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thedrifter
10-12-07, 07:59 AM
Article published Oct 11, 2007
General acted to resolve conflict
Washington Times

October 11, 2007

By Sharon Behn - A spokesman for Lt. Gen. Frank Kearney, who is under fire from military rank and file for bringing homicide charges against two soldiers who had already been cleared, said yesterday the general had acted only to clarify the situation after two investigations produced conflicting results.

Rep. Walter B. Jones, North Carolina Republican, has called on Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to open an investigation into the actions of the general, who has irked soldiers and Marines with the charges against a two-man Special Forces sniper team in Afghanistan.

There is also anger over Gen. Kearney's decision to expel members of a Marine Special Operations company from Afghanistan before a criminal investigation was completed into an ambush incident that left several Afghans dead.

Both incidents prompted criticism from the Afghan government and humanitarian agencies, which said innocent people were killed.

Col. Hans Bush, a spokesman for the Special Operations Command where Gen. Kearney is the deputy commander, said yesterday that there had in fact been two investigations into the sniper incident, with one clearing the two soldiers and the other suggesting a crime had taken place.

"Lieutenant General Kearney determined the best way to resolve the inconsistency was to prefer charges and send the case to an impartial, experienced Special Forces officer who could review the results and evidence of both investigations and make a recommendation," he said.

Regarding the case of the Marine Special Operations Command (Marsoc) Fox Company, which was accused by Afghans of shooting indiscriminately at civilians along a roadside, the colonel said "there is not a lot that we can clarify prior to the completion of the Marsoc court of inquiry."

But defense lawyer Mark Waple, who represents one of the Fox Company Marines, charged yesterday that Gen. Kearney had failed to provide critical evidence to the investigator conducting the final probe of the sniper team.

"Why did he direct criminal charges to be preferred by an accuser who had not been provided the criminal investigation that exonerated these two soldiers? ... The accuser is on record as saying he never saw [the exonerating evidence], and if he had seen it, he would not have signed the charges," the lawyer said.

Also yesterday, a retired Special Forces weapons sergeant provided The Washington Times with a copy of an e-mail from Gen. Kearney, in which the general acknowledged that soldiers have to make instant, life-and-death decisions based on rules of engagement that are open to interpretation.

"A lot is in the relationships and agreements with the sovereign nations we work in, and a lot of it falls into interpretation of [rules of engagement]," the general wrote in a Sept. 30 e-mail to Sgt. Jim Hanson.

"This is the most difficult challenge our young leaders are presented almost daily, and in an instant, they must choose. It is as you say a relevant topic. We and I in particular are silent on this till some legal proceedings finish."

The e-mail reinforces the criticism of many in the military community, who feel that ground forces are being asked to fight insurgencies in foreign countries under vague laws and are then getting taken to court for their actions.

Members of the Marsoc Fox Company, expelled from Afghanistan under Gen. Kearney's orders after an ambush incident that left several Afghans dead, are currently under a court of inquiry investigation.

"The Marsoc community is up in arms," said a retired Special Forces warrant officer in touch with the Marine community in Iraq.

"These guys were not kids. The people involved were top-of-the-line professionals. They were not young grunts with a lot of testosterone," he said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Criticism of the general also comes from other members of Congress besides Mr. Jones. In an interview yesterday, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, California Republican, said: "It would appear that the general has his priorities [wrong]. His job is not to try to curry favors with the liberal media ... ."

"No one should ever ignore when our people are acting in an illegal or immoral way, but neither should commanding officers try to demoralize them by exaggerating any fault they find and giving the benefit of the doubt to the enemy, rather than to our own people."

Sgt. Hanson, who knows one member of the Special Forces sniper team, said the fact that charges were brought against the two men after they were exonerated was sending a chill through the military.

"If they were that scrupulous in following the rules of engagement and get second-guessed from Tampa, that makes it a lot harder for that person who has to make a split-second decision," he said, referring to the headquarters of the Florida-based Special Operations Command.

At the core of the discussion, Sgt. Hanson said, was how the rules of engagement affect U.S. military interaction with both Afghans and Iraqis.

