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Daily Archives: August 21, 2008

US civilian court begins Iraqi murder trial of former Marine

The trial of a former US Marine accused of killing two Iraqi detainees during fighting in Fallujah four years ago began Tuesday with jury selection in the landmark case, justice officials said.
Lawyers at the US District Court in Riverside, east of Los Angeles, began vetting a pool of around 120 jurors who will be whittled down to hear the case against Jose Nazario.
Nazario, 28, denies charges of voluntary manslaughter, assault with a dangerous weapon and discharging a firearm during a crime of violence in connection with the shootings of four Iraqi insurgents in 2004.
According to defense lawyers, Nazario's case is the first time a former soldier has been tried in a civilian court in connection with alleged crimes that took place during combat.
Prosecutors allege that Nazario, a former Marine Corps sergeant, shot dead two unarmed detainees on November 9, 2004 during a house search.
Nazario is also alleged to have ordered two Marines — Ryan Weemer and Jermaine Nelson — to shoot two other unarmed prisoners.
Weemer and Nelson have since been charged with unpremeditated murder and dereliction of duty and face courts martial later this year as they are still serving in the Marines.
Opening statements in Nazario's trial are expected today.
The case came to light after Weemer, 25, underwent a background screening for a job in the US Secret Service in 2006.
Asked if he had ever taken part in an unjustified killing, Weemer told his interviewer: "That actually did happen, to be honest."
The revelation triggered an investigation by the US Naval Criminal Intelligence Service which saw Nazario's squad mates questioned.
According to prosecutors' documents, Nazario and Marines belonging to K Company, 3rd Battalion, had radioed commanding officers to inform that they had captured four insurgents during a house search.
After being informed of the capture, Nazario was apparently asked by an unidentified senior officer: "Are they dead yet?"
The prisoners were subsequently shot, execution style, and the Marines left the house, according to prosecutors.
Lawyers for Nazario have said the case will set a dangerous precedent by allowing jurors with no military background to pass judgment on decisions taken during the heat of battle.
If Nazario is convicted, it could lead to hesitation amongst troops, putting themselves and fellow soldiers at risk, defense lawyers say.
"To second-guess the mind-set of a young man in the heat of battle four years later, and to put the question in a (civilian court) system that can't even remotely comprehend the battlefield, is shameful for this government," defense lawyer Joseph Preis told the North County Times.
"While not acknowledging that any part of the government's case is true, the fact is, the military sent these people out to do a job and kill everything that moved in a city where there were no good guys left," Preis added.
However prosecutors Jerry Behnke and Charles Kovats said in a pre-trial document that Marines had clear instructions how to handle prisoners.
"The killings were unlawful because they violated clearly established law of war," the prosecutors said. "All Marines, including the defendant, were repeatedly taught that they shall do no harm to detainees."

Sarkozy tells French troops in Afghanistan to keep fighting


by Philippe Alfroy*

President Nicolas Sarkozy yesterday told French soldiers mourning 10 comrades killed by the Taliban that their work in Afghanistan was essential for the "freedom of the world" and must continue.
Sarkozy flew into Kabul earlier in the day with his Defence Minister Herve Morin and Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner in a show of support after the 10 were killed and 21 others wounded in a fierce battle on Monday and Tuesday.
It was the deadliest toll in ground fighting for international forces sent to Afghanistan after the Taliban regime was routed in late 2001, and the heaviest for French troops in 25 years.
"I came to tell you that the work that you are doing here is essential," Sarkozy told the troops at their base at Camp Warehouse on the outskirts of Kabul.
"The best way to be loyal to your comrades is to continue your work, is to raise your head, to be professional."
Sarkozy earlier visited a morgue where the 10 bodies were held before being repatriated, and spoke to some of the survivors of the battle, including some of the wounded being treated in a camp hospital.
He said that even after the shock of the deadly ambush about 50 kilometres (30 miles) east of Kabul, he was convinced French troops needed to be in Afghanistan alongside those of other nations in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
"I have no doubt that we must be here. I am also in shock… but I tell you in good conscience that if we had to do it again, I would do it again," he said.
"Not the patrol and the sequence of events, but the choice which led me to confirm the decision of my predecessors to send the French army here.
"Why are we here? It is because here we play a part in the freedom of the the world. Here we are fighting against terrorism."
Sarkozy also met Michel Stollsteiner, a French general who heads ISAF troops in Kabul and surrounding areas, and then Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
There are nearly 70,000 international soldiers in Afghanistan, most of them in the 40-nation ISAF, to help the government tackle a growing insurgency led by the Taliban who are linked with Al-Qaeda.
France's contribution of 3,000 troops to ISAF is one of the largest, after those of the United States, Britain and Germany.
The French losses drew expressions of sympathy from other countries which have suffered heavy losses in Afghanistan, where extremist violence has grown every year with more foreign and Al-Qaeda-linked fighters believed involved.
US President George W. Bush offered his condolences, as did leaders of Britain and Canada. The European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, said the attack was "a disgraceful and barbaric act."
The latest deaths raised to 176 the number of international soldiers killed in Afghanistan this year, most of them in attacks.
Nine US soldiers were slain in July when insurgents stormed a base in the northeastern province of Kunar, in another well-planned rebel strike that also involved scores of attacks.
A total of 23 French troops have now been killed in action or in accidents in Afghanistan since French soldiers were deployed in 2002.
Sarkozy, who paid a brief visit to Afghanistan in December, has pushed for an expansion in France's military role in the country despite polls showing public opinion does not support such a move.
He announced French reinforcements to Afghanistan at a NATO summit in April — drawing fierce criticism at home from left-wing opponents who saw the move as a sign of French alignment with US policy.