The mission that led to the killings started at dawn on May 9, when soldiers with the Third Brigade Combat Team of the 101st Airborne Division landed in a remote area near a former chemical plant not far from Samarra, according to legal documents and lawyers for the accused soldiers. It was the site of a suspected insurgent training camp and was considered extremely dangerous.
Just before leaving, the soldiers had been given an order to "kill all military-age men" at the site by a colonel and a captain, said Paul Bergrin and Michael Waddington, the lawyers who are disputing Sergeant Lemus's account. Military officials in Baghdad have declined to comment on whether such an order, which would have been a violation of the law of war, might have been given.
The colonel, Michael Steele, is the brigade commander. He led the 1993 mission in Somalia made famous by the book and movie "Black Hawk Down."
The two lawyers say Colonel Steele has indicated that he will not testify at the Article 32 hearing -- the military equivalent of a grand jury hearing -- or answer any questions about the case. Calls and e-mail messages to a civilian lawyer said to be representing Colonel Steele were not returned.
It is very rare for any commanding officer to refuse to testify at any stage of a court-martial proceeding, said Gary D. Solis, a former military judge and prosecutor who teaches the law of war at Georgetown University.
During the raid, the soldiers discovered three Iraqi men hiding in a house, who were using women and children to shield themselves, Sergeant Lemus said in his statement. The soldiers separated out the men, blindfolded them and bound their hands with plastic "zip ties," restraints that are not as strong as the plastic flex cuffs often used in Iraq.
Then, Sergeant Lemus told investigators, his squad leader, Staff Sgt. Raymond L. Girouard, was told by another sergeant over the radio, "The detainees should have been killed."
The above is from Robert F. Worth's "Sergeant Tells of Plot to Kill Iraqi Detainees" in this morning's New York Times. Utilizing the sworn statement by Lemuel Lemus, Worth attempts to make sense of the events that, twice prior, were the subects of investigations that concluded there was no wrong doing in the May 9th incident that led to the deaths of three Iraqis.
The four soldiers charged currently are:
Raymond L. Girouard: premeditaed murder
William B. Hunsaker: premeditated murder
Corey R. Clagett: premeditated murder
Juston R. Graber: premeditated murder
In addition, Worth notes all four have been "charged with threatening to kill Pfc. Bradley L. Mason, one of the men in the squad."
Also in this morning's Times, Paul von Zielbaurer writes yet another lengthy riff on the Saddam Hussein trial. Possibly that's his beat but as day after day goes by when the violence in Iraq has to get squeezed into von Zielbaurer's Court-TV reporting, it's past time for the paper to to address the issue. Is the paper attempting to turn the tragedies into part of some law and order report? (Quick, phone Dick Wolf!) Is it attempting to imply associations between the trial and the chaos? Who knows?
But time and again the actual events in Iraq fail to get their own story while von Zielbaurer ticks off the day's developments. Today he includes the armed robbery that took place yesterday. He informs readers that the robbers stole "drove away with 1 billion Iraqi dinars" or "the equivalent of $650,000 from a bank's armored car." Reuters reported this event yesterday:
"Gunmen wearing military uniforms and using military vehicles attacked a cash-in-transit vehicle and stole two Iraqi billion dinars, worth around 1.3 million dollars, police sources said. "
Which is the correct figure?
At least four paragraphs are spent by von Zielbaurer on the robbery with at least ten on the court trial. That doesn't leave a great deal of time to toss out more than the wire reports on some of the violence in Baghdad yesterday.
At the very end of his article, he finally quotes someone present for the explosions:
Jassim Muhammad, who owns a carpentry shop across the street, blamed the Americans for the lack of security.
"What we have been through is by their hands, because of the bad security situation," he said, guarding his overturned Kia pickup from the young scavengers who ripped wires, gears and other parts out of the Chevrolet for resale.
Though I'm sure there's value in Muhammad's statements, the fact remains that the 'coverage' of the explosions is pretty sorry and attempts to note the horror not really making it into the article. This isn't a one day thing -- this stems from the fact that von Zielbaurer is assigned to cover the court case and is also attempting to (or being stuck with) covering everything else that day in the same article.
The horrors of yesterday are in no way properly conveyed. This isn't a one day problem, it's become a repeated problem. The paper needs to address it.
