      Class Joseph P. Mayo and Sgt. Michael P. Leahy Jr. - who were charged
      on September 16, 2008, with premeditated murder, conspiracy to commit
      premeditated murder and obstruction of justice.

      Longer Sentences for Resisting War Than for Murdering Civilians
      Just one month ago, US Army Private Robin Long was sentenced to
      fifteen months in prison, reduced to private and given a dishonorable
      discharge for having been absent without leave from the Army rather
      than serving in a war he believed was unlawful. He had been deported
      from Canada where he had been speaking on his concerns about the
      legality of the war for three years and was handed over by Canadian
      immigration officials to the US military for prosecution. One month
      earlier, US Army Private First Class James Burmeister voluntarily
      returned from Canada and was sentenced in July 2008 to six months in
      prison for refusing to return to Iraq after two previous tours in
      which he was hit by three IEDs.

      In May 2008, Private First Class Robert Weiss was court-martialed in
      Vilseck, Germany, and sentenced to 7 months in jail for refusing to
      go to Iraq. Also in May 2008, Private First Class Ryan Jackson was
      also court-martialed and sentenced to 100 days in jail for refusing
      to go to Iraq.

      In 2007, the court-martial of US Army First Lieutenant Ehren Watada,
      the first commissioned officer who refused to deploy to Iraq, ended
      in a mistrial. He is still on active duty with the Army. Also in
      2007, US Army Sergeant Mark Wilkerson refused to return to Iraq and
      was sentenced to seven months in jail. The Army denied the
      conscientious objection application of US Army medic Specialist
      Agustin Aguayo; he refused to return to Iraq and was sentenced to
      eight months in jail. Also in 2007, Specialist Melanie McPherson, a
      US Army Minnesota Reservist, refused to go to Iraq in a job she was
      not trained for; she was court-martialed and sentenced to three
      months in jail.

      In 2006, US Army Specialist Dale Bertell refused to return to Iraq
      and was sentenced to four months in jail. US Army Texas National
      Guard Specialist Katherine Jashniski refused to deploy to
      Afghanistan; she was sentenced to four months in jail. US Army
      Sergeant Ricky Clousing of the 82nd Airborne Division refused to
      return to Iraq and was sentenced to three months in jail. US Marine
      Corporal Ivan Brobeck voluntarily returned from 18 months in Canada
      and was court-martialed for refusing to return to Iraq; he was
      sentenced to eight months in jail.

      In 2005, US Army Sergeant Kevin Benderman refused to return to Iraq
      and was sentenced to 15 months in jail; he served 13 months. US Army
      Specialist Blake LeMoine refused to return to Iraq and served seven
      months in jail. When the conscientious objection application of US
      Army Private Neil Quentin Lucas was denied, he refused to go to Iraq
      and served 13 months in jail.

      In 2004, US Army Sergeant Camilo Mejia refused to return to Iraq and
      was sentenced to 12 months in jail. The highest-ranking non-
      commissioned officer to refuse orders to Iraq, US Army Sergeant First
      Class Abdullah Webster, was sentenced to 14 months in jail. He was
      within two years of retirement when he refused to deploy to Iraq. US
      Navy Petty Officer Third Class Pablo Paredes refused to deploy on a
      ship carrying Marines to a war he considered illegal. He was
      sentenced to three months confinement. The US Marines denied the
      conscientious objection application of Corporal Joel Klimkewixz and
      he was sentenced to seven months in jail.

      In 2003, the US Marines denied the conscientious objection
      application of Marine Reservist Stephen Funk and sentenced him to six
      months in jail. All of the war resisters who have been court-
      martialed for refusing to go to Iraq or Afghanistan have been given
      either dishonorable or bad conduct discharges.

      Thousands of other military service members who privately and
      silently oppose the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been given
      administrative discharges upon their voluntary return to the military
      after having been absent without leave.

      Light Sentences for the Murders of Iraqis

      Some of the more prominent cases where US military personnel have
      been court-martialed, but not necessarily convicted, for the murders
      of Iraqi civilians include:

      On August 29, 2008, a civilian jury in Riverside, California,
      acquitted former US Marine Sergeant Jose Nazario Jr. on charges of
      voluntary manslaughter in the deaths of four unarmed Iraqi detainees
      during the siege of Fallujah, Iraq, in 2004.

      In June, 2008, a U.S. military judge dismissed charges against
      Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Chessani, who had been accused of failing
      to investigate the November 2005 massacre of 24 unarmed Iraqi
      civilians in the town of Haditha. Of the eight Marines originally
      charged in the Haditha massacre, only one still faces prosecution.
      Criminal charges have been dismissed against six of the Marines and a
      seventh Marine was acquitted.

