Thursday, August 31, 2006

Other Items

The government will not seek the death penalty against a marine charged in the shooting death of an Iraqi civilian in April, a military prosecutor said Wednesday.
Lt. Col. John Baker, the prosecutor, made the recommendation at a pretrial hearing for Pfc. John J. Jodka III, 20, who is charged along with six other marines and a Navy corpsman in the death of Hashim Ibrahim Awad in Hamdania, a Sunni stronghold west of Baghdad. The charges against them include murder, kidnapping and conspiracy.
As the hearing for Private Jodka was under way, defense lawyers for another marine charged in the case, Cpl. Marshall L. Magincalda, 23, urged officials in a nearby courtroom to close the proceedings because of concern that pretrial publicity could bias potential jurors.
The hearing adjourned after the corporal’s lawyers asked the hearing officer to review newly submitted evidence in private.

The above is from Carolyn Marshall's "Marine Accused of Murder in Iraq Will Not Face the Death Penalty " in this morning's New York Times. For an audio report on this you can listen to Wednesday's The KPFA Evening News. Same topic, Polly notes "No death penalty for Iraq marine" (BBC):

Pte John Jodka, 20, is one of eight US soldiers accused of taking Hashim Ibrahim Awad from his home in Hamdania, near Baghdad, and shooting him dead.
Prosecutors say the troops also placed a rifle by the man's body to make it appear he was an insurgent.

Jodka is part of what's known as the "Pendleton Eight." The court effort also includes an effort to suppress statements which, it is argued, might prejudice the jury pool. For that story, you have to go to Tony Parry's "Two Marines Admit Killing Iraqi Man" (Los Angeles Times):

Two Marines have confessed to kidnapping and killing a 52-year-old Iraqi man in Hamandiya, west of Baghdad, a military prosecutor said Wednesday at a preliminary hearing.
Capt. Nicholas L. Gannon said that Sgt. Lawrence G. Hutchins III and Cpl. Trent D. Thomas had admitted to the slaying, one of two high-profile cases in which Marines allegedly killed Iraqi civilians without provocation.
Gannon added that a third defendant, Lance Cpl. Robert Pennington, gave a statement that laid out the alleged conspiracy to cover up the killing by leaving phony evidence and filing a false report.Seven Marines and a Navy corpsman have been accused in the April 26 incident of dragging Hashim Ibrahim Awad from his home, shooting him and leaving an AK-47 and a shovel near his body to suggest he was an insurgent burying a roadside bomb.On Wednesday, two so-called Article 32 hearings were held to determine whether two of the Marines should be court-martialed. Similar hearings are set for the other defendants in the next two months.
The defense lawyer for Cpl. Marshall Magincalda, at the hearing for his client, said he planned to argue that the alleged confessions mentioned by the prosecutor were merely statements given to investigators, not admissions of guilt.

Statements given to investigators that can't be read in a public hearing? Jodka's attorney denies that his client's statement was true and asserts it resulted from coercion. On the latter assertion, strange that a coerced statement would not be addressed prior. If I were an attorney, you were my client and you were stating you'd been coerced into a statement, I'd be going public long before the Article 32 hearing. So is it bad 'lawyering' or is it that the coercion claim only popped into someone's mind recently?

For more on that, note this from Rick Rogers and Steve Liewer's "Pendleton hearings open in Iraqi man's slaying" (San Diego Union-Tribune):

As recently as a week ago, defense attorneys refused to acknowledge the existence of any potentially damaging statements. However, they pleaded yesterday with the two investigating officers to keep those remarks out of the public's purview.
"When the cat is out of the bag and the bell is rung, there is no way to get evidence out of a juror's head," said Jane Siegel, the other civilian attorney for Jodka.
She asked Pugliese to keep secret 16 statements about the Awad killing.
"Some of it was very inflammatory," Siegel said. Pugliese declined to seal the statements, but he did agree not to read them in open court.
Concerns about prejudicing the jury pool are largely unwarranted, said attorney Eugene R. Fidell, who specializes in military law at the firm of Feldesman Tucker Leifer Fidell in Washington, D.C.
Fidell said the procedure for questioning potential jurors regarding their knowledge and feelings about a case, known as voir dire, takes into consideration possible tainting.

Thomas Watkins has been covering the case for the Associated Press (click here for one example of his previous reporting) and today offers "Allged confessions may be central to murder case against Marines" (via San Jose Mercury News):

Alleged confessions appear to form the crux of the government's case against seven Marines and a Navy corpsman charged with murder, kidnapping and other crimes in an Iraqi man's slaying last April.
Defense attorneys challenge the validity of the statements and say without them the government's case is baseless.
Details about the prosecution's case emerged Wednesday during preliminary hearings for two of eight men accused in the shooting death of 52-year-old Hashim Ibrahim Awad in the village of Hamdania.
At Marine Cpl. Marshall L. Magincalda's hearing, prosecutors submitted a thick packet of evidence and pointed to three documents they say show enough probable cause for his charges to be recommended for court martial.
Prosecutor Capt. Nicholas L. Gannon claimed the evidence included a confession by squad leader Sgt. Lawrence G. Hutchins and a confessional video by Cpl. Trent D. Thomas.
What exactly they allegedly confessed to was unclear; prosecutors did not elaborate.
"Those three pieces of evidence should satisfy the investigation in its current form," Gannon said.

