Sunday, September 30, 2007

From a commenter 
A commenter who writes in with the nom de plume of "occupiers out of Iraq" writes:

The Iraqi shot in the field was apparantly [sic] a farmer cutting his grass with a sickle. If it was [sic] a legitimate kill then they wouldn't have needed to plant the wire spool on his body.

Wrong on both counts. Or, at least, you cannot make that determination from the information available. Regarding the first assertion: We are, if you haven't noticed, fighting an insurgency. Really. Do try to keep up, ace. And since we're fighting an insurgency, we're not fighting a uniformed army of full-time professional warriors.

That means that many of the combatants will actually have day jobs.

What's more, when we're fighting in farmland, a certain number of them are going to be farmers.

Therefore, the fact that he was a farmer cutting his grass with a sickle is dispositive of nothing. It means only that he was cutting grass with a sickle.

The people who were at the scene had a visual on him. (That's how he was shot.) They recognized him as someone they had seen engaged in a firefight against Iraqi police shortly beforehand. True, they have a vested interest in lying. But no one, to my knowledge, is alleging that. If you didn't notice, ace, murder charges were dropped. Why? Because there was insufficient evidence - despite an investigation and the collection of statements from witnesses and a trial - to determine that this soldier was lying about the sickle-wielder being a known combatant.

But somehow, you, from the safety of your living room, privy to none of the evidence, know better.


Second assertion: Just because it was a legitimate kill does not mean that the soldiers would not have felt the need for a throwaway piece of evidence on the body (although if they were my troops, they'd have to do better than just a spool of wire to fool me.)

The soldiers in question could have felt that they would not be adjudged fairly by their chain of command for a variety of reasons, regardless of the facts on the ground. The decision to plant the evidence was a wholly separate question from whether or not this grass cutter was a combatant. He could have been Osama Bin Ladin himself, and if the command climate was paranoid or overly legalistic (i.e., CENTCOM), then the soldiers still would have felt the need to plant some evidence to deflect even false charges.

I'm not saying we should tolerate it. I'm just saying that's what you get once a command has a reputation for stupid witch hunts against honest soldiers, or allows their JAGS to override the reason judgments of commanders.

Again, just because the soldier planted a spool of wire on the grasscutter's chest, it does not follow that he was not a combatant - a legitimate target under the rules of engagement and the law of land warfare.

Back to the commenter:

As for the other one, he did accidentally stumble into the snipers' hide, but as came out in the court martial of Sandoval (and reported in the Washington Post on 28 September), the man "was not armed and had his hands in the air when he approached the soldiers. Hensley "asked me if I was ready [said Vela]". I had the pistol out. I heard the word 'shoot'. I don't remember pulling the trigger"... Vela said that as the Iraqi man lay convulsing "Hensley kind of laughed about it and hit the guy on the throat and said 'Shoot again'. After he [the Iraqi man] was shot, Hensley pulled an AK-47 out of his rucksack and said "This is what we are going to say happened" Vela said."

So that's cold-blooded murder of an unarmed man who had his hands in the air and who by dumb luck happened to stumble on the snipers' hide. Nothing to be proud of, and (as if any further proof was needed) vividly illustrates why the military is not at all capable of investigating itself any more than O.J. Simpson would be of investigating himself for the murder of his ex-wife and Ron Goldman.

Dude. Were you born this stupid? Or did you have to take lessons?

The military did, in fact, investigate itself, and is still pursuing charges against Vela. Nobody is arguing that Sandoval killed this unarmed man. Not even the prosecutors argued that Sandoval killed him. They were arguing that Sandoval, the junior soldier on the team, didn't do enough to stop someone else from shooting the man.

And yet the drooling morons on the prosecution team - rather than get his testimony against Vela as a witness, tried to get him on premeditated murder anyway.*

Maybe he had a chance to stop Vela, and maybe he didn't. I rather doubt that he did. In either case, though, Sandoval was not guilty of murder.

And that's exactly what the jury found.

You may feel differently. If you support that logic, you probably also support the vigorous prosecution of Yoko Ono on capital murder charges because she failed to stop Mark David Chapman from shooting John Lennon.


Anybody still wonder why the U.S. military has no credibility whatsoever?

I think it's pretty well established that the Army has substantially more credibility with the American people than it's elected overseers in Congress.

The military has much more credibility with the public than laywers and journalists, as well.

Seeking credibility with half-wits like you would be a colossal waste of energy.

Splash, out


*You may have a point about the military being unable to investigate itself. I mean, with JAGs this bad, it's a wonder they can file a brief without strangling themselves on the elastic band.

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I have a question.

The guy walked up to a snipers nest? right?

I know it's a silly question, but I am trying to understand, Isn't that reason enough to shoot. Aren't snipers hiding, if the guy were to walk away and tell friends where the snipers are, wouldn't that blow their cover?
No, it's not sufficient reason to shoot the guy, under the Law of Land Warfare.

You cannot engage noncombatants - even for reasons of self preservation in a case like this. This is pretty much the classic scenario used to illustrate how the Law of Land Warfare works.

In order to justify the shooting, the sniper team would have to have reasonable cause to believe that the man was, in fact, a combatant. No one seems to be alleging that, as far as I can tell, in this case.

They believe the guy with the sickle was a combatant, and so fair game.
Ok thanks, lets change the scenario a little and see if it makes a difference. I remembered this from something cbftw wrote way back when, I just don't remember the detail. but let's say the snipers see a guy sneaking up on their position. They don't see a gun, just a shadowy figure trying to sneak up?

For the sake of argument let's say they shoot, but when they go look they find an old farmer that was just trying to figure out who was on his land, had no weapons of any kind. now what?
That one would involve some case law, I would guess, and so I'd leave that up to any JAG types perusing this board to address.

But in most instances, I don't see the sniper team in this case prosecuted. But that would also depend on the rules of engagement in that particular time and place.

If he's sneaking around trying to outflank the sniper team, I would venture that that would most likely qualify as evidence of hostile intent. Generally, you can engage, since all US soldiers have a presumptive right of self defense against hostile actors.

You would also take into account visibility conditions at the time, and whether the area had been seeing action.

Firing on such an individual may not be a violation of the law of land warfare. But it may be a violation of the ROE.

What the exact ROE are, though, in any given case, is generally classified information at the time.

You cannot, in my opinion, base your entire prosecution over the lack of a weapon on the body. The weapon may have been recovered by another person by the time it can be searched by our troops, for one thing.

For another, you can easily conceal a pistol or carbine under a robe or coat, or hang it over your back, away from our notional team.

You therefore cannot conclude absence of hostile intent solely from the absence of a visible weapon. (This is why the Geneva Conventions requires that armies wear uniforms and carry arms openly.)

Increasingly in Iraq, you cannot conclude hostile intent from the presence of a weapon either.

It all falls to situational awareness, and the judgment and maturity of the soldier or marine on the ground.
Did you ever watch the TV show Homicide: Life on the Street? It was based on the true-crime book Homicide: A Year in the Killing Fields by David Simon. Many anecdotes from the book were used in the show.

One was an incident where a suspect under arrest was being moved. One of the escort officers (A) suddenly yelled "Knife!" and another officer (B) shot the suspect. A third officer (C) promptly dropped a knife to cover the situation. He pointed to it, saying "There's his knife." The wounded suspect suspect looked over and said "That's not my knife," pointed at another knife lying nearby and said This is my knife!"

Was C wrong? Yes, but... We put police (and soldiers) in situations where they must make life-or-death decisions in split seconds, then second-guess them, sometimes quite unfairly.
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