      In 2007, seven Camp Pendleton Marines and a Navy corpsman were
      charged with murder and related offenses in the April 2006 kidnapping
      and killing of a 57-year-old retired Iraqi policeman in the village
      of Hamdania northwest of Baghdad. Only one of the men, squad leader
      Sergeant Lawrence Hutchins III, remains in jail, convicted of murder
      and sentenced by a Camp Pendleton military jury to 15 years. The
      other six either served out the terms they agreed to in plea deals or
      had their sentences commuted by Lieutenant General James Mattis, the
      Commanding General of Camp Pendleton. Mattis ordered the men below
      Hutchins's rank released after a military jury in July 2007 found
      Corporal Trent Thomas guilty for his role in the murders but limited
      his sentence to time already served. In releasing the others, General
      Mattis determined that Thomas's sentence created an unfair disparity
      for his fellow Marines who had been convicted with higher
      sentences.

      In December 2007, US Marine Reservist Lance Corporal Delano Holmes
      was convicted of negligent homicide for the stabbing death of Iraqi
      Army Private Munther Jasem Muhammed Hassin, a man he shared guard
      duty with at Camp Fallujah, Iraq, on December 31, 2006. Holmes killed
      Hassin, stabbing him 17 times, slashing him another 26 times and
      nearly slicing his nose from his face. A military jury sentenced
      Holmes to time served, the second time in five months that a Camp
      Pendleton Marine military court jury allowed a defendant convicted in
      a homicide case to be sentenced to only time served. Holmes was
      reduced in rank from lance corporal to private and given a bad
      conduct discharge.

      In August 2008, Article 32 hearings were held in Vilsek, Germany, to
      determine whether to proceed with criminal charges against Staff
      Sergeant Jess Cunningham and Sergeant Charles Quigley for the death
      of an Iraqi. The hearing officer has not yet decided whether the two
      will be court-martialed.

      In only one murder case in Iraq have convicted US military personnel
      received substantial sentences. In August 2007, a military jury
      convicted US Army Private First Class Jesse Speilman of rape and four
      counts of felony murder for the rape and murder of Abeer Qassim al-
      Janabi, a 14-year-old Iraqi girl, and the murders of her parents and
      younger sister on March 12, 2006, in Mahmoudiya, a village about 20
      miles south of Baghdad. Speilman was sentenced to 110 years in
      prison, but will be eligible for parole in ten years.

      During their court-martial, Specialist James P. Barker and Sergeant
      Paul Cortez testified they took turns raping Abeer while Private
      Steven Green shot and killed her mother, father and younger sister.
      They also testified that Green shot Abeer Qassin in the head after
      raping her. They then set her body on fire to destroy evidence.

      Cruz was sentenced to 100 years in prison under a plea agreement and
      will be eligible for parole in 10 years. Barker pleaded guilty at his
      court-martial and was sentenced to 90 years in a military prison,
      with the possibility of parole. Private Bryan Howard was sentenced to
      27 months in prison under a plea agreement. Private Steven D. Green
      was discharged from the Army for anti-social behavior before the
      murders had been discovered. However, he was arrested and charged
      with rape and murder in the Western District Court of Kentucky. He
      will be tried in that court on April 29, 2009. His attorney has filed
      documents for an insanity defense.

      Higher Punishment for Killing Fellow Servicemen Than Iraqis
      Punishment for murder of other U.S. service members is dramatically
      higher than for murder of Iraqi and Afghan civilians.

      In April 2003, US Army Sergeant Hasan Akbar, a member of the 101st
      Airborne Division, allegedly threw grenades into a tent at Camp
      Pennsylvania in Kuwait that killed two officers and wounded 14. Akbar
      was sentenced to death in April 2005.

      In June 2005, US Army 42nd Infantry Division Staff Sergeant Alberto
      Martinez allegedly killed two superior officers with an anti-
      personnel mine and grenades inside one of Saddam Hussein's palaces,
      near Tikrit, Iraq. Martinez's court-martial is underway at Fort
      Bragg, North Carolina. If convicted, he could face the death
      penalty.

      Earlier this week, on September 14, 2008, two US Army soldiers,
      assigned to the 3rd Infantry Division, were shot and killed,
      reportedly by another soldier at their base, near the town of
      Iskandariyah, about 30 miles south of Baghdad. The soldier who
      reportedly killed the two others is confined and will be brought
      before a military magistrate this week for pretrial procedural
      determinations.


      Ann Wright is a retired US Army Reserves colonel with 29 years of
      military service. She also was a US diplomat who served in Nicaragua,
      Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia
      and Mongolia. She was on the small team that reopened the US Embassy
      in Kabul, Afghanistan, in December 2001. She resigned from the US
      diplomatic corps in March 2003 in opposition to the Bush
      administration' s decision to invade and occupy Iraq. She is the co-
      author of "Dissent: Voices of Conscience," profiles of government
      insiders who have spoken and acted on their concerns of their
      governments' policies.

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