Contrast that superficial report of the violence with, Martha's highlight, Joshua Partlow and Naseer Nouri's "Blasts Hit Upscale Baghdad: Rockets, Car Bombs Kill at Least 25 in Mostly Shiite Area" (Washington Post):
Flames burst from Karrada's storefronts, windows shattered throughout the commercial streets, and police and firefighters cordoned off the area and searched for survivors. Residents said that as many as seven rockets and five car bombs struck the neighborhood. News services, citing Iraqi police officials, reported that mortars, rockets and one car bomb hit the neighborhood.
"I was in my car, with the windows up, the air conditioner and the radio on, and I heard an explosion," said resident Joni Salim, 22, a cut over his right eye and blood dripping onto his striped shirt. "I felt the ground shaking, then the sky started raining bricks and metal particles and stones."
The fusillade broke Salim's windshield and rear window. He said he bent over and put his head between his knees.
"I thought, 'That's it, I'm going to die.' "
Others did die: a woman who was crossing the street to the dentist, a mentally retarded man who was well known in the neighborhood, a calligrapher apparently buried under his collapsed office. Ibn al-Nafees Hospital in Baghdad took in 20 corpses and 65 wounded people, said hospital administrator Khadhum Attiyah. Additional casualties were sent to other hospitals. The Associated Press reported that 31 people were killed and 153 were wounded.
"This is not a life," cried Ghassan Nadeem, 35, a professor at Baghdad University. He sat outside the hospital morgue, crying and beating his car in despair over the death of his wife -- the woman who was walking to the dentist and the mother of his two young children.
Hajia Madiah Hussein was also at the hospital morgue, searching for her brother, known as Abu Rana. When she recognized him lying supine on the floor of the refrigerated room, she fell on his body.
"Close the door on us. I want to die with him," she said.
When a morgue employee tried to pull her out of the room, she resisted, yelling toward her dead brother: "Who will bear the burden?"
One article conveys the horror and the tragedy and, if anyone's is confused, it's not the running in the New York Times this morning. (And yes, von Zeilbaurer goes with only one bomb being responsible for all the deaths despite the press reports from yesterday otherwise. From yesterday's snapshot:
On the issue of witnesses feeling they heard more than one bomb, Borzou Daraghi (Los Angeles Times) notes: "Police said four of the five blasts were caused by rockets or mortars. But officials have often attributed such explosions to indirect fire, hoping to stave off blame for allowing drivers to maneuver explosives-packed vehicles past checkpoints that dot the city." (The fatality toll is raised to "at least 32" beginning with Daraghi's report.)
Stronger reporting can be found in the Times this morning via James Glanz' "Series of Woes Mar Iraq Project Hailed as Model:"
The United States is dropping Bechtel, the American construction giant, from a project to build a high-tech children's hospital in the southern Iraqi city of Basra after the project fell nearly a year behind schedule and exceeded its expected cost by as much as 150 percent.
Called the Basra Children's Hospital, the project has been consistently championed by the first lady, Laura Bush, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and was designed to house sophisticated equipment for treating childhood cancer.
Now it becomes the latest in a series of American taxpayer-financed health projects in Iraq to face overruns, delays and cancellations. Earlier this year, the Army Corps of Engineers canceled more than $300 million in contracts held by Parsons, another American contractor, to build and refurbish hospitals and clinics across Iraq.
American and Iraqi government officials described the move to drop Bechtel in interviews on Thursday, and Ammar al-Saffar, a deputy health minister in Baghdad, allowed a reporter to take notes on briefing papers on the subject he said he had recently been given by the State Department.
Which leads into a highlight on Iraq, Marci notes John P. Murtha's "Strengthen By Re-Deployment" (Common Dreams):
Today I would have liked to have stood before you to proclaim that due to this Administration's persistent efforts to maintain a strong United States military presence in Iraq, Iraq has finally turned the corner, progress is being made and that the overall situation is looking up.
This is not the case. Progress has not been made in key areas: unemployment is 60% nation wide and 90% in Al Anbar Province; oil production and electricity are below pre-war levels. Potable water remains in short supply, the streets are lined with trash, and the security situation on the ground has worsened.
The Army's 4th Division is currently on its second deployment in Iraq. With several months still remaining in their deployment, they have already lost nearly as many soldiers as they did during their first deployment in 2004. (76 have died thus far; 81 died during 2004).
Our military is now considered occupiers by most Iraqis.
Iraq is now in a civil war and our military is caught in the middle.
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