And closing this out with "Mukilteo Marine's statement key in case" (Everett Washington's The Daily Herald -- credited to "Herald staff and news services"):

Pennington's father, Terry Pennington, said Wednesday night from his home in Hawaii that any statement given by his son was forced by Naval Criminal Investigative Service investigators. He also disputes that his son's statement admits any wrongdoing.
"If they got that from his statement, they are inventing it," said Terry Pennington, formerly of Mukilteo. "It's not true."
The good news out of Wednesday's hearings, from Terry Pennington's perspective, was that the investigating officer didn't take public testimony that could influence potential military jurors in a court-martial. He has contended for weeks that the government has stacked the deck on the eight defendants by forcing statements and not turning over evidence to the defense to examine.
Robert Pennington is scheduled for his pre-trial hearing Sept. 25.
Gannon said that Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins and Cpl. Trent Thomas have admitted to the slaying, one of two high-profile cases in which Marines allegedly killed Iraqi civilians without provocation.

If you're getting the impression that the New York Times missed half the story (being kind), you are correct. A few paragraphs on A12 about real news while an overlong feature starts on the front page (!), then takes up the full page of A16 and continues on A17. It would be too long, printed as is, in the Times' Sunday magazine -- however, running there, it would come with complementary ads. "Live Long? Die Young? Scientists Say Answer Isn't Just in the Genes" is the title and real news consumers say in response to the placement, "Fluff So Hard Again and You'll Break Your Arm Off."

Which may make you wonder why the administration even tries for propaganda, when the press is so willing to disgrace themselves by pushing (bad) feature reporting as "hard news." Martha notes Walter Pincus' "Positive Press on Iraq Is Aim of U.S. Contract" (Washington Post):

U.S. military leaders in Baghdad have put out for bid a two-year, $20 million public relations contract that calls for extensive monitoring of U.S. and Middle Eastern media in an effort to promote more positive coverage of news from Iraq.
The contract calls for assembling a database of selected news stories and assessing their tone as part of a program to provide "public relations products" that would improve coverage of the military command's performance, according to a statement of work attached to the proposal.
The request for bids comes at a time when Bush administration officials are publicly criticizing media coverage of the war in Iraq.
The proposal, which calls in part for extensive monitoring and analysis of Iraqi, Middle Eastern and American media, is designed to help the coalition forces understand "the communications environment." Its goal is to "develop communication strategies and tactics, identify opportunities, and execute events . . . to effectively communicate Iraqi government and coalition's goals, and build support among our strategic audiences in achieving these goals," according to the statement of work that is publicly available through the Web site .

Yes, they have. And they're flacks work very hard in Iraq and in this country to get those feel-good stories out. More often than not, they succeed. When you add in that "official statements" lead most news stories and that, if rebutted, in the text by reality, that tends to come long after many readers have lost interest. (Which is known and anyone who offers, "I did it in paragraph ___ after the jump" blah, blah, blah b.s. is lying through their teeth. The inverted pyramid structure. They know it, they use it. It's devised for those readers who won't read the entire article. What they lead with is what's going to be most read and everyone knows it.)

We'll close with Suhail Ahmad's "A Tight Community Torn Apart" (Los Angeles Times) which is the anti-propaganda: a look at the reality on the ground in Iraq:

The vendors arranged their wares on rickety carts. The shoppers appraised the spices and pottery. In the early morning sunlight, Shiites, Sunni Arabs and Kurds found refuge in this ethnically divided city, sharing the community of a market.
On Wednesday, they died together in a bombing that police said killed at least 24 people in the poor Baghdad neighborhood of Shorja.
Latif Ibrahim, a 35-year-old traffic police officer, later pushed his cap back and wiped his brow. His eyes were filled with tears. He had just returned from a hospital. Falah, the vendor of syrupy lemon drinks, was dead, he said. He shook his head as he recalled Falah's constant smile and daily offerings of lemon and syrup drinks. "Don't ask me who did it," he said of the attack. "Ask me why." For that obvious question, he had no answer.

Ibrahim and a merchant remembered the friends they had made -- Iraqis from every sect and background.
Falah, whose cart lay overturned in the dust, was a Shiite Muslim. On the plastic container holding his drinks, a small sticker bore the picture of militant Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr. Dried lemons lay next to the cart's remains. Arkan, a Shiite vendor of imported Chinese pottery known as farfoori, also was killed in the blast. He was about to be married.

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