Thursday, October 06, 2005

Liberation Update

BAGHDAD (October 2) -- Eight-year-old Rudenah al-Hillali cried as the two American soldiers led her father into their apartment with a rifle barrel at his back and forced the family to stand in a corner at gunpoint.

"She was scared," said her father, Issam Abdul Jabbar al-Hillali, adding that the soldiers refused to let him give Rudenah water.

Al-Hillali said Army Pfc. John N. Lee and Spec. Timothy I. Barron claimed to be Marines searching for weapons. But once inside his house, he said, they used a knife to pry open a briefcase filled with money and eventually stole $2,000 in cash, silver and other valuables.

Although Army officials found some of the missing items in the soldiers' possession and they admitted to robbing houses under the guise of looking for illegal weapons, the Army dismissed the charges. In exchange, Barron said, both soldiers agreed to leave the military.

Using previously undisclosed Army records, the Dayton (Ohio) Daily News found that dozens of soldiers have been accused of crimes against Iraqis since the first troops deployed for Iraq. But despite strong evidence and convictions in some cases, only a small percentage resulted in punishments nearing those that civilian justice systems routinely impose for such crimes.

In a number of other cases, there was no evidence that thorough or timely criminal investigations were conducted. Other cases weren't prosecuted, and still others resulted in dismissals, light jail sentences or no jail sentence at all.

"I've been surprised at some of the lenient sentences," said Gary Solis, a former military judge and prosecutor who teaches military law at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. "I have an uneasy suspicion that it relates to the nationality of the victim."

[. . .]

The Daily News examination found that soldiers accused of property crimes or violations of military rules sometimes were dealt with more harshly than soldiers convicted of beating, robbing and even killing Iraqis.

[. . .]

Al-Hillali, whose home in Baghdad was ransacked by the two American soldiers, said the robbery changed his family's "thought picture of Americans" and left his daughter, now 10, traumatized.

"Even now, when Rudenah sees Americans, she gets very scared. She hides in the car," he said, adding that she became hysterical again in July when U.S. soldiers took cover near their house.

"She thought they had come back to our house."