Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Mercenaries, money and injustice

Yesterday, the five Blackwater mercenaries charged in the September 16, 2007 Baghdad slaughter appeared in court and entered not guilty pleas. Del Quentin Wilber's "Former Blackwater Guards Plead Not Guilty" (Washington Post):

A federal judge in the District set a trial date for next January in a shooting that strained relations between Washington and Baghdad and raised questions about the oversight and use of security contractors in war zones. The guards did not speak during their arraignment on 14 counts of voluntary manslaughter, 20 counts of attempting to commit manslaughter and one count of discharging a firearm during a crime of violence. They will face a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 years if convicted of the firearms charge.
In coming months, defense lawyers are expected to file numerous motions challenging the evidence and whether the government can bring criminal charges in the case. U.S. District Judge Ricardo M. Urbina scheduled a hearing for Feb. 17 on some of the legal issues.

And, no, DQW is not having difficulty transitioning to the new year and the "next January" is not the equivalent of writing 2008 in the date on a check today. The judge set the trial for January 2010. In a criminal trial, it's always good to get as much distance between yourself and what you're charged with. Witnesses may die, public tempers may cool. So it was sure nice of the judge to give that gift to the defense. Nice and a possible indicator of rulings that will come down during the trial -- whenever it actually starts. For those who have forgotten -- and someone really hopes we have -- Abeer Qassim al-Janabi was gang-raped and murdered with her corpse then set on fire, following the murders of her five-year-old sister and both of their parents back in March 2006. June 30, 2006, Green was arrested in the US by federal authorities. Those he served with in Iraq -- still in the military, so they had military trials (Green had already been discharged when the crimes became known) -- have been convicted and have fingered Green as the ring leader. But OVER TWO YEARS LATER, Green has still not stood trial. It's not that he hasn't been scheduled to do so but the judge over the trial has found more pressing issues that required delaying the case . . . like a quilting bee.

Jesse J. Holland (AP) reports the date set was January 29, 2010 and notes the five charged: "former Marines Donald Ball of West Valley City, Utah; Dustin Heard of Knoxville, Tenn.; Evan Liberty of Rochester, N.H.; and Army veterans Nick Slatten of Sparta, Tenn., and Paul Slough of Keller, Texas." James Risen (New York Times) teams the five appearing in court yesterday with former Blackwater mercenary Andrew J. Moonen whose attorney received a letter of the feds intent to charge him in the shooting death of . . . Oh, sorry. The paper doesn't think the dead man deserves to have his name mentioned. Raheem Khalif, until his death, was a bodyguard for Adil Abd al-Mahdi, Iraq's Shi'ite vice president.

And for those who foolishly believe the illegal war is coming to an end, Andrea Shalal-Esa, David Morgan and John O'Callaghan (Reuters) report, "U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has told members of Congress he believes the Pentagon will need another $69.7 billion to finance the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for the remainder of the federal fiscal year." Tony Capaccio (Bloomberg News) examines the monies:

That amount includes $600 million to buy four additional Lockheed Martin Corp. F-22 fighters, Gates wrote Dec. 31 to Representative John Murtha, chairman of a House appropriations subcommittee on military spending.
"This estimate would fund operations through" Sept. 30, "replace combat loses, worn out or stressed equipment and replenish supplies," Gates stated in a letter he labeled a personal assessment that didn't speak for either the Bush administration or the incoming Obama administration.

Newsday adds up the 2009 fiscal year totals: "Military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan would cost almost $136 billion for the 2009 budget year that began Oct. 1 if they continue at their current pace, Defense Secretary Robert Gates says. He told top lawmakers in a New Year's Eve letter that the Pentagon would need nearly $70 billion more to supplement the $66 billion approved last year." But let's all pretend the illegal war is ending. Playing stupid won't end it but maybe it will make it even easier to pretend the Iraq War is over and we can all avoid the 'messy' realities. For example, from William Cole's "Schofield soldier was killed by sniper" (Honolulu Advertiser):

A Schofield Barracks soldier who was killed in Iraq last week was standing in the gunner's hatch of an armored vehicle when he was felled by a gunshot, Army officials said.
Pfc. Christopher W. Lotter, 20, was a gunner on a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle, or MRAP, during a patrol to the water department in Tikrit on Dec. 30, said Maj. Cathy Wilkinson, the public affairs officer for Schofield's 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team at Contingency Operating Base Speicher in Tikrit.
Other soldiers had left their vehicles and gone into the water department to talk to the director about upgrading the water plant at the Khadasia General Hospital.

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