Bill Banks, director of the Institute of National Security and Counterterrorism at Syracuse University, who is working on international war conventions, said the incidents represent wider difficulties with the laws of war.

"There isn't sufficient detail to allow commanders and soldiers in the field, let alone lawyers, to advise the soldiers and officers of the permissible limits of their operational authority in a difficult situation," Mr. Banks said.

"We need a greater degree of precision, [particularly with] the dynamic nature of the battlefield and the inability to be able to distinguish civilians from enemies in certain types of battle space," he said.

Ellie

thedrifter
10-12-07, 08:00 AM
Article published Oct 12, 2007
Marines won't face charges
Washington Times

October 12, 2007

By Sharon Behn - Charges will no longer be pursued against a company of Marines who were yanked out of Afghanistan by a three-star general on suspicion of criminal wrongdoing, a lawyer involved in the case said yesterday.

Defense attorney Mark Waple said he was informed late Wednesday that the case was being referred to a court of inquiry, which would limit itself to examining the actions of three Marine officers.

A court of inquiry, the Navy's highest-level administrative investigatory body, is rarely convened and "is not a criminal proceeding," said a spokesman for the U.S. Marine Corps Forces Central Command.

The Washington Times reported Wednesday that rank-and-file Special Forces soldiers and Marines were outraged that members of their communities had been publicly criticized by Lt. Gen. Frank Kearney, the deputy commander of the Special Operations Command, before an investigation into their actions was complete.

Some complained that his statements threatened to prejudice the case against the Marines, some of whom could have faced murder charges.

Ten Afghans were killed and more than 30 were wounded in the March 4, 2007, incident in rural Afghanistan. President Hamid Karzai and Afghan human rights organizations strongly condemned the event as an indiscriminate attack on unarmed civilians.

Gen. Kearney told reporters at the time that authorities had "been unable to find evidence that those [Afghan civilians] were fighters." He subsequently pulled the entire company out of the country midway through an official investigation.

Mark Waple, a lawyer representing the company commander, told The Times yesterday he had received word "that no one will be charged unless something comes out of this court of inquiry that would justify a charge of some kind."

Mr. Waple's client is one of the three officers on the stand at the court of inquiry.

"No charges have been preferred, so the purpose of the court of inquiry is to review and evaluate the facts and evidence" of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service findings, said Lt. Col. Sean Gibson, spokesman for the U.S. Marine Corps Forces Central Command.

"Bottom line, this is an administrative fact-finding body," said the spokesman. But the investigation into the Marines' conduct will not be officially closed until Lt. Gen. James Mattis, commander of the U.S. Marine Corps Forces Central Command, decides the "disposition of the incident," he said.

The decision not to go ahead with criminal charges against the Marines has led to a small sigh of relief within the Special Forces community.

"I don't want to jinx our client's situation, but it is a breath of fresh air in the wake of General Frank Kearney's comments to the print media" shortly after the March incident, Mr. Waple said.

Marines in the Fox Company, Special Operations Command, say they were passing through a town in the rural province of Nangahar on March 4, 2007, when they were hit by a suicide bomb attack and small-arms fire. The Marines say they returned fire and headed back to their base.

Afghan civilians and Afghan human rights groups immediately accused the Marines of firing indiscriminately at civilians over a stretch of several miles as their convoy returned to base, killing about 10 Afghans and wounding more than 30 others.

The father of one of the Marines who will face the three-person court of inquiry panel, and who plans to attend the public hearings, said yesterday he felt it was too early to celebrate.

"The good news is that ... these young Marines — who were accused of murder in public and thrown out of [Iraq] for illegal acts — are no longer accused of doing that," said Jerry Olson.

"The bad news is that there is going to be a show trial to discover some misconduct on behalf of the leadership," he said.

Mr. Waple said the atmosphere was considerably different than in April and May of this year, when all indications were that at least seven Marines were going to be charged with criminal acts, and two of them with murder.

The court of inquiry will be composed of three senior commissioned officers with combat experience, and is expected to last two weeks.

The beginning date and scope of the inquiry, which will be held at Camp Lejeune, N.C., haven't been announced.

Ellie